Sunday, January 15, 2012

Domestic Plant Trek - Week 1, Part 1

Day 1 – Kickoff & Travel

We all arrived at Logan Airport, flew to Chicago Midway and then took a three hour bus ride to Peoria, IL (during which I switched my watch to Central Time).  We checked into the Embassy Suites hotel in Peoria and had about an hour before a presentation from a LGO faculty emeritus – Mr. Shoji Shiba (or, as they would say in Japan, Shiba-san, meaning roughly ‘Mr. Shiba’)  - about how to observe a factory, specifically remembering to look for things that are not there as well as things that are.  He has been affiliated with LGO since 1993 and is deeply dedicated to quality management.  Here’s an article about a prestigious quality award he received ten years ago, which details his expertise but also his general background.

After the presentation about using our three eyes and "unlearning" so we could observe more at the factory, we were treated to a cocktail reception and then dinner with CAT.  We saw some familiar faces – CAT had visited us in June and in the fall - and got to meet a few new ones as well.  It was cool to have the same kind of meetings, but on their “turf.”  We got a quick overview from Denise Johnson ‘97 about her experience with the company and why she joined it and then the rest of the time was dinner and chatting with her and the other CAT employees in attendance.  I didn’t sleep as well as I wanted to that night, but bed was certainly welcome.

Day 2 – Visit to CAT
A cold, misty, frosty morning in Peoria, IL
Monday dawned and we were up early – before 6 AM.  Breakfast started at 6 and we were expected to have packed, eaten and checked out so we could get on the bus at 7AM.  The weather was mostly heavy frost.  We first went to a CAT facility right in Peoria for a factory tour and presentations in a conference room.  In the morning we walked around their track type tractor facility and saw them making these large to giant machines.  CAT makes track-type tractors in sizes D6 to D11 (D11 is the largest – one drove down an aisle while we were touring and the floor shook as it went along).  We also heard about and saw them building the D7E, a smaller size track-type tractor with an electric drive train – it uses, on average 25% less fuel than the normal D7 (though burning fuel is how it generates the electricity).  They also redesigned the cab so the operator could see out even more.

In the afternoon, we went to their demonstration facility where they had simulators for driving most of their equipment.  We were very excited to test these out.  They had the complete set of pedals and steering equipment at each station.  What made us even more excited was what came next.  We went into a room with darkened glass walls and bleacher-type seating.  This was the demonstration area.  As the CAT guide started talking about their products, gymnasium type lights (the ones that take forever to get to full brightness) started turning on, so gradually, we began to see what was behind the glass.

Behind the glass was two acres of dirt enclosed in a building with many of their tractors and other equipment on it.  There was a hill in the back, a hole and a pile of dirt kind of the middle of the arena.  As each piece of equipment was presented, it would either dig or push or level or whatever it was meant to do.  Some of the tools used lasers to grade the land more quickly, so you wouldn’t need as many passes or surveying equipment.  I thought that was very impressive.  They can actively monitor the level of the ground their passing over and adjust the blade height accordingly.
Two acres of dirt under one roof
Finally, to the amazement and little-kid joy of us, they allowed us to go out onto the arena floor and climb on their biggest machines – the D11, a 100-ton capacity dump truck, a loader that could fill that truck in 3-4 scoops, and a number of the other machines we saw earlier.  It was lots of fun and something we definitely could not have done otherwise.  Definitely a memorable experience.

The 100-ton dump truck and corresponding loader
After seeing CAT, that evening we took a three hour bus ride back to Chicago and had then evening out on our own.  In Chicago, I ate deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s with about ten other people, including someone’s sister who lives in town.  That was fun and tasty and filling.  For that kind of pizza, when the menu says “serves X”, it means “serves X”.  We ordered three large pizzas for eleven people and could not finish them.  We ate about two-and-a-half pies.  I went back past the hotel with some people and ended up staying in – showering and going through the photos I had taken so far.
Day 3 – Travel day
A day to sleep in a little – the first thing we were required to do was meet up at Union Station in Chicago at 10:30.  This is so we could figure out how to check in as a group with Amtrak and then take the train to Detroit.  Amtrak boarded us, as a group, first, and we actually have our own car, which has been nice.  While on the train, we were behind a freight train for a little while and so went slower for part of our five hour journey than expected.  On the train I taught a fellow classmate, Clayton, how to play the card game cribbage.  It will be easier to play again when we’re not on a train.  It was good that I had the board though, since the train did not have wifi.  Five hours is a long time to be literally chugging along.  We got to be completely casual and it was fun.
Good Morning Union Station!
We arrived at our hotel in Novi around 8PM, (the train got to Detroit 45 minutes late).  Everyone else checked in and I went to stay with a local friend.

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