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Greenville Business Magazine

CHEROKEE COUNTY: Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp.

Jul 03, 2017 01:56PM ● By Makayla Gay

By Kristine Hartvigsen

Like its revolutionary, high-tech “Inspiration Truck” introduced in 2015, Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp.’s zero-waste-to-landfill program today practically drives itself. Completion of the heavy lifting needed to establishing the waste management infrastructure is largely attributable to foresight and planning that date back over the company’s 22-year history.

From the beginning, FCCC committed itself to a global sustainability initiative, founded initially to focus on reducing emissions and fuel consumption of its automotive product line. Over the years, that scope expanded to reducing the environmental impact of the Gaffney manufacturing facility itself. 

“We have always had customers who required having some sort of alternative fuel platform in our product line,” said Brian Henke, FCCC manager of product marketing. In response, FCCC has offered innovative hybrid-electric, all-electric, hybrid-hydraulic, liquid propane, and compressed natural gas-powered vehicles. “From an alternative fuel standpoint in the Daimler world, we have always been leading that initiative.”

Not resting on their alternative fuel laurels, FCCC leadership recognized that there was still more they could do.

More than five years ago, FCCC started looking at ways to reduce waste generation by recycling, repurposing, or reusing everything possible in its manufacturing process. “Our goal was to be the first Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) zero waste to landfill (ZWTF) facility,” Henke said.

Now practically every material on the manufacturing floor has its own dedicated recycle bin, Henke explained. For example, if a rubber hose is damaged and doesn’t meet FCCC’s quality standard, that particular part has its own bin. “There is a local company here in South Carolina that takes those rubber hoses, grinds them up, adds color, and makes soft playground material with it,” he said.

The Freightliner site has enormous, color-coded containers the size of dumpsters to sort recyclable metals and plastics. And products FCCC receives from its vendors are transported in returnable containers.

“Thousands of pounds of waste used to go to the local landfill. Today, nothing goes to the landfill,” Henke said. “Everyone wants to be zero waste to landfill. We have the culture in place, and it’s extremely easy to maintain now.”

FCCC is not only lowering its carbon footprint in Cherokee County; it is helping train disabled citizens for jobs that are in demand right now. For more than a decade, FCCC has engaged in a highly successful training partnership with the South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department (SCVRD), whereby the agency’s clients — people who may be hindered from working because of a physical or mental disability — assemble kits for use in the manufacturing facility.

Kitting is commonly used to put together components before they arrive on the manufacturing floor. The practice helps improve productivity and reduce downtime on the assembly line. It also saves valuable production floor space because the presorted, preassembled kits are delivered from a remote warehouse location upon demand and only as they are needed.

“The clients at [vocational rehab] are instrumental in our kitting,” Henke said. “They do the kitting before it’s shipped up here. We have grown to the point where we need more kitting.”

In a timely release in January 2016, DTNA announced a $22.7 million investment in its Gaffney subsidiary that will enable an expansion of its existing office building as well as the construction of a new logistics center.

“It is very common to have vendor parts sent to a logistics center,” Henke explained. “We only bring up what we need when we need it.”

The Daimler investment will allow Freightliner to utilize nearly 60 percent more component kitting. The company broke ground on its new logistics center site on April 13 and hopes to complete construction within a year.

What else does the future hold for FCCC? Henke says the next focus will be on manpower and recruiting to attract a growing millennial workforce.

“We’re now focusing on the person behind the wheel, on engagement with the driver,” Henke said. “When you look at cars of today, the driver experience is heightened. This is the same thing that will happen in our market.”

Henke says the millennial driver will demand the newest interactive technologies in the cockpit, including touch screens, 360-degree cameras, collision mitigation systems, easier steering controls, and even autopilot capability – all featured in the next-generation “Inspiration Truck” now approved for use in Nevada.

Freightliner envisions a day, pending state regulatory approval, when its Inspiration Trucks — as well as other autonomous trucks built upon chassis from FCCC — will be seen traversing South Carolina highways.

“We are making the whole driver experience safer,” Henke said. “It’s the next level of driver engagement. That is where we are going.”