Delivering the Promise
Hanging above the factory floor at John Deere Davenport Works, a prominently displayed banner bears an inspirational quote from the company's founder: "I will never put my name on a product that does not have in it the best that is in me." Although today's state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities and John Deere's Grand Detour, Illinois, blacksmith shop are 181 years apart, the same philosophy that guided the 19th-century entrepreneur is still alive and well.
QUALITY IS EVERYTHING
At John Deere, quality isn't just a cliché or word of the day, but a time-honored credo that guides the way everything is done.
Just ask Andy Benko, Director of Quality. As "gatekeeper of quality," it's his team's job to help ensure that every machine rolling off the assembly lines exceeds customer needs and expectations. "Our employees understand that when they come to work, what they do that day matters," says Benko. "Their ability to deliver quality products helps enable our customers' success."
It all begins in engineering. "It's important that we design the product in such a way that satisfies the customer and simplifies assembly," explains Eric Hillary, Engineering Manager. "One of the advantages of being located next to manufacturing is that we know how things are going together." Close communication and interaction between design and production teams are vital components of building world-class products.
So is contact with customers. "Gold Key" events, at which purchasers visit John Deere factories to observe their machines being built, have proven especially invaluable. "It's really nice to talk to each customer about why they purchased their machine and how they plan to use it," says Lindsay Grant, Backhoe Team Assembler. "Hopefully, they see the pride and care we take in building a quality product for them."
When an employee on the manufacturing floor sees a process or design that can be improved, they're encouraged to suggest a better way. It's called Continuous Improvement. Far more than just a philosophy, it gives employees a voice in improving the product, empowering them to share their hands-on knowledge and expertise, while financially rewarding them for their ideas.
"It happens every day," says Grant. "New ideas that help make our jobs easier are welcomed. Several suggestions that I've submitted have been adopted, which makes me feel like a valued employee."
When a workable idea is approved, resources are quickly allocated and changes made to implement the improvement.
"Just having those ideas available to us is so powerful," says Yvonne Scheiffer, Quality Engineering Supervisor. "It gives us an opportunity to engineer solutions for common issues or defects, and it gives us a chance to get everyone committed to the process."
THE PEOPLE ADVANTAGE
Every company likes to tout its innovation and technology. We do, too. But today's great innovation will soon be yesterday's history. At John Deere, it's the culture and the employees who establish that culture that make the difference.
"The people who build our machines are the heart and soul of our operation," says Scott McDonald, John Deere Davenport Works Operations Manager. "They're very focused on delivering a quality product to the customer."
And it's not just tightening bolts and attaching things. "It's about the attention to detail," says Mark Dickson, John Deere Dubuque Works General Manager. "Our assemblers become craftsmen at their jobs. Their skill set of knowing what to look for and having a finesse for fit and finish help make sure customers won't experience problems down the road. We have smart tools to check quality. But quite frankly, a lot of it you can't check other than with the eyes of the assemblers."
Many John Deere craftsmen have been plying their trade for decades. "The skill level is so important because so much of the work they do isn't automated," says Mark Odegaard, Production Loader Business Manager. "The machines we build are customized so every unit is potentially a different configuration. It requires heavy knowledge."
"We ask a lot of our employees, which is why we require them to be highly skilled," says Heath Drone, Backhoe Business Unit Manager. "In addition to their experience, they go through a very robust training process." Training is continuous and extends beyond the initial instruction new employees receive.
John Deere welders participate in three weeks of training and, at the conclusion of that, must pass a very rigorous test based on American Welding Society and John Deere standards
Although the tools they use appear similar, the tasks assembly-line workers perform are unique. Significant time is invested in training employees on their roles, as well as that of others on the line, so they can fill in as needed. This "cross-training" helps provide the expertise that's vital to ensuring that the job is always done correctly, regardless of who's doing it.
The purpose of everything we do is to
ensure that we're building products
worthy of John Deere's name.
Even the best-designed and -built products sometimes have issues. Discovering those imperfections is what Quality Manager Tracy Schrauben's team does best. "We've got an excellent group of special investigators spread throughout the factory," she says. "They're strategically placed and are really good at early detection, so if they see a defect, we can address it quickly."
"I'm all over the place — at the beginning of the line, and at the end of the line," explains Mike Hagen, Davenport Works Inspector. "I'm on the floor every day, inspecting the parts coming into the plant. And checking the quality as the workers are doing their jobs — pretty much at every stage of the build."
Hagen's work, it seems, is never done. Even after a machine comes off the line, he inspects it for possible oil leaks. He considers his a vital role. "My job is to protect the customer. John Deere put me here to make sure the product we run out the door is the best it can be."
Even after a build is complete, the inspections aren't. Dedicated factory test facilities require each product to be put through a series of thorough trials to ensure its integrity.
"When a customer receives a machine, it typically has two to three hours on it," explains Jason Pline, Skid Steer Quality Supervisor. "We're putting every unit through a drive-verification process. They run it down a test track, and then up against a load to discover possible hydraulic issues before it ships."
Machines also undergo two or three thermal cycles, raising and lowering operating temperatures in an attempt to induce failures.
"Obviously, quality is very important," sums up Odegaard. "The purpose of everything we do is to ensure that we're building products worthy of John Deere's name." And deserving of our customers' trust, too.