If you read Machinery Chatter, you know I'm a sucker for tractor factory grand openings. I attended one in Germany last fall that blew me away with its music, dancers, kids on toy tractors and a joint prayer by a minister, a priest and two Muslim clerics. This installment of "Memorable Grand Openings" is about the April 8 dedication of a new Kubota tractor assembly plant in Jefferson, Ga. No lederhosen at this event but plenty of entertainment and -- for Kubota and its customers -- some important developments.
First to the entertainment. Kubota stuck with a Japanese tradition... in this case, a very loud tradition. Six drummers opened the ceremonies by pounding away on huge drums and filling a corner of the new factory with bone-vibrating rhythm. A group named Matsuriza, based in Walt Disney's Epcot Theme Park, attacked the Taiko drums, which are ceremony staples in Japan. At 10 in the morning, it was an eye-opener.
Then came the customary line up of speakers. From Japan, Chairman, CEO and President of Kubota Corporation Yasou Masumoto and Kubota Industrial Equipment President Henry Kubota. From Georgia, Governor Nathan Deal and the mayor of Jefferson, Jim Joiner.
The Japanese don't cut ribbons; they break open sake barrels, which -- for a celebration -- somehow seems more appropriate than wielding big scissors. Two groups of dignitaries at the Kubota plant stood around two sake barrels with large wooden mallets in their hands. At the count of three, they banged the barrels, smashing the lids. The tradition in Japan requires the contents of the barrels to then be enjoyed. In Georgia -- before noon -- the celebration was more temperate.
This really was a big deal for Kubota. The new assembly plant will allow it for the first time to produce L-Series compact tractors (30- to 50-hp) in the U.S. for distribution in the states and Canada. The site just north of Atlanta is a great location because it is an interstate highway and rail hub and the port of Savannah is nearby to receive parts from Japan.
Kubota opened its first North American assembly plant in 1988 in the north Georgia city of Gainesville. That plant now makes subcompact tractors and Kubota's RTV utility vehicles. In 2006, the company opened its second U.S. plant, which makes implements and is located on the same 88-acre facility in Jefferson as the new facility.
In keeping with Kubota's current motto -- For Earth, For Life -- the new tractor plant is a model of environmental responsibility. One of the first things touring visitors saw is a recycling center for everything from plastic bottles to bits of leftover metal. The state-of-the-art paint shop is surrounded on both sides by a water purification system that is so efficient 70% of the water that comes out of the shop goes back to be used again and again.
Efficiency is a watchword in every aspect at the plant. Robots do 70% of the welds. Workers with iPads do quality checks and wirelessly send reports to large monitors so supervisors can follow progress every step of the way. If automated sensors on parts of the line detect a bolt is not tightened to specifications, the line shuts down.
The 522,000-square-foot plant is up and running. But more work is needed before it produces its capacity of up to 22,000 tractors annually. Another 100 workers will soon join the current 100 employees. Expansion space is available.
Their tour completed, grand opening guests headed for the cafeteria and a celebratory lunch of grits, sliders and, of course, sushi.
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