The close proximity to three major transportation systems is one of the largest factors that went into the decision to construct the new North American headquarters of JCB in Pooler, GA, a suburb of Savannah.
The facility, which has been modeled after the company’s United Kingdom plant, is about 5 miles away from the Savannah Airport. The facility also has a mile-long frontage alongside Interstate 95 and is just minutes from the Port of Savannah, which is one of the largest cargo handling ports in the south.
The facility has been years in the making. The groundbreaking was held in September of 1998 and construction started in February of 1999. The first product came off the line in January of 2000 and the sales and marketing team relocated from the Baltimore facility to the new facility in April of 2000.
Now that it is complete, JCB officials are excited to be able to show off the plant and the 1,064 acres with tours to customers, media and community leaders.
The company’s plan is to use the plant as a manufacturing showcase where thousands of existing and potential customers will visit to see the production process and quality checks.
The 500,000-sq.-ft. building cost $62 million to construct and is part of a $100-million investment by JCB. Now all North American JCB operations take place out of the Savannah facility, taking away the need for the Baltimore operations.
JCB’s first American-made machines are coming off the line at a rate of 23 backhoes per day. There are currently 204 employees at the site with hopes to expand to 500 as production increases.
“The potential here is enormous and it is an exciting prospect to be in at the beginning of one of the most crucial periods in the growth of JCB, not only as a North American but also as a world manufacturer," said Mike Chapman, president, JCB.
According to company officials, the decision to build the plant in the United States reflects JCB’s growth in both North and South America. But they still admit the company has work to do in order to become a household name in the United States.
Since the backhoe loader is one of the top selling products for JCB and the United States represents about 50 percent of the world market for backhoes, it made sense to start building JCB machines in America, company officials said.
“By producing machines here, we are now competing on a more equal footing with many of our major rivals in their own backyard,” Chapman added. “Our backhoes have the range, the specifications and the performance. Now building them in the USA gives them the best quality and reliability.”
So the company has identified their challenge — to outsell the backhoe competition in the United States. And their initiatives are creating a means to achieving the goal.
Plans for expansion at the site are currently under way. Some of the additions will include training facilities, a demonstration stadium with enclosed, air-conditioned conference rooms and a supplier park for key component vendors.
Another big factor leading the company to the Savannah area was the employment pool there. Most of the employees at the site are local recruits and the company is optimistic the Savannah work force will enable their expansion plans. The company continues to work with the Georgia Department of Labor to recruit new employees.
According to company officials, assembly is completed on a 50-yd. track utilizing specially developed tools and manufacturing techniques to deliver precisely assembled machines with leak-free and contamination-free hydraulic systems.
Many enhancements have been made in the paint shop and fabrication areas of the plant. Laser cutting technology with dimensional accuracy of .004 in. is combined with gas metal arc welding to provide a perfect fit and high weld integrity for structural components. A high-density shot blasting produces a smooth “white metal” finish on components that are subjected to an eight-stage zinc phosphate pre-treatment washing and electrodisposition dip process that ensures paint adhesion and corrosion resistance. The topcoat is a high durability urethane powder that is resistant to scratching and work-site damage.
At the end of the track, every machine is subject to a 100-percent functional analysis and pre-delivery inspection that includes more than 1,250 checks.
“The various methods we have put in place here for production and manufacturing allows us to be up to the minute,” said John Palmer, head of press and public relations.
Learning From the
Not only has JCB received production ideas from the automotive industry, they are also recruiting many of the people. Many of the top executives at the Savannah plant come directly from automotive industry capacities.
Doug Friesen, JCB’s vice president of manufacturing in Savannah, has worked with Toyota and General Motors and he is bringing some of the techniques he learned there to the new plant.
“In the auto industry they measure faults per million, which is an unheard of standard in this industry,” Friesen said. “My goal is quite simply to produce the highest quality and most reliable backhoes in America.”
Friesen also hopes he can instill in his employees the importance of thinking about the end user when building these machines.
“We want to build a supplier/customer relationship,” he added. “We have to be able to put a face with the customer.”
Friesen is working with Manufacturing Manager Brett Berry, another auto industry recruit, to install a problem-solving system that will help line workers building the machines handle unexpected problems quickly without slowing down production.
Other JCB News
In addition to the opening of the American headquarters there are many other new things going on at JCB. They have recently improved the 436 wheel loaders, launched an “entry level” four-wheel steer backhoe, and teamed up with the Tampa Bay Super Bowl team.
The changes to the 436 wheel leader include the addition of a fully automatic “smooth shift” transmission that gives a 3 percent additional tractive effort and eliminates hesitation while making on-the-move gear changes. This results in reduction in the shock leads and stresses on both the machine and operator. Also the company has enhanced the 436 cab by increasing the air flow 24 percent, reducing steering turns from five to three and a half times for reduced operator fatigue; improving seat adjustments, repositioning switches for easier operation and moving the joystick to provide increased functionality.
The new “entry level four-wheel steer backhoe, the 214Se, has an 86-hp (64 kW) engine and is in the 14-ft. (4.2 m) class. Similar to the JCB 214S, the 214Se has four equal sized tires and a choice of three steer modes, but it weighs about one ton less. It also has a single hydraulic pump that delivers 30 gpm flow.
“This is a keep it simple machine,” said Adrian Hall, JCB’s backhoe loaders product marketing manager. “It is a high-performance machine in a compact package.”
JCB also has joined the Tampa Bay Super Bowl Team as the official heavy equipment supplier to the Tampa Task Force in preparation for the Jan. 28, 2001 Super Bowl at Raymond James Stadium.
“We will provide a lot of machines to Tampa to carry out essential building, clearing and handling duties, as well as bringing our famous Dancing Digger display to entertain the crowds,” Palmer said.