Processes instead of people
A lot is a little different at machine builder Arburg. Because if 80 percent of the purchased materials come from a radius of less than 100 kilometers and the vertical integration is more than 60 percent, that doesn’t exactly correspond to a global outsourcing spirit of the age. However, the company from the northern Black Forest is still successful – or perhaps precisely because of this… Certainly also because it cleverly adapts its special business model to changes, for example in product development.
The 100th anniversary year is in full swing. What began as a small precision engineering manufactory for surgical instruments has now grown into one of the market leaders for injection molding machines. The success is probably also due to a special mindset: “The founder Arthur Hehl did not found this company in 1923 because it was so hip to be a start-up company, but like many other Swabian companies at that time, you simply and poignantly designed or invented ‘for survival’,” says Dr. Christoph Schumacher, Vice President Global Marketing at Arburg, on the beginnings of the company. “Of course, this has something to do with the corporate culture. Maybe this is why we were always able to recognize disruptions and their opportunities, despite Swabian thrift and more long-term planning.”
An innovative leap was the first hand-operated injection molding machine from 1954, which went into series production in 1956 – a step from metalworking to plastics processing. The “Allrounder”, a unique and very flexible injection molding machine, followed in 1961. In 2023, Arburg launched the – nomen est omen – “Anniversary Machine” just in time for the company anniversary, also as the starting signal for a new machine generation from Arburg. This is a particularly energy-efficient, resource-saving, modular hybrid injection molding machine. Their concept, which combines the advantages of a hydraulic and electric injection molding machine with full optionality, is a unique selling point on the market.
A company with an unconventional approach
Christoph Schumacher attests to the company’s “stubbornness”, which is meant in a positive way. While many companies have outsourced more and more in recent decades and have relocated supply chains and production sites to low-wage countries, Arburg is sticking to production at a single location in the Black Forest and a supplier strategy in which 80 percent of the purchased parts are sourced from a radius of 100 kilometers. While business administration students used to smile at this approach when visiting factories, the advantages have been clear since Corona and the Ukraine crisis at the latest: stable supply chains with short distances and no supply bottlenecks. And quite incidentally, Arburg promotes sustainable development in the entire region.
With the new product development process, we are taking the company’s growth into account and making ourselves fit for the future.BERND KOHLER
Director Product Development, ARBURG GmbH + Co KG
Shaping change with a sense of proportion
However, going your own way does absolutely not mean that Arburg is standing still. As early as 2020, with the support of Staufen, the introduction of an extended Shop Floor Management system covering all technical areas was started, which offers more transparency for those involved and has improved internal communication. As part of the development of the anniversary machine, the company has also relaunched its product development process (PDP) as the next logical step.
“In the past, many processes were based on the accumulated experience of certain people,” says Bernd Kohler, “that no longer works from a certain company size, especially when more and more people are involved in the development of a machine.” He is Director in the product development department and as a project manager, he was involved in the development of the new process. During the revision of the PDP, new project roles were defined and cooperation was simplified through clear responsibilities. With the help of a performance interface matrix, flowcharts and templates, the process is now clearly described. The status of development is made transparent via maturity levels and enables effective project management. “The project manager is supported by these templates and can ensure that the right departments are involved at the right time,” says Bernd Kohler.
“In this way, we achieve much greater transparency in development and can uncover critical points very quickly and act accordingly early on.” His colleague Alena Springer, the project manager in development, can confirm this: “We are much more efficient. While I used to have to look for the right contact person, today this is clearly defined by the process and we can’t forget anyone. The colleagues from the assembly area are also enthusiastic about being involved even earlier and being able to give their feedback before a prototype is created. So they will find out promptly what is coming and what they have to pay attention to, which saves us one or the other correction loop. We are now working even more closely together.” This is also an advantage for new employees: the transparency provided by the documented product development process reduces the training period and ensures that everyone works the same way.
Process optimization means securing the future
But how could the Lean Management approaches of Staufen AG be integrated into the Arburg model? The high in-house value creation means that many processes are per se different than in other companies. Bernd Kohler explains: “In the project, we had to take the many value streams and interfaces in-house into account and integrate them accordingly. So we tailored the theoretical model for us in a very practical way.” For this reason, it is not surprising that the 18 project team members worked on the implementation for more than a year.
Those responsible agree that this perseverance has paid off, and not just for product development: “The new process prevents work from becoming more inefficient and complicated as the company grows. In this respect, it is also a measure that ensures future viability,” summarizes Christoph Schumacher. Gerrit Speidel, the consultant responsible at Staufen AG, sees it similarly: “Arburg is not just a machine manufacturer, but an industry partner who understands the increasing customer and market needs. Complex issues such as sustainability require solutions that can only be created through close cooperation between interdisciplinary teams. And precisely this is why we have created an optimal basis with the new PDP, with which Arburg can continue to scale in the future.”
Dr. Christoph Schumacher
Vice President Global Marketing
ARBURG GmbH + Co KG
Technical Project Manager
ARBURG GmbH + Co KG
Director Product Development
ARBURG GmbH + Co KG
Arburg GmbH + Co KG from Lossburg (in the South of Germany) is a mechanical engineering company and one of the world’s leading manufacturers of injection molding machines and additive manufacturing systems for plastics processing. The machines are manufactured exclusively in Lossburg.
MILLION € turnover
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