It’s an activity that predates the first industrial revolution by several thousand years, but agriculture has always embraced new technologies. Today’s farmers operate machines guided by precision GPS systems, and make decisions on the basis of high-resolution satellite imagery and advanced analytics technologies.
For agricultural equipment maker AGCO, high-tech has long been an integral part of its customer offering, but the company is also positioning itself at the forefront of the digital revolution in manufacturing.
A relatively young company, AGCO was formed as the Allis-Gleaner Corporation in 1990 when U.S. managers bought the Deutz-Allis tractor and equipment manufacturer from German owner KHD. The business grew rapidly through a series of acquisitions and AGCO now owns a number of major agricultural equipment brands, including Challenger, Fendt, Massey Ferguson and Valtra. Today, the company has a truly global presence, with 53 manufacturing plants worldwide and sales and support activities in every major market.
Peggy Gulick is AGCO’s Director of Digital Transformation, Global Manufacturing. The role has existed for only a year, but Gulick explains that individual plants have been exploring and applying digital manufacturing technologies for some time. Her job is to encourage the continued development of new digital solutions, and to help plants across the AGCO network to adopt approaches that have proved successful elsewhere in the group.
That’s a model that AGCO understands very well. The company has developed a sophisticated manufacturing philosophy, the AGCO Production System, built on lean principles of standardization, waste reduction, continuous improvement and root cause problem solving. Every one of its plants now uses that system, adapted to suit local differences in production volumes and product complexity.
Gulick sees her current role as a logical extension of the company’s existing approach to manufacturing excellence “I look at digital as the next step in our continuous improvement journey, a bit like continuous improvement on steroids,” she says. “The market has given us an amazing array of new technologies, like robots and wearable devices, and we want to use those to add more value to our continuous improvement efforts.”