Jim Goodell is a busy man these days As vp and general manager for Mack Truck's chassis assembly plant in Macungie, PA, he's in charge of building a variety of refuse, dump, concrete mixer and other vocational trucks as fast as he plant can because demand is at a near-record high.

“We're building 72 trucks per day here now — 16 cabover models and 56 conventionals — and our plant capacity is 80,” he says. “This is the highest volume we've had since 1999, when we reached 76 per day.”

Mack has hired 160 new employees, bringing the staff at Macungie to 871, in part to help meet demand for vocational models.

Mack is trying to improve the efficiency of its vocational production line to help stay ahead of the demand curve without building more factory capacity. At Mack's Macungie plant, for example, it takes 51.6 labor hours to build one vocational truck, down from 91.4 hours in 1992. “We've been taking 8-10% of the labor out of building a truck each without changing our level of sourcing,” says Goodell.

Those improvements come from several areas. First, many truck components are pre-built and in some cases installed before they get to the final assembly point. For example, cabs arrive fully assembled, needing only paint and electrical wiring, while axles come pre-attached to the chassis frame so they can be quickly placed into their production slot.

“Our blessing and curse at this facility is that we are flexible; we have two different production lines running parallel to each other so we can shuffle things depending on demand,” he adds. “That's key because each vocational truck today is highly customized; they're usually sold in small-order batches. We also need stock vehicles, as many are sold right off the dealership lot.”