New Hollands Basildon tractor plant celebrated its golden anniversary in May. David Williams was at the event
With many examples from the Ford 000 range still in daily use, it’s hard to believe that production of the tractors began 50 years ago, in 1964. New Hollands Basildon tractor plant celebrated its golden anniversary in May. David Williams was at the event.
Celebrations took place on the 15th May 2014, exactly 50 years since the first Ford tractors were produced at the Basildon tractor plant.
On 15th May 1964, the first Ford 4000 tractor completed its journey down the factory production line at Cranes Hill, Basildon, and since then approximately 1.6 million more tractors have left the factory gates to work on farms around the world.The celebrations included a display in the visitor centre of classic 1960s tractors, all superbly restored, as well as examples from the 1970s, 80s and 90s, and a selection of current machines, including the high specification special edition Golden Jubilee T7.270, which is available to order during 2014. New Holland Agriculture president Carlo Lambro spoke of the achievements of the factory, including its Queens Award for Export twice and its contribution to the countrys economy. He went on to describe key developments in the design of Ford and New Holland tractors, including the Ford 7000 which was the first series production tractor to have a turbocharger and, more recently, the introduction of new technology such as Intellisteer, the Horizon cab with its Sidewinder armrest and the AutoCommand transmission.
Carlo Lambro (left) is pictured with Colin Larkin at the Golden Jubilee celebration event.
New Holland tractors are sold and serviced in 70 countries through 4,600 dealers and manufacturing is carried out in five continents.Parent company CNH Industrial owns 12 brands in the agricultural, commercial and industrial sectors and supplies its products to 190 countries from 62 manufacturing plants worldwide and has 48 centres dedicated to research and development which employ 6,300 people. Carlo commented that agricultural brands not only account for half of the groups total sales, but that the sector is growing, with a seven per cent increase during the past year. In 2013, UK New Holland tractor retail sales increased by 12.5 per cent, Basildon-built tractors performing particularly well, and combine sales increased by 10 per cent. This year, he said, has started well and tractor sales are expected to continue to increase. We believe there is great potential for Basildon-built tractors, he said.
New Holland T6 and T7 tractors are produced at the plant along with some Case IH models. A special edition Golden Jubilee T7 was displayed in the New Holland visitor centre.
Plant manager Colin Larkin has worked at the Basildon plant for 30 years, and managed various sections of the assembly process before being appointed plant manager in 2010. He explained that the 2km production line produces 133 tractor models in 14 ranges, with 12,000 possible configurations and using 9,680 part numbers. Colin spoke of his pride at the plants efficiency improvements in recent years using the best Japanese production techniques to achieve zero quality faults and defects and minimal wastage as part of the World Class manufacturing programme within which the factory is assessed and benchmarked, by independent judges, against leading brand car manufacturers. In 2012 the plant gained Bronze status and Colin said with constant improvement the aim is to achieve Silver in 2015.
A display of the latest New Holland tractors flanked one side of the huge showroom while a guard of honour made up of key Ford and New Holland historical models took pride of place opposite. Asked by Farmers Guide what the most significant factors had been in improving the plants efficiency and productivity in recent years Colin said he believed that having a workforce keen to embrace change was a major contributor. We started with small pilot groups on the production line, of 1012 people, and once they had seen the benefits of improving processes they were keen to keep going. Everyone has the same constant improvement objective which is reflected in our World Class Manufacturing achievements, he said. Colin went on to explain that the views of the production team are welcomed when new models are in development, sometimes at an early stage. We are asked for our views on proposed designs from a manufacturing point of view, and this all helps the process later.A purpose-built visitor centre was opened in 2011, and the plant currently welcomes approximately 4,000 visitors per year, and provides guided tours of the production process. As well as customers visiting the plant, the plant staff visit customers, explained Colin, and that is all part of providing the products customers need.
Approximately 1.6 million tractors have driven off the end of the Basildon production line. Two tractors are pictured undergoing final checks on the anniversary day. Current annual production at the plant is approximately 22,000 tractors with just over 100 produced daily, accounting for some 60 per cent of New Holland tractors sold. Approximately 20 per cent of the tractors coming off the line are in Case IH colours, the remainder being blue. Like other tractor manufacturers, CNH is investigating alternative fuel and drive systems for the future. New Holland has been keen to be recognised as the Clean Energy Leader, and has produced full-sized hydrogen-fuelled machines for testing.
Robots are now used on the production line to transport large components.
At Agritechnica last year the company displayed a prototype methane-powered tractor, the spark ignition engine borrowed from a light commercial vehicle, and Carlo explained that this is a more realistic proposition for the future as, in trials, the test machine has been capable of working for 68 hours without refuelling, and production and storage of methane is much cheaper and easier than hydrogen. Potential development of an agricultural version of the engine for use in the companys tractors could allow methane-fuelled tractors to be available within five years, he said, and the main benefit is that the relative cost would be similar to that of a standard diesel tractor, but fuel could be produced from crops grown on the farm. Much debate in recent years has centred on the lack of successful and profitable manufacturing that exists currently in the UK, but a visit to the Basildon plant demonstrates effectively that products for the world market can be made in England, to a quality standard and with a pride to rival virtually anywhere. With the significant on-going investment in research and development, it seems likely that in another 50 years tractors will still be rolling off the Basildon production line, but what fuel they will be using, by 2064, is anyones guess. Key models in Ford and New Hollands history; closest is a 1964 Ford 4000, and near the back is a Ford 7810 Silver Anniversary edition which, at 25 years old, is now a desirable collectors item.