I consider myself very fortunate to have the job I have with Pitchcare, as it enables me to meet so many interesting people associated with the sports and amenity turf industry
Last year, when Pitchcare were conducting a utility vehicle comparison test day at Rugby School, I met up with Simon Morley from JCB, who had brought a couple of models to be put through their paces. At the end of the event, Simon invited myself, James Mead, Head Groundsman of Rugby School, and his head mechanic, Graham Lloyd, to visit the JCB factory.
The company are renowned for their hospitality and factory visits, so all three of us were looking forward to the day.
We were met at the main gate at 8.30am by Simon, who is the Territory Sales Manager for the UK South and Ireland, for JCB Utility Products, a post he has been in for twelve months. He was keen for us to see the scale of the factory and the company's portfolio of products.
We were first given a brief history of the company, before starting the factory tour. It was amazing to see what the company has achieved; in every corner of the world you'll find a JCB machine. No surprise then that they are one of the world's top three manufacturers of construction equipment. They currently employ around 9,000 people on four different continents and sell products in 150 countries through 1,500 dealer depot locations.
You can still see the original garage workshop building at Uttoxeter, where founder, Joseph Cyril Bamford, began trading in 1945, making trailers and pioneering one of the first ever hydraulic tipping trailers in Europe.
In 1949, he instigated a technical breakthrough in machinery design - the Major Loader - which, at the time, was based around a Fordson tractor. It featured hydraulic arms to which shovels, muck forks and other attachments could be fitted, thereby making it ideal for both the agricultural and construction sectors.
It was after a trip to Norway that Mr Bamford came across a light weight excavator on a trailer, hitched behind the back of a tractor, that led to him realise he could come up with a better concept. By connecting hydraulic rams directly to the back of a tractor, the world's first backhoe loader was born.
Many more innovative ideas were to follow. This brief timeline denotes the key phases of their success.
1945 - Joseph Cyril Bamford establishes JCB in Uttoxeter making trailers
1948 - Hydraulic tipping trailer is produced - first in Europe
1949 - First 'Major Loader' exported to France
1954 - Backhoe loader launched
1965 - First crawler excavator is built
1968 - First wheeled loading shovel produced
1975 - Sir Anthony Bamford takes over as Chairman and Managing Director
1977 - Launch of Loadall range of telescopic handlers
1978 - JCB Transmissions axle factory opens in North Wales
1979 - JCB starts joint venture in India with Escorts Ltd
1990 - Launch of high-speed tractor - the Fastrac
1991 - JV with Sumitomo on tracked and wheeled excavators
1995 - New Compact Products factory opens in Cheadle
1998 - Gearbox factory opens next to axle factory in Wales
1999 - JCB Cab Systems and JCB Earthmovers start production
2000 - First US-manufactured machines (Savannah, GA)
2001 - Production of backhoe loaders starts in Brazil
2002 - New £27m World Parts Centre opens in Uttoxeter
2003 - JCB India is formed as wholly-owned subsidiary
2004 - Diesel engine production starts in new £80m factory
2005 - JCB India opens fabrications plant in Pune, India
2006 - JCB starts production in Shanghai, China
2007 - JCB India opens excavator factory in Pune, India
2008 - New £40m Heavy Products factory opens in Uttoxeter
After the history lesson, we where shown around the factory, witnessing how their key products are assembled. It was amazing to see the whole process; raw pieces of metal transformed before our very eyes. There are several key areas of production where the steel is fabricated, welded, machined and painted, to produce key components such as chassis, buckets and loading arms. These are then delivered to the assembly track - which moves at a constant speed through various stations - where components are fitted.
Over thirty-five backhoe loaders are assembled every day and, whilst the millions of pounds invested in robots and computer systems to monitor quality and performance is staggering, JCB's commitment to their staff is very impressive, which, perhaps, explains their speed and efficiency.
Once a machine has been assembled, it is tested for hydraulic leaks and engine performance, and then taken outside to be tested in its working environment; lifting, pushing and pulling.
After a splendid three-course lunch, we went to visit another factory site, where the Workmax range of utility vehicles are produced. Once again, the production of these was interesting to see.
Our last tour was to see the renowned World Parts Centre, a huge building that houses over 40,000,000 parts and is open 24/7, 362 days of the year. They deliver in excess of a million genuine JCB parts every week, all over the world.
Part pickers work on a three shift pattern and are able to keep the lines of supply at maximum output twenty four hours a day. Specially installed moving tracks and part displays enable the pickers to locate and pack relevant parts quickly.
The company sees end user feedback as crucial to the development of any machine in their range, and will implement changes to ensure the customer benefits, both in comfort and performance.
Today, JCB has some of the finest engineering facilities across the globe, and produces a range of over 300 machines. It maintains a reputation for unrivalled customer service.
Their mission statement, "... to grow our company by providing innovative, strong and high performance products and solutions to meet our global customers' needs", sums up their commitment to remain at the forefront of the industry.
JCB still remains a family business and continues to be innovative in a competitive marketplace. It is fair to say that they have transformed the landscape in every country of the world.
On behalf of Jim, Graham and myself, I would like to take the opportunity to thank Simon and JCB for inviting us to see this unique family business.