Here at TCI, we tell ourselves this on a regular basis in an effort to stay in touch and keep current. What are customers looking for? What best practices are out there that we have not discovered yet? We are driven by constant improvement and if you are not, you should be. There are always better, more efficient ways to do things; sometimes we come up with them ourselves, but more often we learn from someone else.

Taking our own advice, we recently completed an International Tech Tour sponsored by the NTMA. Over the course of one week, we visited four outstanding manufacturing companies in Germany and Switzerland to see how they get things done. Why so far you might ask? Because according to Forbes, the label ‘Made in Germany’ evokes perceptions of quality, efficiency, and trust, more than any other country in the world. Based on surveys, consumers across many nations have more respect for Germany’s prowess at building and producing products than they do most others. The term ‘Swiss Made’ invokes the same feeling.

Our gracious hosts were: Heidenhain, Mori/DMG, Huele and BIG Kaiser.

The time and travel were well worth the effort, and we came away with a fresh perspective in several areas:

Lean Manufacturing – It was immediately apparent as we walked the shop floors that lean was a top priority. Everything was moving, people, machines, and parts; there were lots of green lights on. The floors were clean and organized with everything highly visible. There were no long fetches from one machine or process to the next, and if something was not relevant to the production at hand, it wasn’t there.

Robots – Where feasible, robots were actively loading and unloading parts from machines. In most cases, the materials being handled by humans and robots/cobots were pre-machined for uniformity and precision placement into fixtures. Headcounts seemed noticeably light compared to the number of machines being run.

Apprenticeship – All facilities took part in apprenticeship programs. Students from local high schools spend 2-3 days each week working and honing their craft. This leads to long-term employment, low turnover, and engaged and skilled workers. Apprentice programs play a crucial role in German and Swiss manufacturing and are widely regarded as a key component of the country's vocational education and training (VET) system. These programs, known as "Ausbildung," have a long-standing tradition in Germany and are highly valued for their contributions to workforce development and the economy.

More Digital, Less Paper – In general, German, and Swiss manufacturing companies have been actively embracing digitalization and striving to eliminate paper-based processes to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and enhance sustainability. This was evident in the shops we toured, the use of paper was scarce or non-existent on the shop floor. I consider the following as strong contributors to the paperless shop:

  • Industry 4.0 and Digital Transformation
  • Electronic Data Exchange to replace paper-based transactions
  • Digital Documentation and Workflow Systems
  • Paperless Production Planning and Control
  • In-Process Digital Quality Management
  • Sustainability and Environmental Benefits of reducing paper use

Shop Layouts – I was impressed with the general state of the shops we visited. They were meticulously laid out to improve workflow, present a good working environment, and projected a sense of quality that is associated with Made in Germany or Swiss Made. I came away with the perception of clean, polished, high precision manufacturing, not a bad message.

Our goal is to use what we have learned for continued improvement in our own shop because, at the end of the day, the promise of increased efficiency and throughput is why our customers buy from us.

Thanks for reading –


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