Digitization is transforming businesses across the globe – and the agriculture sector is no exception.
With the world’s population mushrooming, consumer demands changing, and commodity prices becoming more volatile, the agriculture sector is being pushed beyond traditional business models into the digital age.
With 100 years’ experience in manufacturing farm machinery, Kuhn Krause is a melting pot of traditional agricultural values and technological innovation.
It is perhaps this unique perspective which has thrust the American firm into the spotlight as one of the leading agriculture and farm machinery manufacturers in the market today.
“No matter what segment of the agricultural industry we're in, our mission is to build the best equipment and deliver the best customer experience with that equipment,” explains Marketing Director Curt Davis.
“That really comes from identifying and understanding the customer, understanding their needs and providing the equipment that solves the everyday problems many of the farmers face with their operations.
“This mindset helps us to create a differentiable product in the marketplace, so that when a customer hears about our equipment they will immediately say to themselves, ‘This is the solution I've been looking for’.
“It's all about the profitability, the time savings, the agronomic focus that we take in designing and building our machinery,” he adds.
Looking forward, the digital agriculture market is expected to triple in size to $15bn by 2021, according to PA Consulting.
With this in mind, Director of Operations, Eddie Smith, says he has seen a seismic shift in the way farmers operate.
“I think we've seen a dynamic change in the way farmers approach business,” he explains. “They’re no longer just trying to make a living for their families but are now increasingly looking towards more technical aspects of farming.
“I think they're better educated. They're business people and they run the farm more like a business. They have expectations that their fathers or their grandfathers didn't have, and so they are looking to derive value. They're looking for the latest and greatest technologies that can give them profitability.”
The agriculture sector is a difficult one to be in, but Davis believes technology is key to realizing the market’s financial potential.
“It's paramount to have a good experience with the equipment, but it’s also important that customers realize the value and return on their equipment investment,” he says.
“In today's agricultural market, commodity prices are somewhat depressed. This is a worldwide situation, not just in North America, and so it's very important for our customer to stay profitable.
“They want to invest in machinery that is going to improve their profitability and decrease their cost of investment, whether it be through time, fuel or labor.”
Whether it’s creating state-of-the-art equipment for livestock feeding and bedding, tillage, planting and seeding, crop protection and more, it seems innovation runs deep at Kuhn Group.
This is clearly demonstrated by the firm’s cutting-edge manufacturing facility.
By investing in smart machines, Kuhn Krause’s technology provides operators with “instant feedback on the performance of machines,” says Smith, which makes the manufacturing process faster and more efficient.
Meanwhile, the firm’s million-dollar investment in smart machining centers and robotic weld cells are helping to provide feedback, speed up operations and produce better quality products.
“With all this technology, we haven't replaced any workers,” Smith continues. “It has actually given us more flexibility with our workforce and has improved our productivity and efficiency.
“The integration of technology is helping us make the interface between man and machine more productive.”
Pushing its efficiency further, the team at Kuhn Krause has also implemented a clearer, lean way of working.
Adhering to the 6S method of sorting, setting in order, shining, standardizing, sustaining and upholding safety – the agricultural equipment firm is focusing on what matters: its products.
In conjunction with this, Smith also champions the company’s use of Gemba walks, to gain insight into what’s happening on the shop floor.
“One of the main things we've done is that we set up a model area in each department,” Smith adds.
“Once we validated that a process was converted and changed using the lean methods, then we would expand it to other areas in that department. When we wanted to change something, we always went back to the model area to change it.
“We also introduced spaghetti diagrams to reduce the flow or waste of time of material moving from point A to point B. We had over a 40% reduction in one department, in one area, just by doing that.”
Technology and new business models have undoubtedly transformed the business, but when it comes to the success of Kuhn Krause, the pair both also point to the skills and expertise of its team.
“The sheer fact that Kuhn Krause has prospered for such a long period of time is a testament to the product and the people at the facility,” observes Smith.
“I think from a manufacturing standpoint, one of the challenges we've had is adapting to the different generations of workers because today we have some workers that are celebrating their 45th year with the firm. In some cases, we have taken our seasoned workers and placed them alongside some of the younger workers to let them learn the new technology. They've been very receptive to doing that.”
“Finding good people is always a challenge,” adds Davis. “It seems like in today's world if you can find a good foundation of character, work aptitude and knowledge about the business, you can begin to build upon that with the specific things that they need to know for the industry and the company. It's a constant challenge to find good people and to retain them but we’ve managed to achieve this.”
Tapping into the latest industry knowhow, Kuhn Krause has not only hired the best talent, it is also developing strong industry partnerships to guarantee a superior customer experience.
“For instance, one of the companies that we have an alliance with is Montag,” notes Davis.
“Montag provides a fertilizer delivery solution which we attach to our strip-till machine called the Gladiator®. Both of those machines work together to really provide good value to the customer. It delivers a whole package to the farmer. That relationship with Montag has been very instrumental in increasing our market position with the customers for the strip-till application of fertilizer placement.”
Now, looking forward, the agriculture equipment firm plans to continue the company’s historic legacy by embracing new and revolutionary technologies.
“In the future, I predict we will continue to increase our technology use in all aspects of manufacturing,” reflects Smith.
“That will allow us to have flexibility. This is important because the agriculture market is cyclical, which means you need to able to flex-up and flex-down your manufacturing capability to continue to be profitable.”
Although the company’s roots lie firmly in America, it seems Kuhn Krause remains optimistic about the future and is eyeing opportunities further afield.
“In the next decade, we plan to continue to grow in the North American sector, both in the US and Canada,” Davis says. “Globally I see that we have many opportunities, especially in growing and developing countries where agriculture is vital to produce enough food for the growing population. Continued development in those growing and emerging countries are going to be a priority for us.”