BMW combines with John Deere to grow global farm, construction vehicle marketplace

Jan. 10, 2018
BMW’s Designworks subsidiary is collaborating with John Deere to reap the latest in vehicle engineering innovations and apply them to Deere’s lines of agricultural and construction equipment.

BMW is more closely associated with cars, motorcycles and the back stretch at Nürburgring than a farmer’s back forty – but BMW’s Designworks subsidiary is collaborating with John Deere to reap the latest in vehicle engineering innovations and apply them to Deere’s lines of agricultural and construction equipment.

Other manufacturers in this field also are sowing technological advances. In September the London-based CNH Industrial, with operations in 180 nations, unveiled a New Holland-branded concept tractor that runs on biomethane gas. When production of the engine system eventually comes to fruition farms could be fully self-sustaining and energy-independent for their vehicle fueling needs as the gas can be rendered onsite from animal waste and post-harvest discarded vegetation.

With locations in Munich, Shanghai and California, Designworks’ longstanding partnership with Deere has recently resulted in the rollout of what they are calling the “Fixstern Backhoe of the Future,” estimated to be a decade or so away from coming to market.

“Fixstern” means “fixed star” in German, reflecting a united identity based on perfecting a holistic, visionary and pioneering approach to engineering and design.

“Along the way, as we continue to solve problems, identify new processes/new technologies, we can pick those and pull them back into the present and possibly implement them on existing products today,” explains Deere engineering manager Robert Moore.

“BMW is continuously working on innovations to headline the radical change in our future mobility,” says Adrian van Hooydonk, BMW’s senior vice president of design. “Through Designworks we are able to share knowledge and inspire change and transformation in other industries, which is important not only with regards to product design or connectivity, but especially when it comes to sustainable solutions for the future.”

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“Designing highly complex machinery requires a deep technological understanding,” concurs Designworks President Oliver Heilmer. “Ever since we conducted our first H Crawler project for John Deere in 1996, the foundation for success between our companies has been the continuous sharing of knowledge and experiences, along with a constant fostering of a shared design culture.”

Heilmer points out that “regardless of the industry, as we look to the future we face more technological and digitalization challenges being balanced with a clean aesthetic appearance. As a part of the BMW Group, we strongly believe that design leadership can help answer some of these challenges.”

When applied to the digger/front-end loader combination, the concept includes electronic connectivity that signals advance notice of component maintenance needs and repair requirements. The integrated interfaces allow real-time operator and repairer training sessions and provide clearer communication between the operator and project supervisor, culminating in decreased downtime and increased fleet management synergies.

A 20 percent reduction in weight, a diesel/electric hybrid powertrain, modular construction through the use of newer metal alloys, and a matrix exoskeleton are among the forward-looking features geared toward lowering manufacturing and ownership costs along with heightened operator comfort and on-the-job performance.

“We wanted to stretch and challenge ourselves to innovate in new ways,” reports Doug Meyer, global director of product engineering at Deere’s Construction & Forestry division. “We worked closely with our backhoe customers to apply their input, and we leveraged jobsite visits and qualitative research to ensure the Fixstern solutions address future customer and industry needs in performance, efficiency and environmental compliance.”

Excess vibration and noise is dampened by isolating the command center’s seat and controls from the protective cage assembly. Easier entry and exit is achieved through larger openings in a roomier cab, which offers more storage while lessening the chances of undesired operator “knee knock” occurring when going back and forth between the loader and backhoe functions.

Another typical operator complaint is being unable to adequately see into the ditch while running the backhoe, a problem remedied by variable pivot positioning for the boom – a combination of center-mount and side-shift capability. It can be moved out of the way to facilitate better vision, and a boom “tuck” feature minimizes the unit’s overall length for improved on-road driving and a smaller parking footprint.

Forward-mounted stabilizers enable an extended wheelbase, doing away with larger back wheels via same-sized airless radial tires that resist tears, punctures and leaks. An electric four-wheel steering system enhances maneuverability in tight areas.

Groundbreaking developments

BMW (Bayerische Motoren Werke) traces its roots back to 1916 as a manufacturer of aircraft engines and motorcycles, becoming an automaker in 1929. Along with its MINI and Rolls-Royce nameplates, BMW now has more than 122,000 employees, 31 production and assembly facilities in 14 countries and a sales network encompassing more than 140 nations. In 2016 it sold about 2.3 million cars and 145,000 motorcycles.

Designworks was established in 1972 by Charles Pelly in California. It started working with BMW in 1986 and was acquired by the firm in 1995.

John Deere was an Illinois blacksmith who developed the first commercially successful self-scouring steel plow in 1837, which proved to be a boon to farmers having to constantly stop to scrape caked-on dirt from their existing wood and iron blades. A series of groundbreaking tractors, farm implements and construction equipment was subsequently brought to market, and by 2016 the corporation employed nearly 57,000 workers at more than 30 worldwide locations ranging from Argentina to Uruguay, totaling $26.8 billion in revenues. The company has been collaborating with BMW for more than 20 years.

To help its dealers succeed, Deere has several available employee education programs. Topics include product information, parts and technical training, financial and business management, and marketing and sales. The company also offers what it describes as “a superior parts distribution network, solid technical support and award-winning advertising and promotion.”

In a $305-million acquisition announced in September, Deere purchased California-based Blue River Technology, a designer and integrator of computer vision and machine learning that allows growers to reduce the use of herbicides by spraying only where weeds are present – a key objective of “precision agriculture.”

“As a leader in precision agriculture, John Deere recognizes the importance of technology to our customers,” says John May, chief information officer and president of the company’s agricultural division. “Machine learning is an important capability for Deere’s future.”

“Blue River is advancing precision agriculture by moving farm management decisions from the field level to the plant level,” notes Jorge Heraud, Blue River’s co-founder and CEO. “We are using computer vision, robotics and machine learning to help smart machines detect, identify and make management decisions about every single plant in the field.”

Deere reached an agricultural equipment sales agreement with the Cuban government in November after a half-century absence; it first arrived on the island in the 1800s and remained there until the early 1960s.

In December Deere finalized its purchase of Germany’s Wirtgen Group, a manufacturer of road construction equipment for milling, processing, mixing, paving, compaction and rehabilitation projects. The company consists of about 8,200 employees selling its product lines in more than 100 countries through an extensive network of company-owned and independent dealerships.

“The Wirtgen Group will enhance the size, scale and stature of our construction equipment business and will help Deere continue its global growth,” according to Samuel R. Allen, Deere’s chairman and CEO.

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About the Author

James Guyette

James E. Guyette is a long-time contributing editor to Aftermarket Business World, ABRN and Motor Age magazines.

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