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GOODFIELD, Ill. (AP) - It's been a decade since one of Woodford County's biggest employers bounced back from the brink of closure.

The rebound of the Case IH plant in Goodfield faced the same obstacles to growth as other manufacturers of heavy equipment across the country, and it has not restored the employee population to the historic highs of decades before the 2006 announcement that CNH Industrial would shutter the facility.

Ever since the corporation reversed course in 2008, however, the factory that churns out tillage and fertilizer application equipment in an almost infinite variety of configurations — possible combinations literally number in the millions — has been transformed.

The most visible part of that transformation began in 2013 with an expansion that increased manufacturing floor space by two-thirds to today's total of 593,000 square feet.

Less tangible but no less significant in plant manager Brian Hansche's mind has been a shift in operational perspective set into motion with the World Class Manufacturing methodology introduced in February 2015.

The strategy, which CNH Industrial first adopted in 2008, has its fair share of white-collar buzz words and corporate Power Point illustrations, but it also relies on blue-collar input from the laborers who actually make the products on the factory floor.

"It really requires engagement from everybody in the plant," Hansche said during a recent factory tour. "It can't be a top-down methodology, it really has to be floor-up. ... If these guys aren't buying into it, it's not happening."

By WCM standards, and other more universal measurements such as man-hours worked without a lost-time injury, the Goodfield plant is continuously improving, Hansche said. It earned a bronze WCM rating last fall — the first CNH Industrial plant in North America to achieve the rating on the first try.

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First-aid incidents are down 89 percent since WCM was first implemented, according to factory figures, and 2018 is on track to be the safest year in plant history.

Against that backdrop, Case IH in Goodfield maintains other relevant rankings — top Woodford County tax revenue generator, one of the county's top three employers — while cross-training its welder-heavy workforce to optimize agricultural component production across six different factory configurations arranged according to season.

On a broader scale, the company constantly refines and redesigns its components to meet farming industry trends and advance technological capabilities for greater precision and automation.

"Our equipment provides the perfect seed bed floor to plant seeds on," Hansche said. "Our products really are geared for sustainability, in the way we make them and for farm operations by improving efficiency to increase yields and reduce inputs (such as fertilizer)."
 

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