SportsTurf

December 2017

SportsTurf provides current, practical and technical content on issues relevant to sports turf managers, including facilities managers. Most readers are athletic field managers from the professional level through parks and recreation, universities.

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www.spor tsturfonline.com 30 // December 2017 // By ERIC SCHRODER L ast summer I was invited to The Toro Company's headquarters outside Minneapolis to take part in their annual Sports Fields & Grounds Forum. While there I met some of the principals involved in developing a new product, "the Outcross 9060," and toured the company's research and development facilities. In my role as editor I've toured a few manufacturing plants over the years. Seeing fi rst-hand how mowers, utility vehicles and other equipment used by sports turf managers are built makes for an interesting day. But the inside look from those who fi gure out the whys and hows of engineering, not only for a new piece of equipment but for an entirely new product category, was truly intriguing. Toro was founded more than 100 years ago to provide engines for an early tractor manufacturer, called The Bull Tractor Company, an association that began the name "Toro." Later the company shifted its focus to the mowing industry after a golf club asked it to create a motorized fairway mower (the members were probably tired of playing out of horse hoof divots). That fi rst machine featured fi ve reel mowers mounted onto the front of a farm tractor. Toro engineers have been cultivating new products ever since, including some with great names: a fairway sprinkler system in 1925 (the "Sea Serpent"); the fi rst push reel mower in 1928 (the "Silver Flash"); and a stand-on mower in 2008 (the "GrandStand"). During my visit, picking the winning name for the machine seemed to be one of the most perplexing of all details being juggled by Noah Wahl, Product Marketing Manager. In the end, Outcross was selected because of its fi tting defi nition: to cross by breeding characteristics of different strains for the purpose of removing unwanted traits or introducing desired traits. Designing a new product I asked Wahl what has to happen before getting a green light to begin developing a new product. "Key aspects to uncovering the value of a new product center around the customer, in listening to and observing their needs. Engineers, marketers, and sales all ask questions to find those aspects that are causing the customers' issues. Recognizing the customer needs, rationalizing the value of fulfi lling that need, understanding the gaps or risks in the technology required to meet that need, and determining the practicality of building the product, are the initial steps of the concept and feasibility stages," he said. "Once those key aspects are found, our development teams start to conceptualize a product that customers will value by allowing them to perform their jobs and tasks more efficiently and at a higher quality," Wahl said. "It is then up to the project team to build the business case that will give the project the green light." What's the next step? "At this point, we build our fi rst prototypes and start to put them through rigorous lab and real-world testing. Components are put through millions of cycles in worst-case scenarios to ensure they meet our specifi cations. Nothing moves forward unless we are sure it will fulfi ll our customer's needs and meet their performance expectations," Wahl said. Rex Bergsten, Chief Development Engineer, led my tour of the R&D department. Bergsten patiently explained what the goals are in each area of the department as we walked through the maze of stations and testing rooms. I commented more than once about how much money it must cost, especially given not only the "knowledge capture" required to engineer and develop a new machine, but also the investment in technology and hardware of the equipment that enables Toro's staff to conduct tests and create models. Rex was too modest to quote actual numbers but even an all-thumbs novice like me knows the company has invested tens of millions of dollars in their R&D labs to ensure the highest product quality. I asked Bergsten at what point are customers involved in the development process. "For a successful product development program, it is critical to have the customer involved throughout How do new turf industry products come to be? Part II Eric Schroder checking with Noah Wahl, center, and Rex Bergsten, right, to see if they have insured the Project Delta prototype before Schroder took a test drive.

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