Kim Bennett occupies the position of Design Engineer in the New Product Development department at PACCAR’s Bayswater facility in Victoria.
Kim looks after the design team working on new product and model releases, mainly with the Kenworth brand. Kim will follow a new model from early concept through to design release and ultimately the start of its production.
Her career choice has followed upon her academic abilities.
“Throughout school I was always good at maths and physics and science and without really knowing what I wanted to do beyond school, I figured an engineering type of application probably suited my strengths,” Kim says. “That’s where I started and now I really enjoy where I’m at.”
Having completed the work experience component of her Mechanical Engineering degree with PACCAR Australia, she was, after her three month placement hooked on the idea of a career in trucks.
Upon graduation at university Kim was offered a position in PACCAR’s four-year long graduate program. Kim’s enthusiasm for her chosen industry remains high to the current day.
“I loved the company, the people, and the product that’s being produced and the fact that it involves Australian manufacturing was an added bonus,” she says.
Kim’s progression at PACCAR has led her to challenging roles such as being the design manager in the development of the Kenworth T360 where her job was to oversee the truck’s designs and the development of those designs with an eye on customer requirements within the scope of that project.
“A key part of the project phase that I really enjoy is actually meeting customers and going out to their place of work and seeing first-hand what it is they need from a product and then bringing that information back to the design team,” she says.
A balance must be developed across the sometimes conflicting considerations such as styling, serviceability, production requirements, and the ultimate cost of the truck. There is also significant consultation with the many outside suppliers.
“All those sorts of things compete against each other and we’ll work through that to try to determine the best possible outcome,” she says.
Kenworth is renowned for a large proportion of its trucks being custom builds and that presents some particular challenges. Custom truck manufacturing involves a more labour intensive process in evaluating different variations and influences at the design stage.
“Obviously if we could build the same truck, using the same cookie cutter mould, we would simplify a lot of things and take some of the cost out but we recognise that one of the strengths of Kenworth, as a brand, is being able to customise our designs,” Kim says. “We make sure we have captured all of those vital factors before we commit to creating something that we can’t back out of. This has become especially crucial now that we are moving towards more highly tooled components and designs involving manufacturing processes such as injection moulding.”
Every design function is performed in-house. Kim will work with groups such as the chassis engineering team, or the cab section team to ensure the variations from standard are assessed and included.
“I rely heavily on the engineering sections doing the day to day work to customise those trucks and make sure I know where all these variations are coming from,” she says.
Naturally, Kim is very tight-lipped regarding current and future developments at PACCAR but concedes there is an increasing focus on incorporating higher levels of technology.
“We have started to do that with the rollout of the T610 and the T3 and T4 models which have lots of new technologies in them and that’s kind of the evolution we are continuing on with,” she says. “What’s driving the adoption of technology and change is they are what our customers are asking for. Their contracts now often include matters involving the realm of safety and are dictating that every truck shall have certain features.”
There is a certain challenge in integrating the technological requirements with maintaining Kenworth’s solid reputation for durability, reliability and general serviceability.
“We try and tread a careful line and we don’t want to be a product where you need to take it in to the dealership to change a light globe,” Kim says.
Even seemingly simple changes to a truck’s design can leave the engineers confronted with a multitude of implications which require considerable innovative thought to arrive at a suitable solution. The evolution of the T360 model was no different. Kim cites an example.
“We spent a lot of time on the T360 because we wanted to introduce a lift axle which we knew was something that was being done in the aftermarket. It was a process which took a lot of time and a lot of cost to our customer,” she recalls.
“We knew this would be something we could streamline but with all of the variations in the chassis, the axles and the suspension configurations, it did take some time to work out where we would install components, route cables and hoses and everything like that to try to capture a design that suited a high proportion of customers and would go smoothly down the production line.”
The very nature of Kim Bennett’s and her team’s efforts translate into extensive lead times and it can sometimes take years for what begins as a concept for a truck, to it rolling off the production line and ready for work.