If there’s a “ground zero” for tractor manufacturing, it’s Deere’s assembly plant in Waterloo, IA. The multi-building operation includes a foundry, a drive train assembly line, an engine assembly line and a final assembly line.

Deere has been making tractors in Waterloo since it acquired the Waterloo Gasoline Tractor Co., which made a popular product called the Waterloo Boy, back in 1918. A decade ago, Deere underwent a seven-year redevelopment at its Waterloo Works. It applied lean manufacturing principles to streamline production and improve ergonomics.

For instance, when I visited the plant back in October 2003, the drive train operation had just been transformed from a 4.5 million square foot, multistory factory into a 1.4 million square foot single-story facility. And, the Waterloo Works had recently converted a 95 percent manual weld line for cab frames to a 95 percent automated line.

Deere is still at it. The company just announced that it plans to invest $70 million to expand the manufacturing capacity at its Waterloo complex, where the company builds large farm tractors such as the 7R and 9R Series. The investments will increase the number of tractors Deere can build in Waterloo by the middle of 2013.

“Through this initiative, we will increase our manufacturing flexibility and speed,” says David Everitt, president of Deere’s Worldwide Agricultural & Turf Equipment division. “The market demand John Deere has experienced for large agricultural equipment has remained strong for several years. We believe the time is right to invest in our facilities to meet future demand for large tractors.”

The $70 million investment will increase production capacity by more than 10 percent. Once the improvements are completed, enhancements to Waterloo facilities over the past decade will have increased manufacturing capacity for large tractors by more than 50 percent.

“The John Deere Waterloo Works are an important part of the company's global manufacturing strategy,” says Everitt. “Not only does Waterloo produce whole goods in the form of the large tractors, the operations also manufacture components that are used in John Deere machines built at other facilities.”

Tractors built in Waterloo are shipped to more than 130 countries. Approximately 6,000 individuals are employed in Deere’s various Waterloo operations. However, the new investment is not expected to add any manufacturing jobs.