Text Christiane Engelhardt ––– Photography
Mr Hindermann, LKH has more than 50 state-of-the-art injection moulding machines and around 200 employees working in production in Germany. Is this profitable? After all, around 70 per cent of all injection-moulded parts are already being manufactured in Asia. Yes, our manufacturing is profitable, but only if we make certain changes. We need to recognise where there is room for improvement and implement such changes.
What do you mean by that? Producing a wide range of components in the hope that something will suit the customer will not to work in the future. Any company that achieves operational excellence and has the best niche application expertise, however, is sure to impress customers in the long run.
Can you give an example? The customer is at the heart of our business and we are constantly developing our production technology. With our machinery, which we are constantly redesigning and expanding, we are currently producing intricate small parts and robust vehicle components alike. One example of our process expertise are our air spring systems for the automotive industry made from plastic with overmoulded metal components. To this end, we redeveloped our process so that there are hardly any more unevenesses in the welded seams at the material transition points. You will struggle to find such niche expertise in precision injection moulding anywhere else and it certainly won’t be as effective.
Speed is of the essence here, or to be more precise, saving time in the customer application – an important advantage over competitors in the industry... Exactly, it’s starting to be become clear just how LKH “ticks”. What are the benefits to our customers? Benefits aren’t just restricted to products, we're thinking ahead and asking how we can generate even more value for the customer in his day-to-day business.
How is this approach integrated into LKH product development? We have developed a solution for a large mechanical engineering company, for instance, that re-engineers metal parts on plastic components. This new development helps the customer make impressive savings, particularly because they were able to optimise on-site manufacturing integration for easy installation. The positive feedback on our installation practices spurs us on and confirms that we are on the right path.
That sounds as if LKH is reinventing itself? That is an apt description and exactly how I worded it myself not too long ago. You cannot fail to spot certain changes already. We now very much focus on the customer requirements when designing our systems, for instance. Customers will hardly ever hear us say “We can’t do that”. And we are never happy until we have created the perfect solution. Employee mentality has changed significantly in this respect, too. Customer satisfaction is undoubtedly everyone’s top priority.
Are you taking a stand for quality? Definitely! You only need to hear one example. Within a year, we have successfully halved our manufacturing waste, which is mainly down to having optimised our production processes.
What else can customers expect with regard to process optimisation at LKH? The answer can be quickly summed up under the motto: “First the product, then the machine”. Our goal today is to harmonise process engineering and moulding technology – a very important milestone in our strategic restructuring. What is also very important is that we no longer think primarily in terms of output volume, but efficient process technology. And we’re bringing external knowledge, such as mould manufacturing expertise, into the business.
Is that part of your “build-and-buy” strategy? Yes. There is a potential to build up the business that we hope to – and will – achieve by 2021. It is too early to make a statement on the buying element. Initially, we are concentrating entirely on bolstering our expertise and expanding our machinery in areas where we are already successful. We are focusing our sights on our existing resources and are putting them to better use than we were one year ago. You can only grow if you understand and control your operational business.
Why this pressure to grow? After all, as an A-grade supplier for Rittal, another company of the Friedhelm Loh Group, surely you are in a comfortable situation? Thank you for bringing that up. A lot of people think the same way, but do you actually believe that the world’s largest manufacturer of enclosure systems buys from us just because we belong to the same parent company? Surely not. Rittal procures plastic products from us because we are experts in tailoring our products to customers and their applications and deliver quality results. We have to prove this for each delivery, just as we have to do so in other markets and sectors.
This sounds like a good opportunity for a closing message. Gladly. We are in a prime position to enter new target markets, particularly in the automotive sector. We’re growing and we’re getting better every day.