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June 22, 2009 

 Q&A: Bosch Rexroth Director of Marketing Services Kevin Gingerich 6/22/2009
The mission of Going Global, which appears on MidwestBusiness.com on most Tuesdays, is to educate and inform Midwest technology companies on what local technology companies are doing internationally so other firms can learn from the successes of like-minded peers.

CHICAGO – Kevin Gingerich is the director of marketing services at the Bosch Rexroth linear motion and assembly technology division. He recently spoke with international expert Michael Muth about lean manufacturing, international issues and more. Listen to the interview here.

Bosch Rexroth

Michael Muth: Who are your customers?
Kevin Gingerich: One class is machine builders, metal cutting, medical, plastic injection molding and packaging machines. Others are companies that are automating their processes.

MM: Why do they buy Bosch Rexroth?
KG: Bosch Rexroth has a 100-year history in providing quality that is above and beyond other companies. There is an applications engineering and consulting capability we have that sets us apart. Many of our competitors are single-product companies.

MM commentary: Having lived and worked in Germany, I can attest that Bosch is huge, successful and worldwide.

Lean Manufacturing

MM: How is Bosch Rexroth’s approach to manufacturing different from its competitors?
KG: Not many of our competitors focus heavily on lean manufacturing. We don’t see many approaching customers on as comprehensive a basis as we do. You’re limited by the technology you have in your product portfolio.

We believe the type of product you make, the volume you make it in and the mix of product you make combine to create the best approach.

MM: What’s the best way to forecast market and customer demand to create “pull” production?
KG: They go hand in hand. When implementing lean manufacturing, you put together a value stream map. You identify waste and create the tact or rhythm time. How many parts do I need in a time increment?

Once you’ve created the time increment, you set up the production to match the time increment. In lean manufacturing, you don’t make a part until you get an order. As that tact time decreases, I can add a worker or automation to increase production. The pull part is making parts as they’re demanded by the tact time. The production rhythm commands everything.

There’s always going to be some variability. With almost everything we sell, you can always bolt stuff together or take it apart so you can change it when you need to. The important thing is that manufacturing engineers need to leave themselves the option to expand or contract as needed.

MM commentary: Matching supply and demand in volatile times like these can be difficult to do.

MM: How do you optimize the flow of materials, people and information?
KG: Optimizing material flow, information flow and people flow is the most important part of lean production. You can’t think of them as independent of each other. If you take a manual work cell in material flow, you have material flow within the work cell.

The material must be organized so you’re not walking all over the place. There’s people flow to and from the cell, too. You design the cell so material flows to, through or from the cell to optimize the flow of people.

That takes us to information flow. Most lean processes use visual signals. For example, you hold up a card and someone delivers more parts and different colors correspond to different parts so the tact time isn’t interrupted. Labor cost is an important component as well.

The real trick is making sure people who have skills can use those skills. Machines can do some things and should do that work. In addition, though, there is some work only humans can do.

MM: What organizational and communications changes are needed to implement lean manufacturing?
KG: There needs to be a commitment from the top of the organization that it’s something they’re going to do. Lean manufacturing is a philosophy of what you do every day. Communications really needs to facilitate involvement.

It’s a system of processes. You learn to understand, accept and appreciate solving problems. It gives you something to fix like using the five whys or asking why five times to get down to the root cause. You identify opportunities for continuous improvement.

MM commentary: People have criticized me for asking “why?” five times and I’m not even lean.

MM: What results are reasonable to expect from lean manufacturing?
KG: Let me give a simple example. We were looking at our shipping process with UPS and FedEx. We took some measurements, errors, how much distance he walked in a day and came up with 10 miles. What kind of improvement can we get here? We got that down to 200 yards walked in a day.

Errors went from 70 to 15 in a month by implementing a one-piece flow system. By looking at the process and eliminating opportunities for errors, forcing information flow to happen and creating a system, you create more predictability. You have less variation and fewer errors.

You create more satisfied customers. Investment must have ROI calculation like everything else. The equipment costs weren’t huge. We still had to justify them to our financial managers. Once you evaluate a project, see the waste and how much time can be saved, the ROI takes care of itself.


MM: What trade-offs are involved in cutting from the supply chain?
KG: Some of the trade-offs may have to do with personnel. In the case I just gave you, he wasn’t a believer. He looked for something else. Outsiders descended on his process and reinvented it for him.

If you have a few people who don’t believe and insist on batch processing (i.e. “we’ve always done it this way, so it’s the right way”), it can create problems. If it’s the right way, it will stand up to the scrutiny of lean manufacturing.

MM commentary: You can cut materials and more and more people these days, but the opportunity for IT companies is enhancing the information flow.

International Issues

MM: How integrated are your customer supply chains? Worldwide? Continental? National?
KG: Just as you’re optimizing material flow, distance has to be short. It can be spatial or temporal. It’s learning where to position or place your pieces around the globe to shorten pathways. There are serious trade-offs.

They speak different languages and have different understandings of quality control processes. They’re far away from the engineer who designed the product. Those are distances that aren’t thought about these days. The result is they’re buying because it’s cheaper but didn’t think of the total cost.

They didn’t consider how fast or slow the change process can be when you’re working overseas with those who don’t speak your language. There is a tremendous opportunity to identify where the waste is and how to optimize the processes to get the best result.

For automotive, the biggest practitioners of lean manufacturing are the Japanese. They’re getting closer to their customers. They’re pulling their suppliers closer to them.

MM commentary: Making globally extended supply chains lean is a tremendously difficult task both spatially and temporally.


MM: Bosch Rexroth is a German-headquartered company. How does that affect your business in the U.S.?
KG: German manufacturing technology companies are often run by engineers and their products are outstanding. The differences are in marketing and selling of the product. We’re German, yes, but we’re global.

Our headquarters understands that. Sometimes there are mistranslations. English is the language of record because we’re a global company. Sometimes the translations are not as effective as we’d like them to be. For example, one product changed from basic mechanical elements to basic mechanic elements. It sounds like they cut up a mechanic.

Something as simple as that can lead to waste. In getting it reviewed on a worldwide basis with the volume of literature we produce, it sometimes slips through the cracks. We have a lot of people and people make mistakes. That’s the opportunity for improvement.

MM commentary: Germany is indeed the land of engineers. There’s good and bad in a business sense with that. While you’ll see consistent incremental evolutionary improvement there, you’ll rarely see the incredible revolutionary leaps forward that come from Silicon Valley.

Check out Michael Muth’s blog here.

Michael Muth is managing director of GATA, an international business development consultancy that helps technology companies build international partnerships. He can be reached at muth@midwestbusiness.com.
Click here for Muth’s full biography.

Previous Columns in 2007:
Q&A: Vice President Tom Levesque at NanoInk’s NanoFabrication Division (6/8/2009)
Misperceptions About Expanding, Exporting Technology Products Worldwide (5/26/2009)
Q&A: ‘Get Ahead By Going Abroad’ Author C. Perry Yeatman on Working Abroad (5/12/2009)
Q&A: Changes From Siemens, Toshiba Amid Today’s Economic Recession (4/27/2009)
Q&A: Lih Tah Wong of Computer Mail Services on E-Mail Filtering, Blacklisting (4/13/2009)
Q&A: World Trade Center Illinois Chairman Neil F. Hartigan, Director Bilal Ozer (3/3/2009)
Recession: International Causes, Effects of Today’s Global Financial Crisis (1/19/2009)
Q&A: Ex-Chicago Tribune, ‘Caught in the Middle’ Writer Richard Longworth (1/5/2009)
Q&A: Midwest Regional Director Michael E. Howard of Export-Import Bank (6/17/2008)
Q&A: Intetics Managing Partner Alex Golod on Belarusian Economy (4/15/2008)
Q&A: Intetics Managing Partner Alex Golod on Protecting Intellectual Property (4/9/2008)
Q&A: Intetics Partner Alex Golod on Being a Jack of All Trades (3/31/2008)
Q&A: Motorola WiMAX Director Tom Mitoraj on Unstoppable Freight Train (11/26/2007)
Q&A: Motorola WiMAX Director Tom Mitoraj on Global WiMAX Differences (11/20/2007)
Q&A: Motorola WiMAX Director Tom Mitoraj on Widespread WiMAX Growth (11/12/2007)
Q&A: InterPro Translation CEO Ralph Strozza on Translation Tools, Costs (9/18/2007)
Q&A: InterPro Translation CEO Ralph Strozza on Globalization, Translation (9/11/2007)
Q&A: InterPro Translation CEO Ralph Strozza on Intercultural Translation Issues (8/7/2007)
Q&A: Madison Capital Partners CEO Larry W. Gies on Specific Country Issues (7/10/2007)
Q&A: Madison Capital Partners CEO Larry W. Gies Jr. on Cultural Differences (6/26/2007)
Q&A: Madison Capital Partners CEO Larry Gies on International Private Equity (6/11/2007)
Q&A: Scott H. Lang of S.H. Lang & Co. in Chicago on Foreign Deal Making (5/15/2007)
Q&A: Scott H. Lang of S.H. Lang & Co. in Chicago on Middle-Market M&A (5/8/2007)
Q&A: Scott H. Lang of S.H. Lang & Co. in Chicago on Middle-Market Firms (4/24/2007)
Q&A: George Filley of NAVTEQ in Chicago on Data Localization, Reach (3/27/2007)
Q&A: George Filley of NAVTEQ in Chicago on Partners, Personal Privacy (3/20/2007)
Q&A: George Filley of NAVTEQ in Chicago on Digital Mapping (3/7/2007)
Click for 2006 column archive.
Click for 2005 column archive.
Click for 2004 column archive.

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