AGCO’s Jackson Plant: Better, Stronger, Faster

A state-of-the-art testing facility is a new tractor’s worst nightmare, but a customer’s best friend. Read on for more about the “Dyno-Jounce” test and other leading-edge tools that help make AGCO farm equipment the best of the best.

By Richard Banks | Photos By Jamie Cole

Imagine taking a brand-new tractor, worth tens of thousands of dollars, and purposefully trying to break it. That’s what the folks at the AGCO manufacturing facility in Jackson, Minn., do just about every workday.

“We push these tractors to the limits,” says Arun Shankaran about the plant’s new testing procedures and state-of-the-art facilities. “That way,” continues Shankaran, one of the plant’s senior manufacturing engineers, “we ensure they are ready to run when they get to the customer.”

If there’s a defect with any of the tractors or sprayers built in Jackson, the techs, engineers and production workers find and fix it. And they, as do staff at all AGCO facilities, perform those tasks with some of the highest tech tools available in agricultural equipment manufacturing.

Specifically, the Jackson plant, since 2013, has undergone a $42 million upgrade and expansion that includes increases in capacity on the tractor and application equipment assembly lines. The project has also included an intensified focus on efficiency and quality, adding leading-edge tools such as laser cutters, robotic welders and an array of quality assurance equipment.

The latter is used to run diagnostic checks of components and assemblies at five stages—or gates—in the manufacturing process. The first four gates are located along the production line and are where a variety of components is tested separately, including cab electronics, hydraulic and overall systems, and tire or track width. It’s at the fifth stage, officially known as Quality Gate Five and unofficially as the “Dyno-Jounce,” where each assembled tractor gets checked as a completed unit, and in the process, gets rocked, rolled and generally run through its paces to simulate normal, as well as very intense working conditions.

Gate Five

Modeled after a facility that tests combines at AGCO’s Hesston, Kan., plant, Jackson’s Gate Five became fully operational in September 2014. Costing some $1.97 million, Gate Five can hold and check two tractors at once, one on the “jounce” and PTO testing station, and the other on a chassis dynamometer. (A similar testing facility is planned for the application equipment built in Jackson.)

For the jounce test, a tractor’s rear wheels or tracks are positioned on pads that rock back and forth. This test, says Shankaran, “is used to verify that there are no loose fittings, hoses or electrical connections, and we do this by rocking the tractor back and forth at different speeds and intensities that simulate field conditions from normal to extreme.”

Afterward, computer data gathered during the test is examined and the tractor is physically inspected to make sure nothing came loose as a result of the shaking, which is so violent no one is allowed to be in the cab. “We say we run the test to simulate ‘extreme conditions,’” grins Matthew Dinesen, a mechanical engineering tech, “but I can’t imagine any farmer using a tractor in a field that rough.”

While still at the first station, the PTO is tested at various speed and load levels, and its output measured across the rpm range. The results are compared to the tractor’s rated horsepower to ensure optimum performance. Each tractor is then moved to the second station and the chassis dynamometer. Here, says Shankaran, a multi-roller bed is used “to verify different functions like the steering, brake, transmission shift quality, DEF functionality and limited powertrain performance.”

Six winches hold the tractors in place as they speed up to 33 mph and rev to as high as 400 HP. The dynamometer, explains dyno tech Derek Riewe, “reads the engine rpm, what gear we’re in and how well it shifts, and when it shifts, how low the rpm goes. If something was wrong with [something like] the shift, we would try to retest it to see if it could have possibly been an operator error. Then, if that didn’t work, we would have to further investigate the transmission to see if something else is the problem.”

The plant staff not only corrects any defects on the tractors on which they are found, they also use the information gleaned from the tests to inform the production process, thereby preventing deficiencies from recurring. “What we learn,” says Eric Fisher, the plant’s director of operations, “also affects what we do upstream with creation of new training materials, and allows us to generally tighten up the process.”

Overall, according to Fisher, the work in Gate Five takes about two hours, and includes 250-plus tests and the analysis of more than 150,000 data points. In just the first month of operation, the inspections, he says, “yielded a 25% reduction in defects, and that’s just a start.”

Quality: Start to Finish

While a commitment to quality never ends, it does have a beginning. At the Jackson plant, tractor and sprayer designs start with a new “powerwall.” Until recently the stuff of science fiction, the virtual reality design tool allows models of tractors and sprayers to be created in 3D on an 8- x -16-foot screen.

Highly accurate lasers create highly accurate parts.

Highly accurate lasers create highly accurate parts.

According to Joe Black, an AGCO senior business analyst, engineers can review models virtually and improve designs prior to actually physically building a prototype. “They can review tractor designs as a whole,” he says, “as well as make small refinements, like adjust clearances, check sight lines and control ergonomics from the cab. This streamlines the design process, helping us build higher-quality machines, even keep costs down through new efficiencies.”

Further down the production line, the new 3D models ensure that each component is made exactly to spec by a host of new devices, including laser cutter systems, and robotic welders and machining tools. For instance, the plant has two new 6,000-watt laser cutters that slice through sheets of steel with a heretofore unknown precision for this type of work.

According to Cole Wunschel, business unit manager of fabrication and welding, the new lasers can cut material as thick as an inch and a quarter to within .0016 of an inch, which is a measurement about one-fifth the diameter of a dust particle.

That accuracy at such an early stage in production positively affects the entire manufacturing process, as does the use of the plant’s new robotic welders that themselves work with state-of-the-art accuracy and speed, making higher-quality components, as well as saving time and money.

“You know you’re getting the same part every time … and more accurate cuts mean better joints for welding,” says Wunschel. “Those [welds] make for more durable frames, axles and other parts.”

The Goal

“Like its customers, AGCO doesn’t embrace technology for its own sake,” says Bob Crain, AGCO Senior Vice President and General Manager, Americas. “There must be a return on investment.”

The expansion and upgrades at the Jackson plant, as well as those throughout the company’s global facilities, offer just that, says Crain, “in the company’s relentless pursuit of its stated goal—to be No. 1 in customer-perceived quality.”

It’s a promise that’s bearing fruit in the form of the world’s most innovative and reliable farm equipment, and it’s a promise that’s embraced throughout the company, adds Riewe. “AGCO’s commitment to being No. 1 in quality is really high,” says the dyno tech, who helps test tractors in Quality Gate Five.

“We’re really set on being No. 1. We’re doing everything we can to get it there. We want to be there by 2016, and we’re making progress every day.”