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The product performance, quality and reliability that customers have come to expect from John Deere don't happen by accident. Rather, these characteristics and values are the results of meticulous engineering, design and manufacturing. Equally important is a commitment to painstaking quality assurance and continuous improvement efforts, such as the company's Early Detection and Problem Resolution (EDPR) program.

"EDPR is an integral part of John Deere's corporate-wide product delivery process and is used in factories and divisions throughout the company," says Roger Maes, product delivery process manager for John Deere Harvester Works. "We first implemented EDPR in 1998 with our 10 Series Combines. The program has evolved a lot over the past several years. The role it played this time in assuring our products were going to meet customers' expectations was even more significant, given the fact we were introducing our new 600 Series Grain Platforms in addition to the 60 Series Combines."

In this particular instance John Deere Harvester Works' early detection program was focused on 67 early-production 60 Series Combines equipped with various 600 Series Grain Platforms. Customers across North America put these machines to work from the beginning to the end of the 2003 harvest season.

"We worked with a wide range of growers across the continent so we could evaluate the combines and platforms over a variety of crops and operating environments," Maes points out.

The key to the success of the early detection effort is to gather information on these early-production machines, analyze the data, and then determine whether or not situations that arise in the field warrant corrective actions.

"This is truly a multidisciplinary program involving engineering, product development, manufacturing and marketing, among others," Maes notes. "The whole purpose is to identify any possible issues that might arise in the critical product areas of design, manufacturing and support, and resolve them if need be before we move into full production."

One of the keys to the success of this important quality assurance program is the interaction between factory personnel and the cooperating customers. In previous EDPR efforts, Maes says, the factory performed a set number of contacts with these producers during and after harvest. With the new 60 Series combines having more sophisticated features such as AutoTrac and HarvestSmart Feedrate Control, Maes and his colleague at the John Deere Harvester Works decided they needed to follow an even more thorough and customized approach. "We identified customers with specific new features on their machines and tailored our factory follow-up based on the length of their harvest. This meant we were in contact with some of these folks as much as two times a week, in addition to post-harvest face-to-face interviews," Maes explains.

This attention to detail and commitment to early identification of potential problem areas pays dividends to customers, and the company as well.

"John Deere has a long, rich heritage of manufacturing products with the highest degree of quality and reliability," Maes asserts. "EDPR is a vital tool for helping us move the bar even higher in these critical areas. And the program benefits us as a company by helping achieve greater customer satisfaction, reducing warranty and manufacturing costs, and continuously improving ongoing product development efforts." AM

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