Factory of the Year

Key Factor Team Performance!

Kurtz Ersa has won the GEO Award "Factory of the Year 2021" with its plant in Bestenheid. The prize is one of the most coveted awards for companies and demonstrates the high operational performance that is achieved every day at the Ersa GmbH plant. A terrific team performance was the basis for the success. The new and old CEO of Kurtz Ersa provide interesting insights on this.

What motivated you to participate in the competition?

Ralph Knecht: The initial spark was a visit to Ersa customer Siemens, which had won the award a few years ago. Siemens had gained remarkable insights from participating. In addition, we quickly agreed in sales that the award was the right signal for our customers that we had optimal processes. And internally, the benchmark was also important and a good signal for everyone involved. It brought strong motivation into the company.

Rainer Kurtz: We have known "Factory of the Year" for many years as a highly regarded award. When the call for Factory of the Year 2022 landed in my mail a few weeks later, it was clear that we should take part in order to have the new hall, the new warehouse and much more externally evaluated and a broad-based benchmark carried out. To be honest, it has always been a secret wish to take part and win here - now we´ve done it, not least because of the good EBIT and the comprehensive digitization program in 2021!

Ralph Knecht, previously Ersa Managing Director and new Kurtz Ersa CEO
Ralph Knecht, previously Ersa Managing Director and new Kurtz Ersa CEO

In 2021, we won at the second attempt - where was it lacking in the first application?

Ralph Knecht: In the first tender, we learned a great deal - even beyond the actual benchmark - and were then able to improve significantly for the second round. In 2020, the plant was not optimally positioned in all processes, as was the case in 2021. In addition, we only moved into the new hall in 2020, so there was still a lot to improve in terms of processes. In 2021, it was then clear what we had to focus on. We therefore used the first participation as a very good learning field.

Rainer Kurtz: After all, Kearney claims that no one wins in the first year. Even to win in the second round is an unusual achievement.

The award is only won by those who are well organized. What was most important?

Ralph Knecht: It only works together with the team - the decisive factors were also the composition and the holistic orientation of the organization. The second point was the Staufen project, which included in particular the optimization of the process landscape and had above all analyzed the processes in the hall, in cycle production and in the logistics center. Development, testing, and assembly and logistics processes are also key success factors, all of which are additionally supported by our end-to-end Industry 4.0 solutions.

What made the victory?

Ralph Knecht: First and foremost, the entire team should be mentioned here. Corporate success is a team effort and the crisis was really a "litmus test" for team performance and processes. Everyone pulled together, which was unique. The second point is the coherent overall concept, i.e. the optimal combination of agile processes, lean organization and highly motivated people, all with their own and special skills, which we teach in our Hammer Academy. Another key element for success is our digital transformation and all services related to Industry 4.0. For us, this is "connectivity" in action - machines and soldering stations are connected online, production is paperless, many things can be controlled via digital interfaces, and the ICCS is our digital supply center. The award also focuses on processes, of course, and here our new building offers an overall concept from development to production, always supported by the KEL with a suitable just-in-time logistics concept including complete infrastructure. Last but not least, it is the integrated processes - lean, customer/customer with high consistency and KPIs - that make the difference.

Rainer Kurtz, former CEO, who successfully led the Kurtz Ersa Group for many years
Rainer Kurtz, former CEO, who successfully led the Kurtz Ersa Group for many years

In the overall concept, the "KE Story" is at the top - please describe it ...

Rainer Kurtz: We have a clear strategy in all business areas, and in essence the focus is always clearly on customer benefits. Everything we do is derived from this. We want to offer our customers the best production facilities - this is what we focus on in the long term, we design our products and our production must also fit in with this. The quest for continuous improvement of processes for ever better customer solutions has been driving us ever since our company was founded in 1779. Also not new, but a key success factor is our workforce. The focus here is on our employees, who put their hearts and minds into their work and provide the best solutions for our customers. The term "One Family" aptly sums up the Kurtz Ersa Spirit here in the Main-Spessart region and abroad.

An important component of the overall concept was Corona management - what was most important here?

Rainer Kurtz: We approached the issue very calmly and with an awareness of the high level of responsibility. We put together a super team of executives, members of aid organizations, works council members etc., so we were always well networked and informed and always ahead of the game. We have always been guided by the government´s requirements. Our forward-thinking IT strategy allowed us to move quickly and directly to home office, video conferencing, etc. And when the vaccine was available, we vaccinated those at our company who wanted it. And so our company remained safe the whole time and we never got into a real dangerous situation.

Ralph Knecht: We consistently kept cases of illness away from the company and thus ensured the ability to work at all times. The same rules applied at all sites, ensuring a high level of transparency. In the operational area, we adjusted this accordingly and thus maintained the ability to deliver.

In permanent dialog: Ralph Knecht (left) and Rainer Kurtz
In permanent dialog: Ralph Knecht (left) and Rainer Kurtz

Performance during the crisis and high value generation were ranked as important in the overall concept ...

Rainer Kurtz: In 2020 we had a slump on the customer side, in 2021 we had a record year. We are flexible, act quickly and are well positioned for all situations and can cushion fluctuations directly.

Ralph Knecht: We are very flexible, which was seen in the fact that we were able to double production within six months. We managed this together with the works council and the employees and were thus able to achieve the high level of flexibility with the workforce.


Leadership and management are relevant aspects. What do you place your emphasis on?

Ralph Knecht: Regular communication with everyone to communicate regulations transparently and openly. Optimization processes require special leadership qualities - sometimes you have to push the envelope and manage peak loads well. But with our new organization at the plant, the foundation was laid and implementation has gone well. A key element of our leadership approach is trust. Sometimes there are controversial discussions, but always open ones - and in the end there is a consensus that is supported by everyone.

One team, one goal: the Ersa team at the Productronica 2021 in Munich
One team, one goal: the Ersa team at the Productronica 2021 in Munich

Looking ahead: We´re good, but we can do even better. What´s next?

Ralph Knecht: We want to systematically implement the lessons learned this year. In other words, where are there specific points that we can improve? This was reported back directly in the audit. And secondly, we want to roll it out across the Group. Specifically, we started with the tools area and will double the volume. The project was launched immediately after the award was given and is already in full implementation.

Rainer Kurtz: We are also rolling this out to other business units - I´m thinking of Kurtz GmbH & Co. KG. The first coordinations are already taking place here. We see great potential for 3D printing in particular. We want to learn from each other and not stop getting better.

A brief conclusion from the new CEO?

Ralph Knecht: It was a very exciting process overall - for the company, but also for the team. You become very transparent. One of the highlights was the assessment of how well you work as a team and how people interact and coordinate with each other. The benchmark from the outside is a great benefit. Internally, there are regular reviews, but the external view has pushed us even further to find the right levers. A top action and an outstanding team performance!