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Agritechnica: 6 Takeaways from Claas

Today, I had the opportunity to tour Claas’s headquarters and factory in Harsewinkel, Germany, as part of a pre-tour for Agritechnica. This is where Claas builds its Lexion combines, Xerion tractors, and Jaguar forage harvesters. Lexion combines headed to the U.S. are only partially assembled here before they're shipped to Omaha, Nebraska, for full assembly. I have toured that assembly plant in Omaha before, so I was intrigued to see where the equipment gets it start before it hits American farms.

The tour and presentation provided several insights into this innovative German company. Here are six of the main takeaways.

1. First and foremost, Claas is a family-owned business. Started in 1913 by August Claas, the equipment manufacturer is now run by Cathrina Claas-Muhlhauser, who represents the third generation of the Claas family. (Watch a video interview with Cathrina taped shortly after Claas’s 100th anniversary.)  Helmut Claas, the second generation, is still involved in the company as chairman of the shareholders’ committee.

Retired employee Günter Leigers, who now gives tours of the manufacturing plant (shown above), expressed the benefits of remaining a family-owned business. “The decisions the company makes are for the long-term and are strategic,” he says. “The value of the company is placed in the employees and their knowledge, not the hardware. The family is interested in more than a dividend, which is why the company’s profit is usually reinvested in Claas.” Typically, 5% of Claas’s turnover is spent on R&D.

2. Claas is an international company. Going global has helped Claas expand its workforce, product production, and profit. There are more than 11,400 Claas employees worldwide who work in factories from Harsewinkel to Omaha to India and China. The equipment they produce is used all over the world. In fact, 77% of Claas equipment is sold outside of Germany. This helped Claas double its turnover from 2004 to 2014, when it generated more than $4 billion.

3. Even though Claas has an international presence, the company remains a proud German manufacturer. Harsewinkel employs 3,200 people and Claas has a second plant in Paderborn where axles, transmissions, hydraulic systems, and Terra Tracs are built.

4. Claas is a global leader in ag equipment. The company comes in as the fifth-largest ag manufacturer in the world, and it's the only company in the top five that's family-owned. In Europe, the Lexion combine makes up 40% of the market. The Jaguar dominates the North American forage harvester market with a 40% share, which is larger than its market share in Europe. As a relatively new tractor manufacturer compared with the competition, Claas is making headway with a 12% share in the European tractor market.

5. Claas recognizes the U.S. as an important market, which is why the company built the Lexion assembly plant in Omaha and a spare parts warehouse in Columbus, Indiana.

6. In the states, Claas is known primarily for its combines and forage harvesters, but the company has a much broader product portfolio. Claas also manufacturers balers, hay handling equipment, telescopic loaders, and technology systems. Will the equipment line expand? Probably not too far.

“There are companies who have excellent seed technology and who produce wonderful implements. Many of these are also family-owned businesses,” says Wolfram Eberhardt, head of corporate communications for Claas. “That’s why we deliberately made the decision to keep the product portfolio as focused as it is."

Claas by the numbers:

  • Claas has held more than 6,000 patents; 3,000 of these are still active.
  • The headquarters in Harsewinkel includes a Technoparc, which includes the newest machines, historically significant Claas equipment, a theater, and merchandise shop. This attraction and the factory tours bring an average of 30,000 people to Claas each year.
  • The Harsewinkel factory can crank out a maximum of 40 Lexion combines per day.
  • Each Lexion combine has 132 pounds of paint on it. The paint is powder-coated by a robot. When painting was done by hand, each machine took three times as much paint to complete.
  • There are 55,000 parts in one Lexion combine.

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