Challenges Great Plains needed a faster way to design complex seeders that could plant seeds accurately and at top speeds – all in a market with larger competitors.

21st Century Harvesting with Great Plains and PTC Creo.

Planting a Better Field

Agriculture can be a brutal business. Trying to cope with climate, varying soils, and the need for vast quantities of human labor ruined more than one 19th century farmer. Today’s farming is a high-volume mechanized endeavor that aims for record crop yields. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Kansas-based Great Plains Manufacturing builds planting and seeding equipment that farmers rely on to get the most of their acreage – increasing yields without damaging the environment, the source of their livelihoods. Kansas has pride of place in American agricultural history, and Great Plains takes its responsibilities to future generations - wherever they may be - seriously.

21st century harvesting with Great Plains and Creo. “Creo saves us three times the amount of time to design a new piece of farming equipment compared to our previous approach” says Tanner McClure, Product Engineer. Local Kansas farmer, Wayne Miller, with 8,000 acres confirms the productivity gains with the new equipment. “The new Great Plains seeder (3S-5000) plants 120-130 acres more per day than my 30-footer (3S-3000)…the reason why we bought it is to get more done and be more efficient.”

The Challenge

Consider what Great Plains faces when it develops agricultural equipment for seedbed preparation, nutrient application, and seeding placement. Planting seeds correctly in your own garden is hard enough. Imagine designing giant machines to place tiny grains with incredible accuracy in all types of soils.

Great Plains wins through innovation – and uses Creo software from concept through production. Simulation capabilities add enormous value. The alternative would be to physically prototype a 50-foot wide grain drill with more than 4,000 individual parts. With simulation, engineers verify and validate a design of this size without slashing profits or – worse – delivering a product that does not work as intended.

With Creo as their CAD tool, Great Plains brings products to market faster and harvests profits at the expense of much larger competitors. This flourishing (and privately-held) company of 1,500 people is ready for its next 40 years.

The Mission

Employees at Great Plains Manufacturing will tell you their goal is to design and build farming equipment that helps to feed the world by increasing crop yields, while promoting environmental sustainability. They are one of the largest privately held manufacturers of farm equipment and have been bringing agricultural innovations to market for nearly 40 years. Headquartered in Salina, Kansas, the company is constantly innovating to stay ahead of global competitors – often much larger than they are.

The company’s largest grain drill, the 3S-5000 is 50 feet wide and includes over 4,000 individual components. This machine is used for seeding and can also distribute dry fertilizer.


For Great Plains, product innovation starts at the design stage. “We innovate to stay ahead, because it's a very competitive business” states Greg Arnett, Engineering Manager at Great Plains. “We invest heavily in engineering, because we know how important it is to deliver great products for our customers. If innovation and quality are not built at the engineering stage, there is nothing our manufacturing process can do to make that better” states Linda Salem, Chief Operating Officer.

One example was pioneering the concept of vertical tillage. “When you have a field, you have different levels in the compacted soil and roots cannot reach moisture so the root spreads sideways. The crop can’t reach its full yield potential. And the plant does not become drought-tolerant and as nutrients are applied they run off,” stated Linda Salem. Great Plains solved this problem with Creo and developed several vertical tillage products. “Vertical tillage works the ground vertically rather than horizontally while breaking up and shattering layers in the soil giving the plants root system a better chance of success in dry times or in good times. The growing plant can also then use more of the soil nutrients” states Salem.


Great Plains design engineers are located in the United States and the United Kingdom. Design teams work on the complete machine, taking it from concept to production. The team can fully test the equipment with Creo, including reliability and strength during operation, to simulating the equipment being prepared for transport. “Creo saves us three times the amount of time to design a new piece of farming equipment compared to our previous approach” says Tanner McClure, Product Engineer “so we are getting products to market significantly faster.”


The tight integration between Creo and Windchill allows Great Plains design teams to increase productivity and more quickly design products across disparate design locations. “With Windchill, so collaboration is easy” states 29 year Great Plains veteran Randy Jones, System Administrator. “An engineer based in England can work on one part while an engineer in Kansas can work on a different part in the same assembly. The engineer in England can save the design, and the engineer in Kansas receives an update and can see the latest changes. This facilitates real concurrent engineering and greater productivity.”

Designs can also be shared as lightweight viewables across the company, with manufacturing, sales, marketing, and customers.


Creo helps the Great Plains team complete work faster with the ability to visualize and share designs with stakeholders around the world. Randy Jones, points out “We are designing products nowadays that we couldn’t have dreamed of designing before Creo.” With Creo, a precise 3D model is shared with the sales and marketing departments, and they can instantly see the complete design and provide feedback earlier. Most importantly, customers can fully visualize the product to get a real feel for its capabilities.


The results are impressive:


  • The 3S-5000, the company’s biggest seeder to date, went from concept to production just 18 months, a three-fold decrease in design time compared to previous approaches.
  • The seeder sports the latest innovations, including vertical tillage, dramatic improvement in nutrient application, highest accuracy seed placing at 35% higher speeds than most competitors, and twin row spacing creating plants with bigger stalks and larger root mass.
  • By using the whole Creo suite, the design team was able to create equipment that fulfills demanding customer requirements at 40% less weight than traditional concepts.
  • Second year sales of the seeder have increased ten-fold, beating the companies best forecast.