A look inside Precision Planting’s expansive, innovative assembly and distribution center in Morton
Marvin Wagenbach offers a simple, positive assessment of his upgraded workplace at Precision Planting’s large new facility in Morton.
“It's nice, they made a nice place for us. Beautiful working conditions,” said Wagenbach, a supervisor who has been with the agricultural equipment company since 2000, making him the longest tenured employee at the location.
“There's a lot more room, for one thing. In comparison, our whole (previous) facility was about as big as my one work center,” Wagenbach said. “You’ve got room to put the pallets, so you don't have to move things around. It's just a lot easier.”
Impossible to miss for anyone driving through the junction of Interstates 74 and 155, the 510,000-square foot assembly and distribution center started operating in October. The multi-million dollar facility consolidates eight sites scattered across the Tri-County area into one efficient and modernized plant.
Precision Planting General Manager Keith Crow said the impetus for developing the new facility dates back to 2019.
“We started assessing as a company, what are some of the items that, if we were to think outside the box and think a big picture, that if we were really to grow this business, what were some of the things that we need to do as a company? One of the things that we identified was, we needed to extend and expand our operations center,” Crow said.
“It's over 2½ times the square footage that we had previously as an operation, not to mention the technology that we put into the business. It's really well positioned us for a continued growth of the business as we go forward.”
Originally founded in Tremont about 30 years ago, Precision Planting specializes in retrofitting agricultural equipment with technology aimed at making planting easier and increasing crop yields. Georgia-based agricultural machinery manufacturer AGCO acquired Precison Planting about six years ago.
“Overall, as we're going through this project, we assessed different locations and we were very proud to be able to work with the Village of Morton and the EDC (Greater Peoria Economic Development Council) to be able to develop the site,” Crow said.
“What it meant for us was both continued engagement of our employees that we already had here in Morton, but also in expandability of ability to add additional workforce here in the local community. We like the proximity to our corporate headquarters and Tremont, the proximity to our engineering team as we were quick to market with products that help provide solutions to yield-robbing issues in the field for growers.”
Among the innovations at the center is an “auto store” system that uses 26 robots to carry parts to workers using a network of 42,000 totes.
“A person stays in the same spot, and based on the order that's placed, a robot – or multiple robots, actually – bring totes of parts to them,” said marketing director Bryce Baker. “They pick the parts, put them into their container, and then there's another tote right behind that one, and the robot takes the one they picked out of back. So that gain is really, the person doesn't have to move, and there's a lot less wasted time in that whole process.”
The “auto store” structure can accommodate up to 58,000 totes without requiring any reconfiguration.
Baker said the efficiency added through innovation also increases productivity.
“That's something that we strive for, in the farming industry – especially the retrofit approach that Precision Planting has,” Baker said. “We don't sell complete pieces of equipment; we sell technology pieces that farmers can add to upgrade. So time is of the essence, of course.
“A farmer served by their Precision Planting dealer needs to have (items) in a timely fashion when they go to the field for planting, for spraying, for fertilizer application, for harvesting. So the ability to get these orders turned around quicker under one building is really great just for the farmers that we serve.”
Sales and operations manager Austin Wharrum noted that along with the boost in square footage, the new warehouse is 11 feet taller than the former main facility, allowing for nearly double the amount of pallet storage.
Wagenbach is one of about 240 employees at the Precision Planting site, which produces more than 40 product lines when fully operational.
“A typical day is, you get here in the morning, we have our startup meetings, kind of telling guys where they're going then we get started on the job,” Wagenbach said. “I go over and make sure that the jobs are running correctly, make sure the guys have enough parts. That's what we do all day, then we go do digital quality checks, too.”
The entire operations center has significant growth potential. Baker said the north wall eventually could be removed to add another 400,000 square feet of workspace in the future.
Crow said Precision Planting has added 100 jobs since the start of the new warehouse project, bringing its total workforce in Central Illinois to more than 400. He said the new operations center strengthens Precision Planting’s deep roots in Greater Peoria.
“We want to continue to leverage our impact in the community, both as an employer of choice but also as an organization that's involved in the community, getting out, helping others and working in the community through volunteers as well as through charitable organizations,” he said.