When Caterpillar bought Perkins Engines in 1998, the two brands shared similar diesel engine heritages. Cat made its first engine – placed in a dozer — in 1931. A year later Perkins’ first engine, the 4-cylinder Vixen, debuted in Peterborough, England.
Since 2010, both engine brands have been going down the same assembly line in Caterpillar’s 1.7-million-square-foot Seguin, Texas, engine plant. The plant forms the nucleus of Cat’s 2.5-million-square-foot-plus engine presence in the area, and is fed from plants in Shertz, Texas, and San Antonio that manufacture engine blocks and heads. In addition, the Seguin plant is the Americas headquarters for Perkins Engine and manufactures gen sets up to 500 kilowatts.
The plant will also have a role to play in Cat’s first Next Generation 36-ton excavators, which will be manufactured starting this fall in Victoria, Texas, and powered by Cat’s new C9.3B engines, built in Seguin.
“We’re scheduled to make our 400,000th engine here sometime this fall,” says Mark Stratton, general manager, Industrial Power Systems Division (IPSD)-Large Engines. Cat says around 2,000 workers – 35 percent of whom are contract workers – are employed here, many of them on three main assembly lines making 7.2- to 18-liter Cat and Perkins engines.
Sixty-two percent of these engines go into the heart of Cat’s product line, including medium wheel loaders, dozers, motor graders and excavators, says David Nicoll, Cat’s marketing and dealer operations director, IPSD. Both the Cat and Perkins engines produced are found in non-Cat products, including machines in the agricultural, general industrial, material handling and mining industries.
A full 70 percent of the plant’s output goes outside of the United States. This means that the Seguin workers are making engines that meet a wide range of emissions requirements, from Tier 0 to Tier 3 for lower regulated countries, Tier 4 Final to meet current U.S. emission regulations on up to the coming Stage V European rules.
Adding to the complexity, says Stratton, is that engines going down the line are basically custom made, with workers building more than 3,000 different “arrangements.” “We make a lot of custom iron,” he says.
On the assembly line
As a result, the assembly lines are “truly asynchronous,” Stratton explains, in which an engine under assembly cannot advance to another station until all the processes and quality checks in the proceeding station are completed. The engine rests on a pallet, or manipulator, with an RFID tag read by each station on the assembly line. The stations are connected to the plant’s overall manufacturing resource planning system, which tracks each engine and its bill of materials.
When an engine arrives at a station, instructions are displayed on the station’s screen, giving the worker (called an operator) 3-D models or photographs that help describe what comes next. In addition, since each engine on a line is likely to be different than the one before or after it, the torque of each station’s tools is adjusted to match the required torque for the particular engine at the station, Stratton says.
Parts bins are strategically located. “We want to minimize the amount of time that the operators spend looking for parts and maximize the amount of time they spend putting them on,” Stratton says.
New engines on display
On display on the plant floor are two of the newest engines produced in Seguin: Cat’s C9.3B engine, announced in December, and Perkin’s 9.3-liter 1706J model, which debuted at this year’s World of Concrete. Cat says the 6-cylinder C9.3B is a simpler, lighter engine system that offers 18 percent more power compared to previous engines of this size. Both the Cat and Perkins 9.3-liter engines allow some OEM engine customers to use a 9-liter engine in a space where they had previously used a 13-liter engine.
Cat announced in late 2008 it would open the Seguin plant, saying at the time it would employ “up to 1,400 people.” When Cat closed its Fountain Inn, South Carolina, engine facility in 2014, that production moved to Cat’s Seguin and Griffin, Georgia, engine plants.
For a view from the Seguin assembly floor, check out the video below.