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New electrified monorail system for cab conveyors in John Deere tractor assembly plant

  • Electrified monorail system with a yellow lift frame transports the green driver's cabs

    Safety is paramount

    John Deere brings its cab conveyors up to date in no time with new EMS safety electrified monorail systems.

State-of-the-art safety technology ensures safety of John Deere employees when working under suspended loads

The conveying system for driver's cabs in the Mannheim-based tractor plant belonging to agricultural machinery manufacturer John Deere had definitely seen better days so there was only one thing for it: The old system needed to be replaced as quickly as possible. Following a retrofit with the electrified monorail system from the MAXOLUTION® EMS safety solution, the cab conveyor at John Deere is now equipped with the latest technology that the market has to offer, including the drives, electronics and safety technology.

The project at a glance

John Deere GmbH & Co. KG

John Deere company logo
  • Location: Mannheim (Germany)
  • Industry: Manufacture of agricultural machinery
  • Application: Conveying system for driver's cabs in the tractor assembly plant

More information about John Deere:

Green tractors in rank and file in front of the factory workshop
  • Founded in 1838 in Grand Detour, Illinois (USA)
  • Company founder, John Deere, begins manufacturing plows from highly polished steel
  • In 1948, the company relocates to Moline, Illinois (USA)
  • In 1959, John Deere acquires the German agricultural machinery maker Heinrich Lanz GmbH and opens the Mannheim site
  • Mannheim is the second largest John Deere plant in the world and the largest manufacturing facility outside the US
  • Over 60 000 employees worldwide (2017)

Safety first

Completed green John Deere tractors in the factory building
All set: John Deere tractors ready for the field
  • Retrofit in tractor production plant with new conveying system for driver's cabs
  • Upkeep of three-minute production cycle at John Deere
  • Simple plant engineering
  • Preservation of the existing rail system
  • Full conversion of the tractor assembly within two weeks
  • Complete replacement of the electronics
  • Safe transportation of the driver's cabs from the point of delivery to the assembly yard
  • Safe working under the suspended cab
  • Reliable and safe lifting and lowering
  • The security technology in the assembly plant needed updating
  • High quality technology and service
  • Rapid availability of spare parts
  • Permanent system monitoring and diagnostics

Everything from a single source

Yellow structure of the electrified monorail system with drive technology
Electrified monorail system with drive and safety technology

Virtually the entire portfolio of the MAXOLUTION® program was used to update the cab conveying system at John Deere: From the gearmotors and near-field inverter and control technology, right though to the safety technology, everything was supplied by SEW‑EURODRIVE:

  • Seven electrified monorail systems using the MAXOLUTION® system solution EMS safety
  • Near-field drive technology that takes up little space and is vibration-resistant
  • Helical-bevel gearmotors with special coupling in the gear unit output stage, tailored to the conveying speed and bearing load of the cabs
  • Multi-redundant safety systems to protect people working under the suspended loads
  • High-performance MOVISAFE® type PFF-HM31 safety control enables position-dependent speed and communication
  • One decentralized MOVIPRO® drive, positioning and vehicle controller each to control two 5.5 kW gearmotors (lifting drives) as a group drive with 11 kW
  • MOVIFIT® controller to supply the 0.55 kW drive motor
  • MOVIVISION® plant software for simple engineering, virtual startup, permanent monitoring and diagnostics including condition monitoring during production

Full retrofit to guarantee safety completed in just two weeks

Tractor assembly at John Deere: hard at work beneath the suspended driver's cab
Safe tractor assembly under a suspended load
  • Complete conversion of the system in just two weeks (vacation close-down at John Deere over Christmas/New Year 2016/2017)
  • Virtual startup simulated in advance considerably reduces the time needed for actual startup
  • Retrofit of the cab conveyor: now absolute state of the art thanks to new MAXOLUTION® EMS safety electrified monorail system
  • Comprehensive drive solution for John Deere from a single source
  • Electrified monorail system complies with all technical safety aspects:
    • Safe transportation of the driver's cabs from the point of delivery to the assembly site
    • Secure lifting and lowering of the driver's cabs
    • Safe working under the suspended load
  • High degree of satisfaction with service and consulting
  • With its dense network of service locations, SEW‑EURODRIVE is always close at hand for the agricultural manufacturer
  • Reliable condition monitoring during the assembly process
  • High degree of flexibility: The system can be easily retrofitted or upgraded
  • Quick flow of materials
  • Increased capacity: Instead of the previous 25 000 tractors, over 45 000 vehicles can now be manufactured in times of heavy demand

John Deere cab conveyor ensures maximum safety

How do you transport, lift and lower driver's cabs that weigh up to 850 kg when assembling tractors? How do you ensure the safety of people who have to work beneath such suspended loads? How do you bring a cab conveyor – a challenging piece of equipment in terms of its safety technology – up to date in the minimum time frame?

Watch our video to find out the answers to all these questions and many more. See for yourself how a powerful tractor is produced at the agricultural machinery manufacturer John Deere in Mannheim using drive technology from SEW‑EURODRIVE. And gain interesting insights into the benefits of our MAXOLUTION® system solution EMS safety, an electrified monorail system equipped with state-of-the-art safety technology.

Quote from Hans Ziegler, project manager at John Deere

Our cooperation with SEW‑EURODRIVE is excellent, as is the service we receive.

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Quote from Bernhard Pehlegrim, project manager at SEW‑EURODRIVE

"Our MAXOLUTION® EMS safety solution provides the drive technology, control technology and the components of the safety system, including sensor technology."

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Impressions from the project

The project in detail

Autumn is harvest time: John Deere keeps the tractors coming

Close-up of a John Deere tractor against a blue sky
Tractors are an essential component of agricultural engineering

By the end of summer and beginning of autumn, work in the fields begins to hot up. It is harvest time. Tractors towing suitable trailers set to work cutting crops, gathering hay bales, transporting the harvested grain from the field or plowing the newly harvested fields.

To ensure a sufficient supply of new tractors, the distinctive green and yellow agricultural machines roll off the production line at the John Deere factory in Mannheim at three-minute intervals. They leave the factory in different sizes and equipped with different engines depending on the requirements of their future owners.

Harvest time without the powerful agricultural machines is totally unimaginable. The tractors, with their striking color and design, are a frequent sight in our farms and fields, serving as the perfect global advertisement for the American company John Deere, which is headquartered in Moline, Illinois.

Drive technology that has proven itself for decades has the edge

Several green and yellow tractors in rank and file in the John Deere factory workshop based in Mannheim
Without Bruchsal, there would be no tractors at John Deere in Mannheim

Every three minutes, a "Johnny", as the agricultural machines are affectionately known at John Deere, rolls off the conveyor belt in Mannheim. But what does the production of John Deere tractors in Mannheim have to do with Bruchsal? Two things: Firstly, the driver's cabs come from the sister plant in Bruchsal. Secondly, the safe drive technology used in the manufacturing process comes from SEW‑EURODRIVE in Bruchsal.

Reliable drive and automation solutions combined with outstanding service from SEW‑EURODRIVE have ensured that high productivity has been maintained in both plants for decades. After all, quality, safety and comprehensive service are just as important to SEW‑EURODRIVE as they are to the agricultural machinery manufacturer.

This was justification enough for the decision-makers at the John Deere tractor plant to put all their faith in SEW‑EURODRIVE when it came to modernizing the aging cab conveyor in Mannheim. The German subsidiary of John Deere decided not to replace just single drives, opting instead for a complete drive technology retrofit solution, which took the form of an electrified monorail system equipped with optimum safety technology.

MAXOLUTION® system solution ensures faster material flow

The engines for the tractors are manufactured at the John-Deere production plant in Saran near Orléans in France. However, the tractor manufacturer produces the driver's cabs in Bruchsal – not far from the SEW‑EURODRIVE headquarters. Due to the synchronized cab and tractor production processes at John Deere, the cabs arrive shortly before assembly. The lead time is just two days.

When the cabs come out of storage in Mannheim, there are still some small work steps to be completed in pre-assembly. From there, they are taken to a rotary table, on which the cabs are aligned for attachment to the lift frame of the electrified monorail system. To do so, anchors move under the cab at the rear like forklift arms.

Even though the cabs all have different designs depending on the type and size of the future tractor, this intra-plant process is always identical at John Deere. Based on the principle of self-clamping, the cab is then secured in place by its own weight during transportation. Once prepared in this way, the cabs wait until they are retrieved. The tractor to which they will later be assigned is already determined in the material flow.

One after the other, the transport carriages in the electrified monorail system convey the driver's cabs towards the joining process. Because the joining process takes longer than three minutes in the "marriage" (connection of the cab with the powertrain of the tractor), joining takes place on two parallel lines to enable the three-minute cycle in the material flow to be maintained. A switch allocates the incoming cabs to the left and right. Double the cycle time is thus available for this process step in the John Deere factory.

How well and how quickly the material flow works depends both on the coordination of in-plant processes as well as on tailor-made drive and automation technology in the conveyor system.

One of the important features of the fully modernized electrified monorail system: Thanks to the modular MAXOLUTION® system solution EMS safety with its compact decentralized structure, the new cab conveyor system fits perfectly into tight spaces.

Once at the assembly site, the driver's cab is first automatically lowered to a preliminary height at which nobody can be injured. Only then does the John Deere operator take over with a hand-held terminal, moving the cab manually into the correct joining position above the drive train and then lowering the lift frame of the electrified monorail system further to the joining level.

"Marriage" at John Deere – with optimum safety technology

An operator connects the suspended driver's cab to the tractor's powertrain (engine, axles and hydraulics)
Working in safety between the cab and chassis

Who doesn't love a wedding? SEW‑EURODRIVE is lucky enough to be a permanent guest at the John Deere tractor production plant. Although the many marriages that take place here each day – every three minutes in fact – are not really of the romantic kind, they do offer ample security and perfect prospects for the future.

The marriage ceremony initially sounds adventuresome, as due to the assembly process, the operator must at times remain under the suspended load and thus between the cab and the powertrain (the tractor's engine, axles and hydraulics). However, sophisticated safety technology is absolutely essential in this assembly station. To ensure that the John Deere employees can go about their work between the components safely, redundant measures in the electrified monorail system provide double on-the-job safety throughout the process.

The right solution for optimum occupational safety: consistently redundant design of the belt pairs and drive technology ensures double protection: Not one, but two pairs of belts made from a highly stable material are used to ensure optimal hold of the lift frame and driver's cab in the "MAXOLUTION®" electrified monorail system. In turn, each of these belt pairs is wound around a central shaft in the middle of the EMS in two layers (bifilar). This enables symmetrical lifting and lowering of the cabs.

The drive technology in the electrified monorail system is also redundant: Two motors, each of which would be capable of moving and braking the lift frame on its own, guarantee double the safety. Two sensors, known as draw-wire encoders, ensure a safe lifting height and speed. These can also detect and notify workers in good time of any deviations from symmetry or misalignment of the lifting frame.

Doubly protected in several respects by this state-of-the-art safety system, the employees at John Deere can reach under the suspended load to attach electric cables, hydraulic hoses and bolted connections without any worries – ensuring everything runs smoothly in the marriage of the driver's cab with the drive train.

Currently, the heaviest driver's cab at John Deere weighs 850 kg. The cab conveyor's capacity limit is 1500 kg so there is plenty of room to play with.

MAXOLUTION® EMS safety ensures a high level of safety and prevents downtimes

Electrified monorail system with yellow lift frame and control technology from SEW‑EURODRIVE
A MOVIPRO® SDC controls both lifting drives as a group drive

More than just gearmotors: The retrofit of the John Deere cab conveyor involved virtually the entire MAXOLUTION® range from SEW‑EURODRIVE. The "EMS safety" electrified monorail system solution uses distributed, i.e. near-field electronic drive solutions to supply lifting drives. These take up comparatively little space and are vibration-proof. The two helical-bevel gearmotors, which work together to lift and lower a lift frame and a cab, are each designed for an output of 5.5 kW. A MOVIPRO® SDC supplies the pair of motors as a group drive with a nominal output of 11 kW. The 0.55 kW drive motor is controlled by a MOVIFIT® controller.

The time frame for the entire retrofit for John Deere was just two weeks during the plant vacation over Christmas and New Year 2016/2017. The MOVIVISION® plant software proved invaluable in this case. This software reduces programming effort and enables the exact simulation of a virtual startup. Usually, the underlying calculations are carried out well before the conversion when planning the plant. At John Deere, it was therefore possible to speed up the actual startup considerably. But that's not all: The software also provides a valuable service during operation by enabling permanent monitoring and diagnostics, including condition monitoring, without interrupting the plant.

The basic requirements for the occupational safety of John Deere workers are the secure position of the vehicles, a secure lifting position and a safe lifting speed. All of these safety features run on the MOVISAFE® HM31 safety controller from SEW‑EURODRIVE. It also controls the SBC (Safe Break Control) safety function, which ensures the correct distance is maintained between the tractors in the production line, making a mechanical distance sensor superfluous.

After each rotation, all seven electrified monorail system transport carriages must undergo an automatic brake test for the lifting drives. The control center receives a message in the case of any events. The exact position of the carriage at any time is also sent to the control center and displayed on the visualization screen.

In the case of an error message, the system acts autonomously, identifies the EMS carriage in question and directs it immediately to the maintenance area, thus preventing costly downtime for John Deere.

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