AGCO frees digital technology to rise to its own level

Dec. 3, 2018
Industrial IoT just latest tool in agricultural equipment maker’s pursuit of lean principles.

By Mike Bacidore, chief editor of Control Design

“We didn’t even know we were doing Internet of Things.” Peggy Gulick explained how technology has found its own way in AGCO’s manufacturing facilities.

A digital transformation is taking place at AGCO, a global manufacturer of agricultural equipment headquartered in Duluth, Georgia. And the change is taking place virtually right in front of employees’ eyes.

The application of eyeglasses equipped with assisted-reality (AR) capabilities at AGCO’s North Dakota and Minnesota plants has enabled a 30% reduction in processing time in assembly lines, a 50% reduction in training and a 32% reduction in quality inspection time, said Peggy Gulick, director, digital transformation, global manufacturing, at AGCO,in her presentation at the Smart Industry 2018 conference.

AGCO's Peggy Gulick

“We’re a 25-year-old, bornof-acquisitions company,” said Gulick. AGCO’s $8 billion in annual revenue comes from agricultural machinery built in 53 plants worldwide for five core brands—Challenger, Fendt, GSI, Massey Ferguson and Valtra.

“Think big,” she proclaimed. “But start small. We started the project with [Google] Glass in January 2014. Our initial investment was $1,000. And the ongoing investment is teeny.”

All of the workers in AGCO’s North Dakota and Minneapolis plants now wear Glass to aid with operations, diagnostics and troubleshooting. “You’re not going to know the value of these innovative technologies until you try them,” said Gulick. “I believe strongly in this transformation. Once our employees are trained and know how to use the tools, we can move them around.”

The move to Glass was an easy financial decision. The devices are used to display work process instructions for the company’s high-mix, low volume production environment. It’s all about giving operators the information they need to do the job at hand, and minimizing wasted time and steps walking to a traditional operator interface monitor. They also experimented with $4,000 mobile tablets, which could be dropped and broken, and $1,500 glasses, which provide a hands-free interface.

Culture and communications

“This isn’t rocket science. It’s something we do every day,” explained Gulick, whose previous training and experience have come from IT and business roles at AGCO and elsewhere. “I’ve run IT teams, and I’ve had lean teams. Those two are usually hitting heads. When they merge, it is magic.”

And merge they did in the two AGCO factories. The automation was a key enabler, but the digital transformation was about more than just the technology. “Culture is the key to success,” explained Gulick. “It requires business leaders to re-envision existing business models and embrace a different way of bringing together people, data and processes to create value for customers.”

Communication is an important component in the process. “You have to communicate up and down,” said Gulick. “And everyone has to focus on the same thing. Each plant has to figure out the thing they’re going to accomplish that year to achieve the goals. We had eight programs. Once a day, our plant leadership sits in a room and gives a report. The whole organization is focused on the same projects, so we have never failed on a project. We’re always looking toward our five-year plan.”

Each AGCO plant is responsible for its own policy deployment, explained Gulick. “We use lean daily management in our plant,” she said. “They can share resources. By 9:30 in the morning, we’ve addressed all of the known issues. Leadership is on the floor talking to people all the time.”

IIoT as lean enabler

Gulick’s advice is to try on new technology and let the employees figure out how the tools can be used to do their jobs better. “We train our employees on problem-solving,” she explained. “We use ‘5 Whys’ and go through fishbone diagrams. We do this every day, and we use continuous improvement to drive value.”

If a problem encountered, there should not be another unit coming down the line that has that same issue. “We didn’t even know we were doing Internet of Things,” added Gulick. “We learned you need to make sure a new tool will talk to the tools you have in place. We have machine sensors, and we’re using wearables. Everything is talking, so the information can flow to the person who needs it to make the right decision.”

And the implementation of new technology is an ongoing process at AGCO. “With the technology, we’re not replacing people. We’re making them smarter,” explained Gulick. “We’re playing with cobots to do things that are more mundane. We have Universal Robots and we have {Rethink Robotics’] Sawyers in our German plants. We just got into 3D printing. We’re printing tools and jigs. 3D printing started last December in our Minnesota plant. A high-school student set up our 3D printer, and he learned CAD. We’re also doing some virtual plant simulation. When we’re taking a mixed line and trying to combine it into one, we do a full scan of the plant. In our tractor plant in Minnesota, we have zero forklifts. We’re trying to get truly autonomous AGVs (the ones we are using are magnetically guided) that will work with our cobots.”