The magazine of Friedhelm Loh Group

The magazine of Friedhelm Loh Group

LKH interview

Going from good to better

Being open to different perspectives can be the key to boosting added value and making production more efficient. Substituting materials and methods is one example. Steffen Diehlmann, Head of Sales at LKH, explains how the company can work with customers to systematically optimise their products – in terms of sustainability, cost-effectiveness, functionality or production reliability, for instance.

Text Interview conducted by Meinolf Droege. ––– Photography

A better product is the enemy of a good one – the strength of LKH lies in proactively suggesting improvements to products and processes.

Mr. Diehlmann, do you still come across customers who use the old mechanical engineering saying: “If you know anything about plastic, you use steel”?

Steffen Diehlmann: Yes, that still happens from time to time. However, word should have spread that plastic isn’t necessarily the cheap alternative but is often the better one from a technical perspective and also in terms of cost-effectiveness. I’ll give you an example from back in the 1950s when Arburg, now a global player, was looking for the fastest possible way of reducing the extremely high levels of complaints relating to moisture damage in photographic flash devices. It only achieved this by switching to a completely new sealing system made of plastic, for which the first injection moulding machine was then built. Presumably, the unit cost of the new plastic solution was not lower to start with. However, the resulting improvement in product quality made production viable for the first time, as complaints subsequently fell to almost zero.

“The value analysis specifies and calculates the effects of potential product measures on the cost situation and sustainability in a transparent and comprehensible way.”

Steffen Diehlmann
Head of Sales at LKH

The solution back then was born of necessity. What is your approach today?

Steffen Diehlmann: Our approach is based on a value analysis of individual products. Our very high level of in-house material and process expertise, not to mention our mould know-how, enables us to evaluate these influencing factors very reliably. What’s more, we have successfully implemented a whole host of these substitution projects, and not just with our fellow Group company Rittal. It goes without saying that we also incorporate this experience into our analysis.

Are your customers’ procurement departments sufficiently open to completely new solutions or do you encounter – to put it politely – a certain paralysis?

Steffen Diehlmann: That’s when we take things to a different level. Initially, it may well be the procurement team of our customers or potential customers getting in touch with us. However, subsequent discussions then primarily take place with their development department, and their quality control team and marketing specialists might occasionally be brought on board. On our side, designers, process engineers, material specialists and/or project managers get involved in these discussions as required. It’s about ensuring we can look at a product from different perspectives.

How exactly does this process work? Can you provide a specific example?

Steffen Diehlmann: The first job we did for one of our customers involved optimising a hybrid part made of sheet metal and plastic. We reduced its carbon footprint, made it more ergonomic and significantly improved cost efficiency in production. Once this project had successfully reached the series production stage on schedule, the customer asked us also to scrutinise other products. A Tech Day that we held with our customer started with a brief introduction to plastics technology. This was followed by three workshops to draw up initial proposals for a solution. These workshops focused on designing articles in plastic, mould design and selecting the right plastic, especially in terms of flame retardancy. Having started with rough estimates, we then moved on to a detailed value analysis for the promising projects. An analysis of this kind specifies and calculates the effects of potential product measures on the cost situation and sustainability in a transparent and comprehensible way.

Anyone who has always based their designs on sheet metal must find it rather hard to consider the possibilities of plastics technology. How do you deal with that?

Steffen Diehlmann: Unfortunately, you’re right. We therefore repeatedly scrutinise products that have been on the market for some time and analyse them proactively. We occasionally find solutions that the customer hasn’t even started looking for yet. A customer we approach with a suggestion of this kind, which is often already pretty specific, is more likely to be won over. Incidentally, it’s not just a case of replacing metal with plastic, but also of replacing plastics that are expensive or require a lot of processing with alternative plastics, or replacing new materials with recycled equivalents. Especially given the debate surrounding CO2, that is set to become massively more important very soon.

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