My first, first-hand experience on the shopfloor

Posted on 4 Jul 2014 by The Manufacturer

TM's latest editorial team member, Andrew Putwain, straps on his boots and hi-vis as he tries to build a tractor at New Holland Agriculture's Basildon plant.

As CNH Industrial celebrates 50 years of operations from its iconic Essex site, I journeyed out to the firm’s plant in Basildon to spend the day experiencing life on the factory floor, and later, enjoy playing with some big boy’s toys.

Assured by several people including plant manager, Colin Larkin, that no matter how bad my attempts at constructing heavy machinery might be, I wouldn’t be bankrupting the firm or leading to any accidents for a certain unfortunate farmer, I nervously slipped on my steel-capped boots and hi-vis vest and prepared to spend a day on the assembly line as the company showed off how smooth an operation they were running.

The first thing you notice about CNH Industrial’s mammoth 100ha site, and particularly, the factory is the noise, or lack thereof. Noise defenders are supplied, but hardly needed as 500 members of staff and countless tonnes of machinery work together with only a burble of noise, it was a reassurance as I stepped on to the production line.

First up I was on constructing the dashboards and computer panels that are fitted in the cab, and was entrusted with the complex tasks of pushing buttons in to bits of plastic. And it was my first taste of one of CNH’s first real strengths: the loyal staff the company’s excellent management have enabled. Only one of the dozen or so staff I spent time with on the factory floor had been there less than twenty years. This was a job for life, and the workers had nothing but positive words for their work.

Having fumbled my way through fitting several cabs, I went onto other sections, where I was entrusted with a drill (to my embarrassment I was unable to reach to fasten many of the screws) and saw the automation of the factory in action, with automatic guided vehicles doing the bulk of the work. Advancement, is something the factory is constantly striving for; in the quality control I saw their innovation in the endless quest to find the root causes of persistent issues, wanting to save as much time and expendable effort as possible.

There was also the £1.2million road-testing centre, opened in late 2013, specially constructed to put the tractors through rigorous tests to maintain the high standards CNH is known for.

But the most fun was of course, the tractors I was allowed to drive at the end of the day. Not being the world’s best driver I was worried I’d take out several fences, and maybe a photographer, but through the painfully patient teachers from customer support I got to drive these beasts of machines without doing any harm, and see the results of CNH’s lean, streamlined and technologically advanced methods first-hand.

And the results are impressive: over 100 units a day, constructed in 25 hours a piece, all while being able to save £2m a year through lean management policies. It’s easy to see that Basildon has another fifty years of innovation in it.