Tractors“In the factory, we grow with our tasks.”

During the past 35 years, Chris­tian Beisel has been working for John Deere in Mannheim; currently he is the Module Manager in the Final Assembly Depart­ment. In this inter­view, he takes a personal look at the devel­op­ment of the plant and describes which devel­op­ments have been the most impor­tant for him in recent years.

Mr Beisel, you saw how the one millionth tractor came off the assembly line in Mannheim 30 years ago, and now also the two millionth. What has happened during this time period?

The first obvious change that comes to mind is the increased complexity of the trac­tors. At first, you could see from one end of the new tractor assembly line to the other. Today, there are boxes on the conveyor belt, and tools and equip­ment are hanging from the ceiling. Things look completely different; these are two different worlds. Thirty years ago, a tractor had almost no on-board elec­tronics. There was a mechan­ical injec­tion pump, and if it didn’t work, then you had to adjust the throttle cable, and every­thing would work once again.

Chris­tian Beisel, Module Manager Final Assembly at John Deere at the Mannheim factory

In the 2000s, the tractor was completely (as I always say) elec­tri­fied. We then came up with an elec­tronic injec­tion system. The speed control pedal was suddenly turned into a small poten­tiometer, which had to be installed. Then came the suspended front axle, and where there used to be two or three controllers, there are now six or even eight. Then there were all the elec­tronic controls. The largest model now has 14 and some­times even 16 controllers. Due to the high level of tech­nical complexity and variety, many work steps are no longer possible directly on the main assembly line and have to be outsourced.

Can you give a specific example, from your work, that shows the extent of these changes?

One good example is the pre-assembly of the bonnets. That was one of my first tasks, after completing my training as an Indus­trial Mechanic in 1992. Back then, such a bonnet was made entirely of sheet metal, that is, without any plastic parts. I assem­bled a total of about 30 parts: the hinge there, two screws here, then a head­light grille with two head­lights, the rubber seal and some linkage – and the job was done.

Today, in compar­ison, if I look at the bonnets of our larger trac­tors – there are 250 screws for these alone. The number of possible vari­ants has also increased. There used to be a choice between two sets of light config­u­ra­tions, one for right-hand traffic and one for left-hand traffic. Today we have low beams, high beams, LEDs, no LEDs, and all of that for right-hand and left-hand traffic. A lot has happened there. The work require­ment has also been contin­u­ously opti­mised and condensed.

Tasks at the Mannheim factory became more complex over the last 35 years.

How do you manage when it comes to mastering this complexity at work?

We worked our way up – step by step. One big advan­tage of our factory is that we have many employees, who have been with us for a very long time. The work­force has grown with the factory and can contribute all their expe­ri­ence to meet any chal­lenge. Over time, they’ve learned all this complexity, without real­ising it. In addi­tion, we now have a lot of auto­mated support in produc­tion and there are more people in each group, working in teams, than before. This is neces­sary to fulfill the orders we have, as quickly and reli­ably as we always do.

What role does automa­tion play?

Today many areas of the factory are extremely auto­mated. Partic­u­larly in parts produc­tion, robots are used to auto­mat­i­cally load milling machines or lathes. There is also more automa­tion at the final assembly: we used to screw the frame together by hand in jigs. Today we have a robot in the screwing station.

So, we employees get more and more support, which also improves the ergonomics of the process. Automa­tion should be an assis­tant, that is, always working in the inter­ests of the employees. They bring all the know-how with them every day, and I would like to continue working with them in the future.

Automa­tion helps employees produce premium quality trac­tors.

What have been the greatest high­lights for you, person­ally, over the decades?

I thought it was great when the factory was opened to visi­tors. We didn’t have that in the past. This was a posi­tive devel­op­ment – that we became more open to the outside world. I grew up close to the plant, and before starting my appren­tice­ship, I had almost no idea of what was happening behind the red brick walls. Today, people from the area know the company much better, and imme­di­ately, posi­tively, recog­nise the brand when I tell them that I work for John Deere.

Another high­light was how we dealt with a tyre delivery shortage. We couldn’t afford not to build trac­tors, waiting until tyres were reli­ably supplied again. And so we built 800 trac­tors without tyres, we fitted them with tyres later on. This allowed us to prevent a produc­tion stand­still, despite the delivery bottle­neck. Our motto is: If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t exist.

In the mean­time, the factory and its John Deere Forum in Mannhein regu­larly opens its doors to visi­tors – that was not always the case.

How would you summarise your 35 years with John Deere?

All in all, I can say that at John Deere I was able to grow from a trainee to a manager, while at the same time watching the plant grow. That’s a good feeling.

Thank you for the inter­view!