If you drive past the Kinze factory complex on I-80 near Williamsburg, Iowa, you know it is like a patch of mushrooms. Every time you go by something new has sprouted -- usually a shiny new building. Kinze seems always to be changing.
The latest change -- a new 127,500 sq. ft. factory floor -- represents not only something new but also something different. It indicates that Kinze is changing its manufacturing model from a traditional batch method (build one product for a while in an area of the factory then switch to another product in the same space) to a cellular method (an area devoted to one product only). The object is to achieve greater efficiency, flexibility and speed. For customers, that could mean greater responsiveness and quicker delivery.
Kinze folks refer to the new facility as the "4900 Building" because it was designed specifically to handle assembly of Kinze's latest planter. The 4900 Series features a new electric drive seed meter with 99%-plus accuracy at speeds from 2 to 8 mph, a narrow transport front-fold frame design, 30-inch row spacing, and a choice of 12, 16, or 24 rows. The planter has hundreds of permutations, so batch production could be difficult. That's one reason the cellular method (or focused factory) made sense for assembly of this planter.
"The vision for the focused factory came about five to six years ago with the 3000 Series products," said Chief Operating Officer Brian McKown. "But the new building for the 4900 helped define the process. It was an opportunity to take a brand new facility and lay it out for optimal flow."
Imported ideas. The focused-factory method has been around for decades. It started in Japan after World War II and migrated in a big way to the U.S. in the 1990s. Its core value is "kaizen" (constant improvement), which it accomplishes in part by forming employees into assembly teams. Each member of the team is expected to contribute not only labor but also ideas and thus take the old suggestion-box concept to new heights.
Production managers at Kinze refer to themselves as "manufacturing geeks." Many of them are relatively new to Kinze, having come here with experience in non-traditional assembly methods. Such is the case with Senior Director of Manufacturing Mark Parriott, who has been with Kinze less than a year. He talks of traditional manufacturing as "siloed" manufacturing process.
By contrast, in the 4900 building, planters are fully assembled in a relatively small area. Around the assembly, employees pull parts from a "supermarket" of shelving. Components then are welded together from fabricated steel and go onto kit carts -- all the parts needed for assembly. They make their way to the paint line, then go back to the assembly area.
Manufacturing geeks say it is a clean process that gives workers the flexibility to make many adjustments to custom-build a planter. One result is that dealers have less assembly to do when the product arrives on their lot.
"We really turned this on its head with the 4900 launch," Parriott says.
Kinze plans to refurbish and re-configure the rest of its sprawling facility to use the focused factory concept on other products. It's another change, but maybe not one you will see from I-80.
Jim Patrico can be reached at email@example.com
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