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Kurtz Ersa CEO Rainer Kurtz brings the competition to Ralph Knecht 2020´s attention. "We could participate," says Kurtz. Knecht, now CEO of the group and then still Ersa boss, is visiting an important customer a short time later: Siemens. The electronics giant had won the title of "Factory of the Year" with a plant a few years earlier. After talking to the Siemens plant manager, Ralph Knecht is clear: "We´re in. And want to win."
The starting position is difficult, but on the other hand this gives the project a lot of sense. Ersa is growing strongly. The soldering machines from Wertheim are in high demand. Applications of the digital mega trends are based on PCBs - whether 5G mobile communications or autonomous driving. Everything requires powerful networks and almost every electronic device contains one or more circuit boards.
The rapidly growing business requires new production capacities. Plans for a factory building at the Wertheim site have long been ready. The shell is in place, but simply expanding the existing structures is out of the question for Ralph Knecht. He wants the greatest possible flexibility so that the company can respond quickly to changes in market requirements. After all, strong growth also causes pain. It is not unusual for a company´s organization to reach its limits as production output scales. Ralph Knecht wants to get to the root of the problem and prevent possible negative consequences of growing pains from arising in the first place. Small "aches and pains" often develop into big wounds. Negative communication leads to stress. All processes and structures on the new factory floor are scrutinized. "With the help of Staufen´s industry consultants, we completely redesigned the organization and processes," says Ralph Knecht.
In order to be able to clearly define goals, key figures serve as a guideline: Above all, throughput times are to be reduced so that the increasing demand for Ersa machines does not lead to an overload of capacities. At the same time, delivery reliability is to be improved. At first glance, the overriding goal is simply formulated: "We wanted to plan the new structures in such a way that it would be possible to double sales without any major challenges," Knecht explains.
The reorganization involves serious changes that open up perspectives for the employees. The two-tier organization is broken up. A new layer is added: middle management. Until then, there was no intermediate layer between the members of the management and the employees in production. This makes sense as long as communication can be arranged in a meaningful way. As the company grows, there is a risk that important information is not known to all the people who should know it in order to achieve good results.
"Managers and employees have clarified the challenges situationally, but not necessarily with all the facts," says Ralph Knecht. And adds: "We reached limits when the operation got too big. It was fine as long as we produced three, four, five machines a week. But when you have to deliver 15, 20 or 25 machines a week, it doesn´t work anymore."
The new positions open up career opportunities for many Ersians. "We have filled almost all positions in the new intermediate level with our own personnel," says Ralph Knecht. To fulfill the new tasks, training is provided at the Group´s own Hammer Academy. "The new team organization was the really exciting thing about the project," enthuses Knecht, who sees the key to success in open communication. Ersa production processes now increasingly follow lean principles. Shopfloor management solves challenges on the spot without unnecessary loops. Rule communication identifies problems and solves them. The next level up in the hierarchy only comes into play if suitable resources are lacking on site.
Ralph Knecht: "We have digitized the entire process so that we can produce machines without paper. From order acceptance to logistics, quality processes, acceptance and documentation to work plans." This means that information is always up to date, and all team members have access to it. This creates transparency. It is indispensable for clear communication and pursuit of lean goals. Necessary decisions are made on the basis of the comprehensively available information. Lean processes, transparency, clear communication in an efficient organization - these are the cornerstones of Ersa manufacturing. They enable flexible reactions to market requirements without putting the company under stress. "As a result, the GEO Award of the 'Factory of the Year' competition was a kind of litmus paper for us to see whether this really works," Ralph Knecht sums up. It works, as the Ersa employees prove every day. Above all, the customers benefit and can better manage their own challenges in these dynamic times.