Lean Management in Mechanical and Plant Engineering

Steinbeis supports lean processes at E.W. Gohl GmbH

Singen-based E.W. Gohl GmbH produces industrial cooling towers – customized and small scale. When its executive board decided to introduce new lean management processes, it asked itself one fundamental question: How can lean management structures, which have been designed for mass production, work at E.W. Gohl? The company turned to the Technology – Organization – Human Resources Steinbeis Transfer Center for expertise on this matter.

When introducing lean management, it is important that the employees believe in the system. For this reason, it quickly became clear to E.W. Gohl that such an initiative could only be launched with the help of its employees. As a rule of thumb: It is the “we” feeling that leads to success. Even the tiniest deviations from the original target have to be totally transparent and adjusted. But this is only possible if the adopted structures have the backing of a majority of the workforce.

As such, the business processes were analyzed in a workshop by a team under the direction of Erwin Hartmannsberger, lean management expert at the Technology – Organization – Human Resources Steinbeis Transfer Center. The team collectively defined the desired process and worked out the appropriate changes to be made to shop floor layouts. Prior to implementation, the team presented the results of their analysis to the workforce.

During implementation, roughly 400 square meters of space were changed, including 5-ton machines, ventilation systems, a 10 cubic meter plunge pool, extraction systems and industrial shelving units. This created an additional 150 square meters of space for production expansion. A central point of the project was to introduce self-regulating control circuits for the materials flow. At the heart of the control system are approximately 600 kanban cards for controlling the unprocessed and semi-finished materials between individual processes. This obviates the need for manual intervention or goods preparation. The need for manufacturing stock and materials was halved. In the final assembly stage, a type of “supermarket” was set up to ensure there was a continuous supply of materials. Since warehouse stocks are now right next to the production area, availability is more transparent and levels are gradually being whittled down.

The complete implementation of the lean concept took place over 13 workshop sessions, including 6 days for the analysis. The 8-strong workshop team was put through basic lean management training. The detailed analysis of the manufacturing and control processes at the start enabled the workshop team to identify 100% with the results of the analysis. On this basis, they worked out a target process matched to the actual machines in use, the system setup, and human factors. The approach ensured that the new structures would be accepted and used in practice – one key to successful lean management.

But the success or failure of this type of project also hinges on the cooperation between the workshop team and the moderator. And in those terms, everything ran smoothly at E.W. Gohl GmbH as company secretary and technical director Christoph Korinth confirms: “Mr. Hartmannsberger uses a pleasant combination of theory and hands-on ‘can-do’ techniques. With his help, the lean management principle ‘actions not words’ was truly lived out!”

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