Eyes on Oz

We visit the YTO trac­tor fac­tory in China

Farms & Farm Machinery - - Front Page -

I’d walked around and ad­mired the new YTO LF2204 trac­tor be­ing shown off by the crew at the YTO as­sem­bly plant in Louyang, China, and be­ing the equip­ment reviewer that I am, nat­u­rally said I’d like to have a drive.

Con­ster­na­tion! They were quite re­luc­tant to let me have a drive be­cause they didn’t be­lieve a jour­nal­ist from Aus­tralia would know how to drive a trac­tor.

After about 10 min­utes of me ex­plain­ing that I had been a farmer for 30 years prior to my ca­reer change into the me­dia, they re­luc­tantly agreed to let me take it out on the road – but only on the con­di­tion that I had a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from YTO in the cabin with me.

I suit­ably im­pressed them all by jump­ing in and fir­ing up the en­gine be­fore my com­pan­ion had even joined me in the cabin.

I skil­fully dodged all the cars, trucks and scoot­ers as we headed up the busy road, but could still feel a strong sense of un­easi­ness com­ing from the YTO rep­re­sen­ta­tive, who was fu­ri­ously giv­ing me hand sig­nals as he sat ner­vously in the in­struc­tor’s seat next to me.

Sud­denly, it dawned on me that they drive on the other side of the road in China. It was amaz­ing how much more re­laxed he be­came as I crossed from the left to the right-hand side of the road! The traf­fic seemed to flow a lot bet­ter as well.

IN THE PLANT

I was in Louyang, in cen­tral China’s He­nan prov­ince, to check out how YTO makes the trac­tors it presents as in­ex­pen­sive al­ter­na­tives to Aus­tralian farm­ers re­quir­ing power, re­li­a­bil­ity and us­abil­ity.

The com­pany was es­tab­lished in 1955 and was the first to make trac­tors in China. Since 1959, when the first trac­tor rolled off the pro­duc­tion line, it has man­u­fac­tured more than 3 mil­lion trac­tors and con­struc­tion ma­chines – such as road rollers, wheel load­ers, and dump trucks – as well as diesel en­gines.

YTO is re­garded as China’s premier pro­ducer of agri­cul­tural equip­ment. It man­u­fac­tures about 100,000 trac­tors an­nu­ally, and holds in ex­cess of 30 per cent mar­ket share of trac­tors sold in China and about 5 per cent of the global mar­ket.

YTO Cor­po­ra­tion is now fo­cus­ing on pro­mot­ing the com­pany in Aus­tralia and ce­ment­ing a solid mar­ket share here.

Hav­ing checked out the Louyang plant, I can best de­scribe the as­sem­bly line as com­puter con­trolled with high hu­man in­put. As in most of China, work­ers are used in­stead of au­to­ma­tion be­cause labour is so cheap here.

My con­cern was that the hu­man el­e­ment may re­sult in in­con­sis­ten­cies, but this is mit­i­gated by cen­tral com­puter con­trol. For ex­am­ple, while a worker’s role may be to po­si­tion the com­po­nents, com­puter-con­trolled tools guar­an­tee uni­form ten­sion­ing of ev­ery nut, bolt and screw.

Each of the 16 as­sem­bly sta­tions at the plant has a qual­ity con­trol of­fi­cer, whose role is to dou­ble check the in­stal­la­tions done at that par­tic­u­lar sta­tion.

The trac­tor can only move onto the next sta­tion after he is sat­is­fied and signs off on the job.

Ap­par­ently, the as­sem­bly line de­sign is a copy of that used by John Deere a few years ago.

While it does look a bit out­dated, it ap­pears to have all the qual­ity con­trol mea­sures in place to match the more mod­ern, au­to­mated as­sem­bly lines.

Ev­ery sin­gle trac­tor that rolls off the pro­duc­tion line is put through a driv­ing test to check steer­ing and han­dling. They are driven onto re­sis­tance rollers to make sure the trans­mis­sion per­forms cor­rectly un­der a va­ri­ety of load lev­els, and fur­ther check­ing is car­ried out on the link­age, PTO, hy­draulics, and elec­tri­cal sys­tem.

My con­fi­dence in the brand was boosted know­ing that ev­ery trac­tor is sub­jected to test­ing, rather than just a ran­dom sam­ple.

THE TEST DRIVE

One of the trac­tors fresh off the line was the YTO LF2204 I drove. It’s a new-gen­er­a­tion 220hp, 4WD, Pow­er­Shift trac­tor de­vel­oped by YTO it­self in a bid to push into the higher-horse­power trac­tor mar­ket.

It was the first time I had ever driven any­thing from the

YTO sta­ble, and I think what struck me most as I climbed in and sat my­self down was the ab­sence of elec­tronic clut­ter in­side the cabin. It felt like hop­ping into a 10-year-old ver­sion of a Case, Massey Fer­gu­son, John Deere or any other ma­jor brand – and I cer­tainly don’t in­tend that as a crit­i­cism, in fact quite the op­po­site.

In­stead of be­ing over­whelmed by con­trol pan­els lit­tered with switches, di­als and joy­sticks that have no ob­vi­ous use, as well as mon­i­tors blar­ing sirens ev­ery time I dare touch any­thing, I ac­tu­ally felt right at home among the ba­sic and well-po­si­tioned set of con­trols. The YTO LF2204 fea­tures a 220hp Cum­mins elec­tronic-con­trolled com­mon-rail diesel en­gine meet­ing Tier 3 emis­sions stan­dards.

It’s worth not­ing that the en­gine is a gen­uine Cum­mins man­u­fac­tured in a Xiangyang fac­tory jointly owned by US-based Cum­mins and Dongfeng Mo­tor Cor­po­ra­tion.

In fact, my con­fi­dence in YTO is en­hanced by the long list of out­sourced com­po­nents that carry brand names held in high re­gard in Aus­tralia, in­clud­ing Fiat tech­nol­ogy, Bosch electrics, LuK clutches, Hella light­ing, Don­ald­son fil­ters, Univer­sal bear­ings, and Gram­mer Com­fort seats.

An elec­tronic Pow­er­Shift trans­mis­sion fea­tures 46 for­ward and 41 re­verse gears with au­to­matic in­tel­li­gent speed match­ing, as well as an elec­tronic for­ward/re­verse power shut­tle. It con­sists of six ranges with eight speeds in each range.

For safety rea­sons, the top two speeds are locked out of top range when trav­el­ling in a for­ward di­rec­tion, and the top seven speeds are locked out of top range in re­verse.

The trans­mis­sions are man­u­fac­tured in France in an old Case New Hol­land trans­mis­sion fac­tory that YTO bought to pro­vide the com­pany with its own fac­tory floor, an es­tab­lished pro­duc­tion line, and ex­ist­ing tech­nol­ogy.

A closed-cen­tre hy­draulic sys­tem de­liv­ers 124 litres per minute of oil flow to four pairs of re­mote valves and an elec­tron­i­cally en­gag­ing 2-speed PTO. Fuel tank ca­pac­ity on the LF2204 is a gen­er­ous 456 litres.

The axles are de­signed for step­less wheel spac­ing ad­just­ment, and are ready for a set of du­als to be at­tached when ex­tra trac­tion is re­quired.

In the cab, the right-hand con­trol con­sole in­cludes all the fea­tures you’d find on any of the top-brand trac­tors: a trans­mis­sion con­trol lever with push but­ton range and gear se­lec­tion; a four-way hy­draulic valve con­trol panel with four groups of thumb switches, each with a flow reg­u­la­tion and tim­ing knob; 4WD and diff-lock en­gag­ing switches; and a

PTO con­troller with au­to­matic dis­en­gag­ing fea­ture linked to the three-point link­age arms. Elec­tronic three-point link­age func­tions in­clude lift height and speed con­trol.

An LED gear dis­play mon­i­tor is built into the right-front cabin pil­lar. It dis­plays the sta­tus in­for­ma­tion of the trac­tor, in­clud­ing the trav­el­ling di­rec­tion, trav­el­ling speed, cur­rent gear and pre­set gear.

YTO’s de­sire to meet the de­mands of the Aus­tralian mar­ket re­sulted in the in­stal­la­tion of an en­hanced cool­ing pack­age, im­proved cabin seals for dust pre­ven­tion and light­ing up­grades.

In fact, a ma­jor rea­son for tak­ing an Aus­tralian con­tin­gent to China was so we could in­form the trac­tor de­vel­op­ment

“My con­fi­dence in the brand was boosted know­ing that ev­ery trac­tor is sub­jected to test­ing, rather than just a ran­dom sam­ple”

team what up­grades the trac­tors would re­quire to sur­vive in Aus­tralia’s harsher en­vi­ron­ment.

FA­MIL­IAR­ITY

For the mo­ment, the man­age­ment team at YTO has cho­sen to re­tain sim­plic­ity and fa­mil­iar­ity in its de­sign. The plan is to pro­duce re­li­able, pow­er­ful and easy-to-op­er­ate trac­tors that won’t be stopped by the fail­ure of a cheap piece of electronics or com­puter soft­ware, and that our age­ing farmer pop­u­la­tion will feel at home in be­hind the wheel. Con­trac­tors are de­mand­ing highly ad­vanced pieces of equip­ment in the be­lief that they po­ten­tially im­prove pro­duc­tiv­ity and ef­fi­ciency.

While I’m not ques­tion­ing the ben­e­fits of all the mod­ern fea­tures and func­tions of to­day’s trac­tors, I do be­lieve there is still a mas­sive mar­ket for a trac­tor with­out all the bells and whis­tles at a price suit­able for the op­er­a­tor who doesn’t spend all day be­hind the wheel.

Les Clarke, the man­ager of YTO trac­tor deal­er­ship

AusEquip in Pak­en­ham, Vic­to­ria, and a manag­ing di­rec­tor of YTO im­ports and EveryMach, says the YTO trac­tors are the per­fect choice for the farmer who fo­cuses on power, re­li­a­bil­ity and us­abil­ity.

“Aus­tralia is full of farm­ers who don’t want or sim­ply can’t af­ford to pay an ex­tra $40,000, $50,000 or even $60,000 on a trac­tor that has fea­tures and func­tions that they will never use and only com­pli­cate the oper­a­tion of the trac­tor,” he says.

QUAL­ITY CON­TROL

The YTO team is well aware that its trac­tors will be thor­oughly scru­ti­nised by a scep­ti­cal Aus­tralian mar­ket. Many Aussies will be wait­ing for that one fail­ure, even hop­ing for a fail, just so they can stick the boots into the Chi­nese im­port.

YTO In­ter­na­tional gen­eral man­ager Liu Jian Guo tells me the price can be kept low for two rea­sons.

“First of all, the labour cost in China is fairly low,” he says. “Se­condly, we keep a close eye on ex­pen­di­tures. “Ev­ery year we set stan­dards for our pur­chas­ing depart­ment to fol­low. If they don’t fol­low and stick to the man­u­fac­tur­ing costs, we will take ac­tion. We are very strict in that re­gard.”

But YTO is also aware that price alone will not con­vert to sales. As a brand, it will have to con­vince the mar­ket that its trac­tors are de­signed well and thor­oughly tested, im­ple­ment ex­cel­lent qual­ity con­trol mea­sures on the pro­duc­tion line, and pro­vide a high stan­dard of war­ranty and af­ter­sales ser­vice. More than any­thing, they have to be seen as value for money.

As part of my tour of YTO’s fa­cil­i­ties in China, I vis­ited the China Of­fi­cial Trac­tor Test and Eval­u­a­tion Cen­tre, or COTTEC. This is a lab­o­ra­tory ap­proved by the China Na­tional Ac­cred­i­ta­tion Com­mit­tee of Lab­o­ra­to­ries to carry out in­de­pen­dent test­ing in ac­cor­dance with OECD and Agri­cul­tural Trac­tor Test Treaty Or­ga­ni­za­tion pol­icy.

In ac­cor­dance with in­ter­na­tional stan­dards such as GB,

JB, ISO, OECD, ASAE and SAE, one of the tests the cen­tre does is mea­sure the abil­ity of the en­gine to per­form at tem­per­a­tures as high as 70 de­grees or as low as a chilly

-45 de­grees.

In a sound­proof room, the en­gines’ noise and vi­bra­tion lev­els are cal­cu­lated. The trans­mis­sion, clutches, brakes and other com­po­nents are also put through strin­gent test­ing un­til they sat­isfy world stan­dards.

The lat­est in trans­mis­sion test­ing ma­chin­ery has just been bought from Ger­many at a cost of $4 mil­lion, and will be used to en­sure YTO’s new CVT trans­mis­sion meets world stan­dards.

THE AUSSIE CON­NEC­TION

EveryMach and YTO Im­ports di­rec­tor Leo Liu says

Aus­tralian buy­ers are log­i­cal and ra­tio­nal when mak­ing their pur­chas­ing de­ci­sions.

“As long as our trac­tors are of good qual­ity and fit the re­quire­ments of farm­ers in Aus­tralia, we feel that’s enough rea­son for Aus­tralians to con­sider us,” he says.

“We wish to build long-term re­la­tion­ships with our cus­tomers in Aus­tralia, not stop­ping at the buy­ing and sell­ing stage. We be­lieve if we put our cus­tomers first, we will do well in Aus­tralia.”

YTO trac­tors are supplied to 20 deal­er­ships in Vic­to­ria, South Aus­tralia, New South Wales and Queens­land through two dis­trib­u­tor­ships – VCOTOM in Toowoomba, Queens­land, and AusEquip in Pak­en­ham, Vic­to­ria.

Over the course of the trip I got to know Les Clarke and VCOTOM man­ager Miles Stro­hfeld, and re­alised that both men share a strong pas­sion for pro­vid­ing Aus­tralian farm­ers with a high-qual­ity, low-cost al­ter­na­tive.

The YTO trac­tors cur­rently avail­able in Aus­tralia range in size from 35hp to 220hp, with plans to bring in higher-horse­power mod­els of up to 400hp with full Pow­er­Shift and CVT trans­mis­sions in the fu­ture.

Clarke says his best sales are com­ing from the 90hp and 125hp mod­els, and he’s strug­gling to keep up with the de­mand.

“To guar­an­tee that we can main­tain sup­ply of trac­tors and parts in the fu­ture, we are plan­ning to build re­gional head­quar­ters in Mel­bourne that will not only ser­vice Aus­tralia, but also New Zealand,” he tells me. “It will have the abil­ity to fully ser­vice the Aus­tralasian re­gion.”

THE BOT­TOM LINE

I was some­what sur­prised to dis­cover that the size, ap­pear­ance, and qual­ity work­man­ship of the trac­tors made by YTO far ex­ceeded my ex­pec­ta­tions.

The com­pany seems well aware that main­tain­ing a high level of qual­ity con­trol in the ar­eas of pro­duc­tion, as­sem­bly, pre-de­liv­ery, de­liv­ery and after-sales ser­vice is paramount to its suc­cess in the Aus­tralian mar­ket. From what I’ve seen, they seem to have it well in hand.

The best way I can sum up what I thought of the YTO trac­tors is to say that if I were to get back into farm­ing, I would have no hes­i­ta­tion in buy­ing one. If you’re in the mar­ket for an up­grade, they are well and truly worth a look.

There were two things I learnt on this trip: I don’t think I’ll get used to the ducks’ feet, jel­ly­fish and frogs I dined on in China; and, more im­por­tantly, I think we’ll be see­ing many more YTO-branded trac­tors on farms across Aus­tralia.

“YTO is re­garded as China’s premier pro­ducer of agri­cul­tural equip­ment. It man­u­fac­tures about 100,000 trac­tors an­nu­ally, and holds in ex­cess of 30 per cent mar­ket share of trac­tors sold in China and about 5 per cent of the global mar­ket”

EveryMach and YTO Im­ports di­rec­tor Leo Liu is con­fi­dent that YTO trac­tors will per­form well here

5: The team re­spon­si­ble for grow­ing the YTO brand in Aus­tralia is

(from left) AusEquip man­ager and EveryMach and YTO Im­ports manag­ing di­rec­tor Les Clarke, EveryMach and YTO Im­ports di­rec­tor Leo Liu, and VCOTOM man­ager Miles Stro­hfeld

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