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Big augers like these are a big part of many of the implements made at the Kuhn facility in Brodhead and they are manufactured on site by a small army of skilled workers.<br />

Big augers like these are a big part of many of the implements made at the Kuhn facility in Brodhead and they are manufactured on site by a small army of skilled workers.
Photo By Jan Shepel

Metal, machines and skill turn steel into farm implements

Nov. 15, 2012 | 0 comments

Kuhn NA facility in Brodhead cranks out huge spreaders and mixers for farmers

When members of the board of directors for the Wisconsin Agribusiness Council met in Brodhead recently, they were given a tour of the manufacturing facility of Kuhn - where heavy sheets of metal and pipe come in at one end of the huge facility and skilled hands turn them into feed mixers, manure spreaders and other implements of husbandry.

These specialized, site-built implements and a variety of heavy duty parts, roll out the other end of the Kuhn factory, bound for all over of the world.

Dennis Doescher, the shipping manager and parts floor manager walked the board members through the 400,000 square foot building and new parts room at the facility.

At one end of the building workers use huge presses and cutters to turn thick slabs of flat steel into the bodies of the "reel" Augie feed mixers, invented by Stan Knight.

He was a farmer, welder and innovator who created the Knight company at this location, which later became part of the Kuhn company. Doescher explained that the reel mixers made here will be shipped to all parts of the world.

The reel mixers are popular in Japan and in Brazil, he said.

Stan Knight also innovated the side-discharging "slinger" spreader and those are still made here today too.

Other manufacturing lines create the large vertical mixers that have become popular on big livestock facilities as well as various versions of manure spreaders.

"We have value-stream management from sheet metal to final assembly," he said. The factory runs three shifts with the first shift coming in from 5 a.m.-3 p.m. four days a week. Second shift runs from 3:15 p.m.-1:45 a.m. four days a week and weekend shift workers come in from 5 a.m.-5 p.m. Those people work 36 hours and get paid for 40 as a premium for being there on weekends, he explained.

They operate machines like the 600-ton press, which has concrete down eight feet below and computer-driven machines that cut the metal to precise measurements.

Managers and engineers all have their offices in the working area so they can be ready to address any problems and keep the lines moving.

Quality and safety are a big focus for all production lines and on-time delivery is a hallmark of the company, says Doescher. "We want people on the floor to be involved."

There are two robots working at the Kuhn facility, doing repetitive small operations but the emphasis is still on people doing most of the work - there are 90 human welders on the manufacturing floor, he said.

The company offers 20 internships each year for those who are interested in equipment manufacturing.

After the machines are shaped, welded, pressed and cleaned there are several locations where whole machines and smaller parts of painted. They buy their paint in 55-gallon drums, Doescher said with a smile.

After machines are complete they are checked over for quality once again and some of them, like the hay tools, are broken down to make shipping more efficient.

Doescher just celebrated his 25th anniversary with the company and remarked how excited he is to come to work every day. "I was born and raised on a farm and this gets me excited to see what we've done here."

Jill Leitzen, human resources director at Kuhn in Brodhead, said the company is the world's largest manufacturer of farm implements in terms of both dollars and units produced. "If you pull out combines and tractors we are by far the largest."

They cover tillage, plowing, fertilizer, hay and forage equipment, manure equipment and in Europe Kuhn manufactures implements for the landscape industry and spraying.

The Kuhn Company began in 1828 with blacksmith Joseph Kuhn in Saverne, France who developed a modern-day plow in his shop. From that beginning, it now has 4,200 employees worldwide and $1.3 billion in sales, manufacturing 60,000 machines this year.

"It is the world leader in many product lines," she said, and operates very profitably with no debt.

Broadening horizons

In 1987 Kuhn started using some of those profits to acquire other companies and expanded into hay tools and forage harvesting, seed drills and shredders.

They expanded into vertical mixing manufacturing with the acquisition of Audureau and then a Dutch company that makes balers and bale wrappers.

Kuhn NA, the former Knight company, has the Brodhead manufacturing facility and another in Hutchinson, KS along with three distribution centers. Leitzen said there are now 900 employees in the North American branch of the company.

Those distribution centers are strategically located to get machines and parts to customers as quickly as possible.

In 2002 the company sold 7,700 machines and in 2012 they will sell 15,000 machines.

The reel and four-auger mixers, vertical mixers, rear-discharge spreaders and side-discharge spreaders are still what many know the company for, she said, but since 2005 they have made hay tools including wheel rakes and mergers.

The acquisition of Krause in Hutchinson, got Kuhn into the primary and secondary tillage tools, disc harrows, strip till and vertical tillage equipment and grain drills. "Our goal is to be a market leader."

Stan Knight began his company at this location in 1945 and his first product was a box spreader. "A farmer in Iowa bought it and liked it and spreaders were the first focus. In the 1980s the reel mixer was developed here."

The company became Kuhn-Knight in 2002 and in 2008 the name was changed to Kuhn NA. There are 450 employees at Brodhead and 325 at Kuhn-Krause in Kansas as well as 100 territory managers.

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