Friday, March 1, 2013
Pat and I returned yesterday from a few days in North Dakota. Yes, North Dakota! (or should I say ‘Yaaaaah, Nort Dakoda’?) It was our first time to visit the state, and the visit allows us to check off ND as the 49th on our list of states visited. (Only Alaska remains for us to experience) We flew to Fargo on Monday morning, and after lunch at the downtown Rhombus Guys, (the tater-tot hot dish was so-so) we visited the Case-IH tractor factory. We were warmly greeted and given a tour by Chuck. He is a retired farmer from the area, and his son is an engineer in the plant. No pictures were allowed inside, so I cannot share what we saw here… but it was impressive. One interesting fact Chuck shared was that 60-70% of the new Steiger tractors are built with rubber tracks instead of wheels.
Next morning, we drove west to Valley City, ND, to visit the John Deere Seeding Group. They build air carts and several types of drills there. Our goal was to observe the building of our new 350-bushel 1910 air cart and 50-foot 1890 no-till drill. Dave, the Operations Manager of the plant, was our guide. We watched every facet of their process, and he answered fully every question. The tour lasted over 3 hours, and we learned much about the manufacturing processes. One special part of interest was their ‘rotary molding’ process that makes the big yellow seed tanks. They were making the 200-bushel size at the time of our visit. Special plastic powder, that looks a bit like sugar, is dyed yellow, and then about 300 pounds is dumped inside a stainless-steel mold. The mold is sealed up, and moved inside a 400+ degree heating chamber, and where it rotates on two separate axes. The heat melts the plastic ‘sugar’, and it coats the walls of the mold. The rotation evenly distributes the coating over the entire inner surface of the mold. After a specific time, the mold is moved to a chilling chamber, where it continues to rotate. Soon, the mold is removed, opened, and the new tank is lifted out by vacuum. It is placed in a special form-fitting area where cooling air is pumped through the new tank to ‘set’ it. When the plastic is ‘set’, the familiar leaping deer symbols are attached, the openings are cut, and the tank is placed in a staging area close to the cart assembly line. All trimmings cut out of the tank are re-cycled to make black plastic parts.
We observed the carts being asembled, then tested at the end of the line. They were lifted to waiting delivery semi-trailers on the east side of the building.
We watched robot welders and laser cutters. An overhead conveyor takes assembled components to the green and black painting areas. The green paint is a powder-coat that is baked on. The black is conventional paint, held in a 7000-gallon bathtub, where the parts are immersed. The painting and baking processes are all automated and timed — with a computer controlling all the movement. The only human touch is that the green powder is sprayed on by two spacesuit-wearing workers in an enclosed booth. The paint is electrically charged to cling to the metal parts. Any overspray is collected and re-used.
We watched the 3 assembly lines on the west side of the building, with particular interest in the no-till drill line. The row units are assembled on their rockshafts in a precise jig, and when they return from black paint, they are staged on the assembly line in a particular order to fulfill the requirements of the drill being assembled. Each drill is different as they pass down the line, and the components are staged in proper order so that each drill is assembled according to the the customer’s order. It’s kind of like tributaries flowing to a main river. At the end, some testing occurs, then the drills are lifted to waiting semi-trailers to be delivered to the selling dealer.
I love to visit these factories, to watch the machines come together. I appreciate the ‘choreography’ and the complex systems that deliver a finished product to the door. What precision in management.
After our full-morning John Deere tour, we had lunch at a nice little restaurant in Valley City. Pat found this by browsing ‘Yelp’ on her iPad. We were pleasantly surprised with the chef and menu. Chef Abel was of Mexican descent, and prepared us old family recipes. We think it was the best Mexican food we ever had! Abel also gave us his testimony of how he has been blessed to leave his construction job and begin his life’s dream of operating a small, friendly restaurant, where he can serve people the recipes he learned from his mom and grandma. So, if your travels take you across I-94 to Valley City, ND, stop at “Another Time” restaurant for a great meal.
We returned to Fargo for the evening. Fargo is a really neat city, with something over 100,000 residents. We toured the Plains Art Museum, and drove around to get a feel for what the place is like. It is home to North Dakota State University. NDSU is to North Dakota what Purdue is to the state of Indiana. NDSU’s FargoDome was impressive, as was the 1000s of acres of experimental farms to the west of campus. Fargo claims to be the Silicon Valley of the north. It was easy to navigate around town. Towards dark, the fog-like snow hung in the air, coating everything with a thick and beautiful frosting. One bank’s outdoor nighttime decor caught our eye, the Gate City Bank. Each tree was covered in blue LED lights, making a spectacular sight in the snowy night.
We were impressed with North Dakota. The people were warm and friendly, the countryside was flat and beautiful. I would like to see it again during the summer. But these few winter days weren’t bad either…temps in the high 20s during the day, and between 8 to 12F at night. And the wind was calm, making it all the more pleasant. Maybe that’s not typical. We know it snows a lot there, for the hotel parking lot had stacks of snow 12-15 feet tall. Hopefully, we will see ND again someday.
The trip home took a little longer than we expected. The snowy weather in Chicago on Tuesday, cancelled some flights–compressing travelers into delays. Our flight Wednesday evening from ORD to EVV was overbooked, so we took the incentives to delay our travel until Thursday morning. It worked okay for us, and allowed two other people to get home as they needed. Our flight yesterday was pleasant.
Back in Indiana today, we awoke to see the ground covered in white. It will probably be gone by dark, but it was nice to see it today. We saw lots of white in Fargo! Big piles of it! I’m catching up the office work, and Grandma Pat is caring for little Ella today. It’s a happy day. John and Brandon are waxing the 4730 sprayer.
In other news, the grain bins at the Burke farm have been sold, so I have removed the ‘For Sale’ tab from this website. Thank you to the buyer from Milan, Indiana.
I realize this is a long post, but we had a great visit ‘up nort’.