The magazine of Friedhelm Loh Group

The magazine of Friedhelm Loh Group

Plastics in the automotive industry
Innovation – LKH

Tailoring the process to the customer

Technology and people. Year after year, LKH Kunststoffwerk have notched up considerable growth. Over the past two years, processes have been tailored to reflect growing customer requirements and strategically developed to factor in future development.

Text Meinolf Droege ––– Photography

Following dynamic growth over recent years, LKH now wins around 100 new injection moulding technology projects each year. Thanks to extensive investment in plant technology, growing materials expertise, and a flourishing talent for engineering solutions to meet technical production requirements, the company has become an attractive supply partner for global customers across a range of sectors. However, the pace of growth and an increasing focus on the automotive, electrical engineering/electronic and packaging sectors have required a great deal of work on adapting internal processes. That meant focusing heavily on developing organisational aspects in 2017 and 2018. Managing Director Volker Hindermann explains: “The aim was, and still is, to guard against all types of disruption that could affect any aspect of the product creation process – from the customer’s idea through to the logistics for the finished parts – and to achieve close to 100 per cent delivery reliability.” LKH has made considerable progress in this regard and achieved significant improvements as a result.

The most obvious steps included the certification of processes to IATF 16949 (the international standard for the automotive industry) and for the environmental, energy and health and safety management systems. Key customers have also given the company high scores in Run@Rate evaluations for series launches, which are often used in the automotive sector. Last, but not least, the rising values in the in-house KPI reports are also pointing in the right direction.

Depth instead of breadth

“Another contributing factor is that we are increasingly focussing on sectors where we can put our strengths to particularly good use – automotive and E&E. Added to that are special applications in packaging and factory equipment,” Hindermann points out. However, this focussed approach will see the company explore its core segments in even greater depth – first and foremost its keen expertise in hybrid injection moulding with very low tolerances and production-optimised mould engineering. This has brought the entire, extensive simulation service – aspects of which used to be externally sourced – in house, even as far as setting up a dedicated “shrinkage database” for many materials. As a result, even complex components can be developed to series production with fewer revision loops. Detailed mould documentation also gives customers added peace of mind.

The company has also tapped into external expertise to align its processes more closely with those of major customers and introduce useful improvements – for example, augmenting the workforce with experienced workers from the automotive sector. “Ultimately, the industry needs better partners,” Hindermann explains, “partners who truly understand their needs and can meet them.”

At LKH, that meant taking the decision to pool all the steps in a project into one pair of hands. The Head of Engineering, Thomas Ritter, is now responsible for all projects from the initial customer enquiry through to the start of series production. “That speeds up processes, minimises interfaces, improves communication and makes agreements more dependable. “As a result, delivery reliability for series ramp-ups rose to 92 per cent in 2018, and it looks set to carry on climbing in the first quarter of 2019,” explains Ritter. In recent years, LKH has already invested massively in injection moulding technology and quality assurance. State-of-the-art machinery, including highly automated and integrated production cells, are running extremely efficiently. “When you look at all the hard work that’s been done on our processes, you could say we’ve scored a hat-trick,” Hindermann says, offering a neat metaphor. “We have specialists with the relevant expertise, we have optimised processes – which we will naturally continue to work on – and we have the technologies. However, in contrast to many other companies, we also have a fourth element up our sleeve that should not be underestimated. We have a very strong family company behind us that is not dependent on bank financing – the Loh Group. That also helps with the kind of short-term investments customer orders sometimes require.” This speeds up large-scale projects that could involve a large number of moulds or large quantities, for example, and means that safety reserves can be built up for hardware, production facilities and automation systems. These, in turn, benefit process reliability.

The internal next-step program first staged in 2017 has helped LKH make considerable progress in completing complex customer projects. Intensive KPI assessments ensure problems are uncovered, and customer satisfaction is set to increase even further over the coming year, thanks to the dovetailing of staff expertise with the implementation, standardisation and upkeep of processes tailored to the relevant sector. “We want our components to help our customers get even better day by day,” Hindermann declares, setting out his objective. That should provide a solid basis for further strong, sustainable and profitable growth at LKH.

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