JCB: a tale of true grit

Posted on 1 Sep 2016 by Victoria Fitzgerald

Victoria Fitzgerald gets a lesson in history and innovation from JCB.

On the warmest day of the year so far, I was collected from Stafford station and chauffeured through the striking countryside of Staffordshire, to the grand JCB World HQ in Rocester.

The JCB story is one of grit, determination and innovation. The site is a shining testimony to the impressive achievements of a firm that began 68 years ago with one man (Joseph Cyril Bamford) and a garage in Uttoxeter.

Hydradig was developed in secret over three years - image courtesy of JCB.
Hydradig was developed in secret over three years – image courtesy of JCB.

Today, JCB has 22 plants on four continents, more than 750 dealers around the world and an 11,000-strong global workforce.

JCB HQ is one of several of the firm’s sites in the UK and features two lakes (complete with ducks); a helipad; cinema; museum; souvenir shop; restaurant (which only serves produce from Lord Bamford’s farm); an innovation centre, and last, but not least, the assembly line of JCB’s famous Backhoe Loader.

My tour began in the museum, where visitors can get to grips with the epic “Story of JCB” from its very beginning. The exhibition displays intriguing photos and machines from JCB’s inception and conveys the incredible innovations and evolutions of each machine to the present day.

After a circuit of the production line I sat down with Tim Burnhope, chief innovation and growth officer at JCB, who explained why innovation is the cornerstone of the firm’s success.

Innovation milestones

1949: Major Loader revolutionises agriculture

1952: backhoe loader is born with the Mk 1 Excavator

1963: 3C takes backhoe performance to new levels; a design classic

1964: 7 becomes JCB’s first crawler excavator

1971: 110 hydrostatic crawler loader launched

1977: 520 telescopic handler, a new concept, takes the industry by storm

1980: 3CX marks the construction industry’s largest investment in a single machine

1990: Fastrac becomes the world’s first fully suspended, high-speed draught tractor

1993: robot skid steer loader becomes the world’s safest skid steer

1997: Teletruk marks another technology milestone

2006: 2 444 diesel engines power the JCB Dieselmax to the diesel word land speed record

2010: Eco machines take machine efficiency and productivity to new world-beating levels

2011: The Story of JCB Visitor Centre opens at the World HQ in Staffordshire

2012: The award-winning Tier 4i/Stage IIIB EcoMAX engine range goes into full production

2012: Official opening of JCB’s new factory in São Paolo, Brazil

2013: The millionth JCB machine is built – a 22-tonne JS220 tracked excavator in shimmering silver

“Joseph Bamford instilled a family culture of never being content,” Burnhope said, “indeed their motto was ‘la jamais contente’ [never satisfied] and this has continued to the present day. We are always looking for ways to better serve our customers. We are a listening company and we are close to our customers and dealers.

“Innovation is the lifeblood of JCB. We don’t acquire many businesses, instead we concentrate on organic growth. We started with one product and we found our markets. And so on. We create new models and take them to more and more new markets, growing the market share rapidly.”

To facilitate such improvements, the Rocester site has a purpose-built innovation centre equipped with a design studio; electrohydraulics lab; a large viewing area; access to 3D printers, and a “powerwall” where engineers can share ideas.

Burnhope told me, “We are not buying innovation, through the JCB Innovation Centre, we are providing the right environment and tools to enable it.”

Burnhope uses the incredible evolution of JCB’s most famous product, the Backhoe Loader, as an example of how JCB keeps reinventing its products. The tractor-like vehicle has a bucket on the front and a hydraulic digger on the back.

“JCB has developed the Backhoe Loader over time to be the best. It has evolved from producing a tractor base, to creating our own chassis product and now a fully integrated JCB engine,” he said.

Burnhope emphasised the importance of overcoming problems communicated by JCB’s customer while still remaining true to the brand. “How do we maintain the JCB DNA while continuing to be better than our competition?” he said.

“Our aim is to overcome the customer’s problems. That’s how we came up with the Hydradig, a compact machine that operates in an urban environment, with a host of attachments.”

So what direction does Burnhope see JCB’s innovation taking?

“We’ve got to look at machines that perform the equivalent of keyhole surgery. Machines that are far more mobile and much better suited to their environment,” he said.

“In the past, for instance, you’d have to buy a big machine to move a lot of earth, but maybe the future is a smaller machine that can move the same amount of earth. We will continue to push the boundaries and think about what is different.”

JCB has continued to respond to demands in the market, and this is clear in the three products it showcased for me during my visit:

Hydradig – was developed in secret over three years to solve five key challenges facing customers: visibility, stability, manoeuvrability, mobility and serviceability. An increased glass area allows visibility of all four wheels from the driving position. The vehicle can hold 1,000kg at maximum extension, can reach 40kph and has a turning reach of under 4m.

3CX Compact – as fast and powerful as JCB’s iconic 3CX backhoe loader but 35% smaller, so it is effective in urban working conditions and restricted construction sites.

DualTech VT –JCB engineers combined elements of hydrostatic transmission with those of a powershift to create a revolutionary new type of transmission for telehandlers (telescopic handlers).