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  1. #1

    Join Date
    Jan 2001
    Capital District, Upstate New York
    Satoh S650G, MF135, MF165, JD5205

    Default John Deere, how did you make my tractor?

    Building 21st century John Deere tractors.

    Flow manufacturing assembles tractors aboard automatic guided vehicles with a flexible, cross-trained work force.

    Build a tractor in less time than it takes to play a round of golf? Yes, they can do that in Augusta, Ga. Play golf, of course. And they make John Deere tractors in the area, too. The tractors spend their first few hours riding on automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) through assembly. Until, that is, the tractors are ready to roll out on their own wheels and power.

    Golfers know that Augusta is famous for the annual Masters Golf Tournament held every April. Top players compete for the tradition and honor of wearing the winner's green blazer.

    Professionals in materials handling, however, probably are unaware of the expanded John Deere -- Augusta plant. It's breaking away from some assembly line traditions.

    Deere is mastering the art of flow manufacturing here. The company is taking a 21st century approach to tractor assembly. That tack employs automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) and information systems to better meet customer demand and service dealers, and to ensure the quality that customers expect in purchasing a John Deere tractor.

    Even with nearly 3,500 steps to make a tractor, the plant finishes this job in less than 4 hours. Or in less time than it normally takes to complete 18 holes of golf, at the Masters or elsewhere.

    Breaking with tradition

    Deere has been a big manufacturing player in the Augusta area for the last ten years. In nearby Grovetown, the John Deere -- Augusta plant builds tractor models powered by engines of 80 hp or less.

    Deere's manufacturing traditions date farther back -- all the way to 1837. That's the year blacksmith John Deere, developer of the first commercial, self-cleaning steel plow, founded the firm.

    Fast forward 164 years, however. The Augusta plant now relies heavily upon computerized systems and advanced technologies to achieve high-quality production of tractors. With a recent expansion, moreover, this plant diverted away from using traditional powered assembly line handling technologies. And a well trained, self directed work force is combined with flow manufacturing methodologies. Involved are non-traditional methods compared to more conventional manufacturing practices elsewhere.

    The 5000 Series workforce, moreover, is educated in flow manufacturing methodologies and cross-trained for flexibility in a non-traditional approach to product assembly, as detailed on our Web page,

    Deere builds its 5000 Series of utility tractors on top of wire-guided AGVs on a new, fully integrated and networked, smart assembly line. Sixty-two vehicles (AGV Products, make up the plant's fleet of AGVs.

    The AGVs serve as the platforms upon which work-in-process (WIP) tractors ride more than a quarter mile along an assembly line with 106 workstations. The line (see graphic) "is laid out like a racetrack," explains Chip LaPole, project manager.

    This racetrack also has two spur or feeder lines (see layout graphic, upper right) for engine and transmission assembly. Six AGVs work the engine line, six more on the transmission line. The remaining 50 AGVs loop around the main, "racetrack" line.

    Elsewhere in the Augusta plant, the 4000 Series of compact utility tractors are assembled on carts. A more conventional towline handling system pulls the carts through assembly stations. But the building of 4000 Series tractors will transition to a networked, flow manufacturing environment.

    Smart AGVs, smart tools

    Deere wanted its flow manufacturing process for the 5000 Series tractors, however, to operate in a fully integrated and networked assembly system. It's a "smart device network," says LaPole. Smart AGVs (with onboard computers) are precisely routed through assembly steps. The AGVs then mesh with cross-trained operators using smart tools in workstations.

    Meanwhile, Deere operations managers follow the progress of WIP on computer monitors. Assembly operators will also get their tractor build instructions and quality control information through this computerized system with its touch screen monitors.

    Through use of software along with radio frequency communication with the AGVs and the vehicles' onboard computers and transceivers, precise control and tracking of AGV movements is achieved.

    "With completion of the networking portion of system implementation, the AGV will not move from a specific assembly station until the work is verified complete by the control system and until process quality parameters have been achieved," LaPole says. A smart AGV also only stops at the assembly stations where work is required on the specific tractor carried aboard the AGV. The vehicle bypasses other stations not needed to assemble this particular tractor.

    Depending upon the specific tractor under assembly and its options, there's wide variability in the labor content going into a new product. "There can be twice as many labor hours in a high option tractor," LaPole says, "compared to the hours spent on a basic model." So variable routing with smart AGVs is important in juggling production scheduling.

    Similarly, building one of the 5000 Series tractors, he adds, requires assembly operators to do their work with precision and quality uppermost in their minds. Operators must perform, for example, up to 70 critical steps involving the exact application of the right amount of torque. Computerized, smart tools help operators do these jobs and verify that the tool itself has performed the job within the control limits. In some tasks, says LaPole, "the tool even counts out the number of bolts needed."

    Investing in the future

    To achieve this level of manufacturing sophistication, Deere invested $23 million in a plant expansion project. Included are the AGV system, the smart tools, the 106 workstations, and a new 188,000 sq ft assembly facility.

    Flexibility was a key criterion to be met by the new assembly system, its handling devices, and even its workforce. Room exists to expand the building in several directions. The plant's overhead support structure is of powder-coated, bolt-on construction, LaPole says. "We can change line design quickly and with minimal cost." Air pressure piping to smart tools is modular, moreover.

    The AGV system is wire guided -- which some would argue creates inflexibility. But, as LaPole says, "AGV routing is also easy to modify. You just cut a small groove into the floor, lay more wire, fill in the cut with epoxy, and route the vehicles a new way.

    "Thus, the facility and its handling and manufacturing systems layout can be changed in shape and in its length and width distances relatively easy," the project manager says.

    That's important because the utility tractor business, he continues, "is very dynamic. John Deere is always thinking of a better way to give the customer the highest value products," he adds.

    Prior to completing construction, however, much planning went into designing the plant's systems to avoid making a lot of changes. System design included building a computer model using a proprietary Deere simulation system.

    That simulation proved invaluable. "The first time we turned the computer model on," says LaPole, "we found we could not reach our targeted production levels."

    From the simulation, LaPole's team determined the "manufacturing process kanbans were in the wrong places," he says. "We had to redetermine where the best locations for queuing should be so that we could absorb the peaks and valleys in work content." Computer modeling also pointed to the need to have additional fluid fill stations as well as run-in or startup stations on the assembly line. "Simulation allowed us to validate our capital investment electronically, before we committed the funds," LaPole says.

    When Deere engineers finished optimizing the computer simulation model, the production requirements were not only met, but exceeded, LaPole explains. "I can't say enough about the power of simulation," he adds.

    Simulation also helped affirm the use of AGVs over alternative means of moving tractors from workstation to workstation. Based on the computer model and his own experience with towlines and conveyors for assembly, LaPole believes AGVs offer definite advantages for Deere in Augusta. An AGV is more flexible and more cost effective, he maintains. It promises less downtime for repair and maintenance too. AGVs provide an ergonomic edge over more manual, less automatic methods of transporting tractors through assembly. And payback on Deere's investment is expected within three years.

    Together with advanced technologies, the plant's team of operators and managers are mastering the art of flow manutacturing as practiced by a 21st century John Deere. Demonstrating this mastery is this fact: This team builds a tractor in less than 4 hours, less time than it usually takes to complete a round of golf, at Augusta National or elsewhere.


    John Deere - Augusta plant Grovetown, Ga.

    Products assembled: Utility tractors, 80 hp and under

    FACILITY SIZE: 188,000 sq ft

    KEY FACTS: 140 employees, single-shift operation, 5 days/week Automatic guided vehicle

    path length: 1,452 ft

    AUTOMATIC GUIDED VEHICLE SYSTEM: AGV Products, 704-845-1110,

    OVERHEAD ARTICULATING BRIDGE CRANES: Zimmerman/Ingersoll Rand, 248-398-6200,

    Automating transport of tractor chassis

    Deere & Company's fleet of 62 automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) centers around a single vehicle design: A wire-guided AGV capable of carrying 7,200 lb gross weight. This AGV is then outfitted with one of three custom fixtures, depending upon whether it carries a tractor chassis, or transports an engine or a transmission.

    Twelve AGVs are dedicated to service on the engine or transmission assembly loops (see layout) with six vehicles on each of these two loops. The remaining 50 AGVs circulate around an assembly line loop that is 1,452 ft long.

    The three-wheeled AGVs have a forward steer/drive wheel and two fixed rear wheels. A 48- volt, battery system powers separate steer and drive motors. An onboard, microprocessor-based system controls each vehicle and communicates by radio signals with a base control unit. For most routing operations at Deere, the vehicles travel at a speed of about 40 ft/min.

    For safety, the AGVS are equipped with a mechanical bumper, infrared object detection sensors, audible and visual warning devices, a loss-of-guidance braking function, emergency stop pushbuttons, and an auto/manual key switch.

    The AGVs can be operated manually, if need be, by hand control devices that enable an operator to control speed, direction (forward or reverse), and steering.

    {from the Web}


    "You are what you eat, drink, think, say and do..."

  2. #2
    Platinum Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2000

    Default Re: John Deere, how did you make my tractor?

    I bet the main reason John Deere uses those AGV's is because they don't talk back and don't pass out union cards. Heaven forbid you get a broken wire in the floor,than the AGV's can be a pain and cause a lot of down time.
    Seen that done that!!!!!

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