Home » Issue 27-2023 » Company insights » Challenges of growth - and how we deal with them (Theo Leeb)

Challenges of growth - and how we deal with them

The crop care sector at HORSCH LEEB in Landau can look back on an unprecedented growth - in a period when external influences were already challenging enough for companies. Theo Leeb talks about the issues of the past years and how they are being dealt with.

"The past three years were the most challenging years of my professional career," Theo Leeb says looking back on the last few years which were characterised not only by the effects of the Covid 19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, but also by an unprecedented growth in the crop care sector.

The reasons for this growth are varied. One of the main reasons was the increase in market shares due to ground-breaking developments at HORSCH LEEB. Another factor was deliberately steered by new products such as the self-propelled sprayers Leeb VN and VL as well as the internationalisation of the sector by the active development of new markets. The high grain prices of the past years and the support programmes in the EU, e.g. the Investment Programme Agriculture (the so-called Farmers' Billion), added to this effect.


Aggravation of the situation

During this period of growth where processes had to be adapted and new employees had to be integrated, the Covid 19 pandemic hit in March 2020: "At that time, nobody knew how to deal with it. Do plants have to be closed? Can we take the responsibility for people working closely together? These were questions we dealt with intensively as we feel greatly responsible for our employees. Fortunately, with the necessary measures, we were able to keep the whole thing going," Theo Leeb says. The supplier situation worsened enormously during the pandemic: "Partly, fewer parts were delivered or none at all. As a result, we constantly had to adjust our production plan. The quality of the parts, too, was variable."

When the war in the Ukraine broke out in February 2022, it was not just the material supply situation that got worse again: "The main question was what would happen to the machines that were planned for the Ukraine and Russia." Finally, HORSCH decided to partly back-schedule the machines for these markets and to reorganise machines and building slots. "This required a general reorganisation. For example, the purchasing department had to buy other components which proved to be difficult in terms of parts availability," Theo Leeb explains. "We always had our open orders in mind. Our customers were very patient and forbearing. And we are very grateful for this.
One issue that originated during this time and still affects us today is the main control units. In November 2021, the suppliers informed us that they would only be able to deliver 60 % of the control units ordered. This means that only 40 % of the machines can be fitted with a control unit. We initially assumed that this gap would be closed by April 2022. However, the whole problem dragged on until 2023. As a result, we were always behind schedule with the control units, and this affected all trailed models."


The initial idea was to produce the machines in advance, retrofit the control units and then deliver them. However, there was not enough freight space and transport available for such deliveries.
"We finally decided to deliver the machines without control units. In total, we retrofitted over 800 machines in the field. Our sales partners played a major role as they eventually installed the control units. Such campaigns can only work in co-operation with our sales partners."

Consequences on the test processes

The availability of the parts also had consequences on the test steps during the production process in the assembly line. Before the boom is mounted, the first main test step is carried out and finally the final inspection of the machine during which all functions are finally tested. "During the peak of the pandemic, there was an average of 15 missing parts per machine compared to 0.8 before Covid 19. These were small things like decals or similar and had not interfered with the proper production flow. But the high number of missing parts meant that all the inspection steps in between were not possible resp. became obsolete. To find the best possible solution, we set up a tent for reworking measures and established a rework team consisting of around 20 people. At peak times, 350 machines were 99% complete and waiting for parts to be finally completed. The machines then had to pass the test and check-up process which required a lot of co-ordination and communication. In some cases, the missing parts were installed by the sales partner. Therefore, the machine could not be tested in Landau."

Future-oriented expansion

"With regard to growth, we also reached our limits in terms of space. The consequence was that compromises had to be made in the assembly department. The lack of space affected efficiency and did not contribute to improve the quality." Currently, there are construction works underway in Landau. In the first construction phase, the storage area was expanded and an automated small parts warehouse, an AutoStore, like the one in Schwandorf, was installed. "We want to make our logistics future-proof and stable," Theo Leeb points out.
The second construction phase is to be completed by the end of 2023. The actual assembly area will be expanded by about 8,000 m² to ease the production situation again and to be able to produce more stably. "This will give us more space in the existing buildings to move the stations further apart. It will be possible to organise smaller assembly steps. It makes a difference whether a cycle takes 5 hours and the team has to master the workload of 5 hours for different variants or whether the whole production cycle is subdivided and a cycle only takes 2 hours. Thus, quality can be checked on a much smaller scale because the steps take place at several stations."

There will also be a change regarding quality control: "The quality team currently is part of the production team. In future, this will be split up. There will be a team that ensures the quality in the production department. In addition, we will establish a strategic quality team that will deal with further issues, such as the long-term stable quality of our suppliers or the demands we make on suppliers with regard to a purchased part." Moreover, they are also responsible for auditing the test process within the assembly department.

Corona, war and growth

Looking back, Theo Leeb says: "No two days were the same. We were faced with the challenges of war, the pandemic and growth. We are grateful for the support of our employees. It was not an easy time for them. We had to be extremely flexible in terms of time and received support from all sides. Our employees have given their best during this time." Co-operation also worked well across the departments. "When things got tight, the design engineer had to provide support for example with regard to testing the machines or retrofitting. Our objective always was to be able to supply our customers on time."
At the moment, the situation is normalising. Although the after-effects can still be noticed, the supplier situation has eased. "We currently have an average of four missing parts per machine which is still too many, but at least the production process is running more or less normally again. The objective for 2024 now is to adapt our processes to the growth and to stabilise them to meet our own quality standards," Theo Leeb looks ahead.