In 2014 China was the world’s largest construction
market. “But in 2015, of course, the Chinese market
has taken a beating; [that] construction equipment
market is down 63 percent. Russia has slid 69 per-
cent. Brazil is down 45 percent.”
For decades JCB has had a presence in India,
where it’s a construction equipment market leader.
“We see 2 percent growth [in India for 2015],” Witter
said, “which is a good thing for JCB, but it’s not the
rapid growth that we’ve seen historically.”
JCB has 22 manufacturing facilities throughout
the world; 17 parts depots; about 10,000 employees;
and a portfolio of more than 300 products, includ-
ing telescopic handlers (what the company is best
known for stateside) and skid steers. The Savannah
plant, which also serves as JCB’s North American
headquarters, employs a little more than 500 peo-
ple, 300 of whom work on the manufacturing floor.
“We’re currently running a production rate of
about 13 machines a day over a single shift,” said
Aaron Traywick, JCB Savannah’s manufacturing
engineering manager. “Though during peak times
in 2011 and 2012, we produced as many as 24 ma-
chines a day.”
When it opened 15 years ago, the company pro-
duced a mix of backhoes and telescopic handlers
for North American sale and distribution, and each
product had myriad options. The same conveyor-
driven assembly line used today to build skid steers
was the same line used to build backhoes and tele-
scopic handlers in 2000.
Back then all parts for all the different variations
of backhoes and telescopic handlers were stored
“line-side”—that is, along the main assembly line.
Managers determined the sequencing of the machines—this backhoe will follow that telescopic
handler, which will follow another backhoe—at the
beginning of the final assembly line.
As Daryl Berryman, new product introduction
manager, explained, “Back in 2000 we produced all
backhoes and telescopic handlers on the same mov-
ing assembly line. These products had very differ-
ent part content and very different cycle times. The
backhoes alone came with hundreds and hundreds
of options. We would have a basic machine followed
by a complex machine, which gave us a big shift in
the cycle time.”
Moreover, the sequence in final assembly dictated
the build schedule in fabrication and other upstream
processes, and there were few if any inventory buf-
fers between those processes.
As Berryman recalled, “Essentially, the assembly
line was susceptible to any type of downtime all the
way back through the fab shop. There were no buffers
in place to manage ups and downs in fabrication or
assembly. So that became quite complex to manage.”
Today the plant in Savannah produces skid steers
and compact track loaders for the global market,
the HMEE (high-mobility engineer excavator) for
the military, and backhoes. It also may be adding to
its product portfolio. At this writing, there’s a good
chance the Savannah plant will again be producing telescopic handlers, but in a very different way,
thanks to changes that began to take place about six
When the construction market hit a low in 2008
and 2009, the people at JCB took a step back and
basically started to redesign the factory, starting
with the skid steer production. “That was going to
become the JCB machine built exclusively in North
America for the world,” Berryman said.
They reconsidered how parts were fabricated and
sequenced through the operation. And, most important, they reconsidered the design of the skid steers
The Modular Skid Steer
Touring the plant, you wouldn’t think workers were
processing so many product variants. You instead
see seemingly standardized products: the same or
similar cabs, chassis, and other components (see
Figure 4). That’s mainly thanks to the skid steer
product redesign six years ago. It was a collaborative effort among sales, design, and manufacturing.
Everyone asked if the skid steer line could maintain
all the options that made the product competitive in
the market, yet still simplify the manufacturing.
“The skid steer was designed in modules to allow us to build it in modules as well,” Berryman
said. “Because we were able to work alongside the
designers and design the machine in modules, our
subassembly areas essentially become the assembly area for each of those modules independently.
“The main line conveyor handles the big stuff; the
subassembly areas handle all the complexity,” he
continued. “On the moving main line, you want the
cycle time from machine to machine to be exactly
the same. We then manage all the option content
in our subassembly areas, where we’re not tied to
a moving conveyor, and we have the flexibility to
The general layout of the JCB factory floor resembles other JCB facilities’ across the globe, but the details—and
the product mix—differ significantly.
Track pods for compact track loaders (the tracked cousin
of the wheeled skid steer) are staged for final assembly.
Cab components are formed on the company’s electric