Greg Briggs, a customer of Sloan Implement Company, has a new combine that marks a milestone for John Deere. Briggs's 9870 is the 500,000th combine the company has made.
"We've been making John Deere products at this factory for almost 100 years and self-propelled combines for more than 60 years," says Dennis Muszalski, factory manager. "Reaching this milestone is a very proud day for all the employees at Harvester Works."
On May 7, 2010, the milestone machine rolled off the assembly line.
Tom Sloan, CEO of Sloan Implement Company, says he was happy to match this milestone machine with one of his customers.
"When they told me the 500,000th combine would be produced, I knew it'd be a big deal, but this is a really big deal," he says. "We're lucky to have a good customer to present the Gold Key to for this machine."
Sloan Implement was started in 1931 by Sloan's grandfather. Headquartered in Assumption, Ill., the dealership group is now in its third generation of leadership. The organization is comprised of 16 stores–11 in Illinois and five in Wisconsin.
When asked what's the key to the farmer-dealer relationship, Sloan cites the fundamentals.
"This is a people business," he says. "Being part of the John Deere organization has made it easy for us to keep these good customers."
Briggs, who farms about 4,000 acres near Cisco, Ill., says his father brought the first John Deere combine to their farm. A 55 model replaced their previous Minneapolis-Moline. Ever since that combine, the Briggs family has run John Deere combines. Today, their farm operation also includes Briggs's father, Roger, and his brother Randall.
The special 9870 has a plaque on the front of the machine indicating its spot in John Deere history, which Briggs got to tighten the bolts on after taking a factory tour.
Now the combine will be on display at the John Deere Pavilion and will make the trip to the John Deere Classic golf tournament. It will be delivered to the Briggs farm by Sept. 1.
The East Moline factory was built in 1910 to produce binders. John Deere opened Harvester Works at the facility in 1912, making horse-drawn grain binders, mowers, rakes and corn binders. The company's first combine was introduced in 1927, bringing together the two operations of harvesting and threshing. Then in 1947, John Deere manufactured its first self-propelled combine.
Today, there are 20,000 parts in a combine. With customers ordering combines tailored to their needs, that makes for 3 million possibilities for unique machines. At Harvester Works, it takes 17 days to build the machine from sheet metal to the final product. With a 4 million sq. ft plant, Harvester Works is almost 90 acres under roof. The overhead handling track for the paint system measures to 9 miles, and the paint cycle runs 24/7.
With ratcheted-up combine demand, Harvester Works has added a second shift to its factory to increase production. The highest build cycle for the factory runs April to September.
John Deere says the average life cycle of one of its combines includes five owners for each machine. The machines from Harvester Works go to 35 countries, with 80% of production for domestic customers and 20% going abroad.
As an added customer relations program, John Deere started the Gold Key program in 1995. Gold Key started in East Moline and has expanded to be held at other John Deere factories as well. The company hosted 1,000 tours in 2009 and will do 1,000 tours in 2010 at the combine factory.