MAN Truck & Bus
The tranquillity is astonishing. Does a factory not involve metallic hammering, pneumatic screeching and the piercing shouts of workers on the production line? Yet there is no din in the MAN truck plant in Polish Niepolomice near Krakow; production in full swing can only be heard as a buzzing and humming. An engine the size of a child’s bed glides past on a driverless shuttle. A steel chassis floats silently beneath the hall roof on its way from the paint shop to its assembly station. Undercarriages in a wide variety of manufacturing states make their way along the line and towed sequencing carts provide all the necessary parts ready for the operators to use. It is so quiet that music from a radio fills a large part of the hall: “Mambo No. 5”. It almost seems as if operators and assembly line are swaying along with the Latin rhythm. Heiko Kayser, on-site plant manager for the last four years, walks along the production lines and takes a scrutinising look around. He bends down and picks up a piece of red plastic from the ground. “Protective transport caps from the pneumatic lines”, says Kayser tersely. “They like falling off.” It’s not everyday you see a plant manager picking up the rubbish. Probably even less so one who immediately knows what he has in his hand. This could indicate one reason why this site won the prestigious “Factory of the Year” award for series production in 2018: attention to detail – right up to management level.
The plant manager naturally has other factors as an explanation, not least the logistical concept of short distances. This plant was built as a greenfield project in 2007 – light and airy, with docking stations for supply trucks on both sides of the assembly hall to replenish the just-in-sequence production directly at the point of installation. Even the layout in the hall is designed for short distances: the plant produces heavy vehicle types TGX, TGS and TGS WW, two- to four-axle vehicles from 6 to 11.20 meters in length. Regardless of version, the production sequence adheres strictly to the order date and not the series. “The trick lies in our progressive pre-assembly”, reveals Kayser. More and more vehicle parts are being combined as pre-assembled modules to restrict operations on the line – and thus save time. Because the production line’s cycle is unrelenting. Each of the forty assembly stations has just 9 minutes 20 seconds for their part. All operations on twelve meters of length have to be completed before the crew passes the vehicle to the next team. In two shifts, so that some hundred trucks per day roll off the test bench on schedule. The fewer the operations, the higher the efficiency. The sophisticated simplicity of the assembly chain has a positive effect on cost structure, quality assurance and the high delivery reliability from MAN – “this benefits our customers”, states Waldemar Konietzka, CFO of the plant.
In the past it took two operators at this point to jointly lift a heavy pipe, now just one does it using the gripper.
In addition to efficiency, the urge for innovation has a second objective: ergonomics. It is a matter of reducing workloads. Krzysztof Rakoczy, team leader of an assembly station, notices the difference on a daily basis. Our work once again became physically easier after the last modularisation drive, he tells us. “In the past it took two operators at this point to jointly lift a heavy pipe, now just one does it using the gripper.” Angelica Łach also knows about the advantages at MAN in Krakow. After completing a business diploma, she preferred to sign on with production rather than controlling. “What I always enjoyed best was working on cars with my brother in the garage”, she says with a smile. Now she works at three different pre-assembly stations as one of only four women in production. “The variety keeps you fit – also mentally.” The assembly sequence is also being continuously optimised. From inside to outside, from the bottom up, to attain the best product accessibility for the operators. The installation of an electric monorail conveyor, using quiet electric instead of pneumatic wrenches, the deployment of manipulators and supporting pedestals, starting chassis assembly after routing the cables: these are just some of the changes that plant manager Kayser and his team are continuously introducing.
A further process of continuous improvement is digitisation. The vision of a paperless factory is firmly established. The operators read their production orders and installation instructions on screens at their workstations, which also display their daily target and cycle delays. Communication between conveyor technology and tools is digital. In relation to bolts, for example: one vehicle requires 100 newton metres of torque for tightening, the next 150. The tool automatically detects what is currently required and adjusts itself accordingly. The most important production control information is displayed on a screen in the centre of the hall: supply quotas, sick leave, cycle rapport – plant and segment management meet here every day for a performance dialogue. Everyone is well informed about everything.
Krakow relies on pragmatic solutions. “Industry 4.0 for its own sake is not enough”, says Kayser. “Instead there are lots of small applications that make us better streamlined than one major upheaval.” Heiko Kayser, who took over the management of another plant in July, leaves behind a well-ordered business. “That’s worth its weight in gold”, says his successor Thorsten Campehl, previously logistics manager at VW. The bar is set high for Campehl. But he is highly optimistic: “What’s to stop us winning Factory of the Year for a second time?”
Heiko Kayser has been at MAN Truck & Bus since 1991, initially in sales, then as head of logistics and later as plant manager in Durban/South Africa. He has managed the plant in Krakow since 2015 and now assumed the same function at a different location.
What is the secret of such success, Mr Kayser?
Several factors: a drive for performance and innovation, appreciation of employees. Simply listening on the lines, discussing, managing attentively. The more design freedom employees have, the greater the improvement that is fed back.
Is modularisation a way forward for the e-truck?
We will undoubtedly build heavy e-trucks at some point. The modular concept helps better promote such planning. The high variance of our production is already good training in this regard.
Krakow is the MAN spearhead into Eastern Europe. How do you see the future of the plant?
The short distances to our customers are an advantage. But we also deliver to the rest of the world. What’s decisive is not where you build, but how you build. In Krakow we also benefit from well-trained technical personnel, a booming economy and generous surface areas. The plant could perspectively grow to twice its current size.