Home » Issue 27-2023 » Company insights » Focus on production - Between communication, flexibility and employee development

Focus on production - Between communication, flexibility and employee development

The team of the production line B at the Schwandorf site assembles HORSCH machines from the base frame to the complete machine. The focus, however, is not only on technology but mainly on the individual employee. Sebastian Koch explains why this is so important.

In production line B machines larger working widths are assembled, among others HORSCH Maestro, Sprinter, Avatar and Serto. “There are a total of 54 employees working in two shifts. We assemble in a line. This means that we build the machine completely from the start to the final inspection”, Sebastian Koch, the head of this production line, explains. He started to train as a production mechanic at HORSCH in 2001. Since that time, he has been working in numerous departments within the company, continued his training and passed his exam as a master craftsman. In 2018, when the Forest Factory was built, he switched to the pre-assembly department and now heads the team of production line B.

Focus on communication and flexibility

An important part of his daily work is the co-ordination of the employees together with the shift supervisors. A lot of communication is required to be optimally prepared for any challenges. This is why the shift transfer is a very important appointment every day. This meeting is used for an intensive, constructive exchange. Colleagues from the different assembly areas, e.g. hydraulics, electronics or pneumatics, have the opportunity to discuss current tasks with their equivalent in the respective other shift. “I exchange ideas with the shift supervisors, we co-ordinate the employees and the tasks. This is essential in order to plan everything in advance.” A lot of different machines with varying equipment options are built in line B. Therefore, every machine has a different throughput time. “We are very flexible. If there is a machine with a lot of equipment at one point and one with less equipment at another, we see to it that someone helps out at the relevant points so that we can proceed faster and thus, can meet our targets”, Sebastian Koch explains. 

To be able to react to challenges like cases of illness and to still ensure a smooth assembly, a cross-line exchange is crucial. “To be optimally prepared for any stoppage, we co-operate closely with line A and Fabian Obermeier. We have often initiated projects together. For example: colleagues had the opportunity to swap teams for four to five weeks. The idea behind it is to have a stand-by team just in case to make up for possible sick leaves and to support each other”, Sebastian Koch points out.

Individual employee development

But this is not the only reason. It rather is about a new way of working and co-operation. “We want to deliberately support employees who want a flexible job. Everyone gets the opportunity to develop further, the necessary freedom and the corresponding responsibility to develop. But at the same time, it is important not to force others who do not want this to make unnecessary changes."
Instead, employees are encouraged to make their own suggestions how processes and work steps can be optimised. “We simply give it a try. If it works, we implement the suggestion. If it doesn’t work, we let it alone and regard it as another experience. Nobody has to work at a workbench all day. That’s not beneficial for development“, Sebastian Koch explains the idea behind it. “Machines are becoming more and more complex, and the customer requirements are constantly increasing. If you want to keep up, you must not stop. You have to keep on learning, keep on training and take an active approach.”

This topic is also very important in the vocational training sector. A lot of apprentices are repeatedly in line B during their apprenticeship. “For me personally, it is very important that they learn a lot. In times of staff and skilled labour shortage, well-trained apprentices are an investment in the future. And, of course, I am particularly pleased if they decide to join my team after they have passed their final exam. For we absolutely need well-trained colleagues.“


Motivating and making work easier

To motive employees in their daily work and to make sure that they do not lose track of the production target, special screens were installed that show the respective daily and weekly target of the assembly line. “We have been working with this screen since the end of May. The employees see for example the daily target of five machines and the daily progress of three machines. Of course, this is highly motivating. It often happens that the colleagues motivate each other by saying: Let’s step on it. We can do it!“ Ambition is also spurred by the comparison with the other shift respectively assembly line A. “This has an influence on the work, but in a totally positive way.”
To simplify the work processes, the company has been working with the digital twin for quite some time: “The digital twin is the 1:1 3D model of the machine that has been developed by the design engineer. First, we “only” had drawings and parts lists. With the digital twin, you can take a closer look at the electronics and the cable harnesses. For example, if you click on the cable harness on the screen, everything else is greyed out and you can see exactly how the cable harnesses must be installed in the machine. This is very helpful for assembly because you can regard every little detail of the machine bit by bit.” This is an extremely useful tool, especially as machines and equipment become more and more complex.

Line production in five cycles

To meet the high quality requirements, there are two colleagues per shift who carry out quality assurance measures. The so-called Q-gaters check during assembly if all steps have been carried out correctly.
This takes place in five consecutive cycles. In the first four steps, the complete machine is assembled, and the individual additional equipment is installed. With regard to hydraulics, pneumatics and electronics, there is no fixed cut between the cycles – assembly is continuous. The digital twin is often used as a guide for these steps.
Nothing is assembled in the fifth cycle. It is used to carry out the final inspection of the machine according to a special test protocol. For this purpose, a power unit is connected to test all hydraulic functions. Moreover, special adjustments are carried out in this step and sensors are taught. Finally, the machine is preserved (if required), weighed and can then leave the assembly line. “The number of cycles allows for a smooth production process as there is a manageable requirement for material at every station and we can deploy more employees effectively”, Sebastian Koch states.