Editor's note: Prairie Farmer Executive Editor Frank Holdmeyer recently had the opportunity to tour Kinze' new state of the art planter assembly factory at Williamsburg, Iowa. Here is what he learned.
Gone are the days when manufacturers built a huge inventory of farm equipment and then went out to try to sell it. Nowadays, most major pieces of farm equipment are sold like automobiles – you specify the options you like and it's built to your specs.
That's certainly the case with Kinze Manufacturing's new 4900 series planter line, introduced in January 2013 and first shown at the National Farm Machinery Show in February last year. It's called the "Lean Focused Factory Concept", according to Mark Parriott, senior director of manufacturing.
"It starts with the customer. The customer has always been the focus at Kinze. Many Kinze associates are farmers, our owner is a farmer. We pride ourselves on putting the customer first. Lean does the same thing. Lean starts with the customer and ends with the customer and in our case, the farmer.
"This means the production system is designed with the customer in mind and yields results the customer places value on. The goal is a highly satisfied customer."
Kinze needed more space to accommodate 4900 production so in early 2013 began construction of a new 127,500-square-foot factory. Construction was completed in October and production of the 4900 planters began in November. With the addition of new space and planter design, Kinze took the opportunity to introduce the Lean Focused Factory Concept. Whereas a traditional factory utilized "siloed" manufacturing processes, the Focused Factory utilizes principles that identify customer value and creates flow by in-lining equipment, people and processes, according to Parriott.
The custom planter is assembled to the exact configuration requested by the customer. Each planter is fully tested and inspected before shipment to the dealers. The customer has the ability to modify his order up to days prior to its build date, notes Parriott.
"Being true to its core values of "Disruptive Innovation" and "Operational Excellence", Kinze incorporated all its physical and intellectual resources using a series of Kaizen Events to design and install an ideal production system to deliver these planters.
"It's a state-of-the-art factory using Value Stream Concepts Lean Principles and Cellular Manufacturing Design," continues Parriott. "Cellular manufacturing groups products into families based on design and features. Operations are balanced to customer demand, processes are in-lined and one-piece flow is targeted.
"Production flexibility is created and achieved when these things are coupled with an engaged work force of multi-skilled operators and an effective material replenishment system. The new 4900 production system enables the build-to-order strategy that Kinze dealers and customers benefit from."
Parts come right from the paint line onto kit carts and then to the operator stations. Components used to manufacture and assemble 4900 planters utilize a pull system for material replenishment. Material is pulled through the system by replenishing the material only after it is consumed by the down-stream operation and is recorded using very specific signals.
The process starts with welding cells – wing, stub wings, hitches, and frames. New features such as lift and rotate welding stands means the welder can adjust the height of the part such as the frame so he can sit or stand to weld. He can also roll the part over so he doesn't have to move to make additional welds.
Robot welders are also used for some of the process which saves time. "It used to take 4-and-a-half hours for one guy to weld a stub wing, now robotic welders do it in 55 minutes," explains Jeff Martin, continuous improvement manager.
Other features include adjustable height welding tables, weld booms which keep the wire feeding mechanism above the welder and jib cranes for improved ergonomics and safety.
Fundamental to the system is the continuous, uninterrupted material flow through the plant. Six assembly stations make up the assembly process. Each station is set up with all of the parts needed to assemble any configuration of 4900 planters that a customer orders. "Doing this effectively eliminates production changovers and creates the flexibility to assemble a customized 4900 planter at any moment. In-lining the production operations adds increased flexibility to deliver what the customer wants when they need it," points out Martin.
All functions are highly efficient. As an example, the row unit assembly area is located right next to the assembly line where they will be installed.