It's a Caterpillar Day

Heather_Barnes
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This week I had an opportunity to tour the Caterpillar Building Construction Products Visitor Training Center (BCP) in Clayton, North Carolina.  When I think about Caterpillar, I think about construction equipment like bulldozers, backhoes and excavators but they also produce equipment for agriculture and military use and smaller utility equipment. 

 

I'll take one of these home to My Farmer, please.....

 

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We had the best tour guide.  I am completely biased.

 

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Ben interned with me at the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services before Caterpillar stole him away.  Actually, he is one of only two marketing interns with BCP this summer so I'm very proud of him.  The fabulous CAT hat I received during the tour helped take away some of the bitterness.  And the fact I was considered a VIP.  All is forgiven.

 

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The BCP assembles smaller equipment such as skid steers, mini excavotors and small bulldozers.  It employs 600 people.

 

We couldn't take pictures inside the plant so you'll just have to take my word for it.  I learned a bunch, but here are the top 5 things I took away from our tour.

 

1.  Safety is Number One

 

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As visitors we had to wear bright orange vests, safety glasses and closed toe shoes.  We were asked to take off our rings (and advised to put them back on before we got home!). 

 

As workers there are a number of practices in place to keep worker safety in mind.  Workers rotate jobs so if I worked there I would not get carpel tunnel because I turned wrenches all day,every day for 30 years. 

 

As operators (the people who buy this equipment) I learned 85% of the people who are injured using equipment are hurt getting on or off the equipment.  Not actually using it. 

 

{Disclaimer:  This photo was taken before we went into the factory.  Remember, no photos allowed.}

 

2.  Locations

 

Caterpillar has plants across the globe and each one specializes in one or two pieces of equipment.  This helps the plant run efficiently and cut costs. The United Kingdom plant builds the backhoe that customers in the US order.  Plants in China, Brazil and India produce equipment that stays in thier country. 

 

With so many companies moving their operations overseas, Caterpillar is moving a plant from Japan to the United States.  It will be in full production next spring.

 

3.  Continuous Improvement

 

In order to stay competitive any company has to constantly change.  The assembly line we toured went into production in January 2013.  Since then Caterpillar has made over 200 changes. 

 

Another way Caterpillar works to improve is by taking suggestions from employees.  In my experience suggestions often disappear into some black hole.  Not here.  While we were touring we actually saw the plant manager's secretary coming to check the suggestion box.  The manager reads all the suggestions, then passes them on to whoever is in charge of the department the suggestion is related to.  Once passed on, that person has 24 hours to report back to the person who made the suggestion. 

 

4.  Accountability

 

The BCP plant assembles between 28-30 machines every day.  As it moves down the line, every employee checks the work of the previous employee.  There are huge electronic scoreboards showing that shift's goals and what their actual output currently is. 

 

BCP also has a wall of accountability with charts listing everything from production goals for each month (some months weren't met) to how many employee suggestions were implemented each month.

 

5.  Comfort

 

I have been in several factories but what really made an impression on me at BCP was how quiet it is.  We could talk to each other using inside voices (you can tell I'm a parent, right?).  No earplugs required.

 

There were Big Ass Fans all over the building.  I didn't make that name up. 

 

I was surprised by how many women worked in the factory.  Employees don't have to lift any more than 35 pounds thanks to automated cranes and other accomodations such as raised platforms, which was an employee suggestion.

 

Our tour ended with a stop at the Gift Shop.  I can't say I've ever been in a factory that had its own gift shop.  Thank goodness I didn't know about this so my wallet was locked safely in the car. My Little Farmer really didn't need any more broom brooms.