AGCO’s Fendt brand opened the doors to its all-new, high-tech assembly plant in Bavaria and invited the public to take a look
Farmers in Western Canada can be forgiven if they don’t know a lot about the Fendt brand of tractors; they’re thin on the ground in this part of the world, to say the least.
“Fendt tractors are a true premium product,” says Reid Hamre, North American brand manager for Fendt. “They’re for the customer who is looking for more than the ordinary in their farming operation and wants a tractor that will make their labour productivity higher, their fuel efficiency higher and the amount of work they can get done in a day greater.”
Fendt — originally a family-owned German company — was acquired by AGCO in 1997 and has been part of that company’s line up in North America for a few years, but recently AGCO has been driving hard to make all its marquees more dominant forces on this continent. In that effort, Fendt will play an important role as the company’s flagship brand in the premium, highly-optioned tractor marketplace.
AGCO has decided to build on Fendt’s long-held reputation as the Cadillac — or should I say BMW — among tractors (they’re built in the Bavaria region of Germany, too). But that doesn’t mean these machines are all about conspicuous consumption. Just the opposite. Hamre says the company believes the high-end features and specifications these tractors offer provide the kind of value a growing number of North American farmers can make use of.
To help farmers in the U.S. and Canada understand what the brand has to offer, AGCO is increasing its brand-specific marketing efforts in an attempt to make the Fendt name truly a household word. But there is no point in doing that if you can’t supply enough tractors to meet demand, a problem that previously plagued all of AGCO’s tractor brands. And that is the reason behind the company’s $300 million investment in a state-of-the-art expansion to the Fendt tractor assembly plant in the small, Bavarian community of Marktoberdorf.
“It all started three years ago,” said Hubertis Köhne, vice president of manufacturing, during the grand opening ceremony of the new tractor assembly line on September 27. “We decided we couldn’t meet our future goals with the existing plant.” And those goals include taking a bigger bite out of the North American tractor market. “This expansion will allow Fendt the option of increasing (production) capacity to 20,000 or 21,000 tractors per year from the previous 14,000 or 15,000,” explains Hamre.
The new expansion to the Marktoberdorf assembly plant added 85,000 square metres to the facility, more than doubling its original footprint. Using a just-in-time philosophy, components arrive in the correct sequence for installation on tractors moving down the one-kilometre-long assembly line. And all Fendt tractors are built on the same line, giving the company the kind of flexibility necessary to meet any rapidly changing market demands. Cabs are built at Fendt’s other facility about 120 kilometres away in Bäumenheim and installed on the correct chassis in the new Marktoberdorf plant.
The new assembly process involves a lot of automation. For example, tractors move down the assembly line on automated, unmanned carts that transport the chassis as far as the wheel installation station, after which tractors begin to move on their own and the carts return to the start of the line to pick up a new chassis.
Aside from passing through a variety of “quality gates” along the line for inspections, five tractors are now pulled aside after completion each day for an extensive quality control check. In addition managers meet with various line supervisors in the assembly area three times a day to ensure quality control targets are being met, which enables a quick response to any problems that might arise.
“What this means for the North American customer is they can get their tractor sooner and with an even higher degree of quality than they experienced in the past,” says Hamre. “This is the most state-of-the-art factory you can find in almost any industry. The quality (control) programs they will be able to establish with the new technology are just phenomenal.”
Many North American ag equipment factories operate in relatively small, rural communities, and the Marktoberdorf plant does too. Management there says many of the line workers are farmers themselves, so they feel a real association with the tractors they build. Walking through the plant and chatting with workers (those that spoke English), many seemed very proud of the tractors they help create.
Just as with the front line workers, there was an obvious sense of pride among senior management as well. As he addressed journalists during a press conference, AGCO CEO Martin Richenhagen summed up how he feels about the new Fendt plant. “There is now the second most beautiful building standing in Marktoberdof after the new gothic castle of Kind Ludwig II. I, personally, think it (the Fendt factory) is more beautiful. It’s a great place for us.”
By the time of the grand opening ceremony, the new assembly line had been in operation for about three weeks. The celebration was much more of a bash than I’ve experienced at any similar event at a North American plant. During the two days of festivities and briefings that members of the media were involved in, I can’t recall exactly how many musicians I saw, but there were a lot. One other journalist commented, “They must have hired every band in Southern Germany.” I had to agree with him.
For a look at the factory’s grand opening ceremony, check out the e-Quip TV video at www.grainews.ca/videos. †