Thomas Built Buses officially opened its new $39.7 million school bus manufacturing plant in High Point, N.C., for production of the company’s all-new conventional school bus -- the Saf-T-Liner(R) C2.

The plant is currently ramping up with the assembly of the first Saf-T-Liner C2 buses to be used as demonstrators for Thomas' dealer network.

Production of customer units will begin in August. When the 275,000-square-foot plant is running at full capacity, a total of 192 workers will manufacture up to 22 buses per shift.

"The opening of this plant and the production of the Saf-T-Liner C2 is an unmatched achievement for Thomas Built Buses and a key development for the company's continuing leadership," said Roger Nielsen, Chief Operating Officer of Freightliner LLC, parent company of Thomas Built Buses.

During a tour Tuesday, guests viewed the 3/4-mile long assembly line with its 75 workstations that feature an automatic conveyor system, robotics, and filtered down-draft paint booths. One of the new technologies incorporated in the manufacture of the C2 is the use of specially designed adhesives on body joints combined with self-piercing rivets to increase strength and durability. This combination also results in fewer fasteners for a sleek look and fewer potential leaks.

"The manufacturing plant and the C2 are inseparable," O'Leary said. "We couldn't build a remarkable vehicle like the C2 without also building an equally remarkable manufacturing facility."

The Saf-T-Liner C2 project started with preliminary planning and product development in 1999. By mid-2000, the project was approved with the groundbreaking celebration taking place on October 2, 2002. The aggressive construction schedule was met, despite severe weather conditions, and employees first occupied the plant in November of 2003.

The upfitting of the plant interior, employee training and the building of a small volume of buses continues to progress, with the start of production scheduled for August.