From one to a hundred
In the Emsland region of Germany, Günter Peters turns a single employee into 100. How did he do it? With two cornerstones and a lot of courage.
Beyond the towns of Hamm, Münster and Rheine is where the Emsland region begins. This rural district along the River Ems covers over 2,880 square kilometers. The village of Twist, with its 9,600 inhabitants, marks the geographical border to the west. The town limits are congruent with the frontier to the neighboring Netherlands. And in the middle of Twist you will find a committed entrepreneur: Günter Peters. In May 2003 he founded a small specialist welding operation called Peters Maschinenbau GmbH & Co. KG. “On 300 square meters of floor space, and with a single worker — me to be precise,” remembers Peters with a laugh. One welding unit, one saw and a drill were all the equipment on hand.
Today, ten years later, you would hardly recognize the company. In addition to welded assemblies, the firm’s 100 employees and 19 apprentices now also produce laser-cut items, bent components, profiles, and turned and milled parts. This fits perfectly into the Emsland countryside with its large number of medium-sized companies. On his path to success, the most important milestone was founding a second enterprise. In December 2007, Günter Peters ventured into laser cutting by founding Peters Lasertechnik GmbH.
Better to do it yourself
Prior to that, two automatic saws and machining centers had been available and this small company was able to cut profiles to length for its assemblies. Peters nonetheless had to purchase laser-cut components from outside sources. “This had long been a thorn in my flesh because it didn’t always work out properly,” says Peters. Whenever his suppliers let him down, he in turn was unable to make punctual deliveries to his customers. He was quite certain about his goal: he wanted to produce these items himself. “But as a one-man operation, with a single welding unit, you don’t start thinking about expensive laser machines.” His business in producing welded assemblies was advancing quite well. Perhaps there was a chance for lasers after all?
Peters added up the figures — but back in the autumn of 2004 the risk still appeared too big. He waited — and the upwards trend continued. “At the beginning of 2007 I recalculated everything and realized that we had enough work for at least one shift. I intended to fill up the second shift by canvassing the market.” He sat down at the phone and asked his customers whether they would be interested in buying laser-cut parts from him. “Of course we would,” was the reply.
Peters saw this as an endorsement of his plans and in 2007 invested in a TruLaser 5040 and a TruBend 5230. Not even he could anticipate what happened next. “By March 2008 we were already running the first machine at full capacity in three shifts. The start was far better than I’d anticipated!” he reflects. “Buying everything from a single source turned out to be a great benefit for our customers.” In April 2008 he ordered a TruLaser 5030. The third laser cutting machine — again a TruLaser 5030 — followed in 2011. Over recent years he has purchased another four press brakes from TRUMPF, as well.
Nowadays, welded assembly and laser processing are two footholds of equal importance. Peters Maschinenbau works in three shifts — and sometimes even in four. “We keep our working hours flexible,” emphasizes Peters. “If the orders are there, then we have to work on Saturdays and Sundays.” This is what he feels is his success factor. “Our weekends don’t start on Friday afternoon at twelve thirty, but only when the work is finished.”
This demands a high level of flexibility on the part of his employees. In return, they receive support from Peters in other areas. For instance, he helps them find openings in daycare centers for their children — or jobs for their partners. “The lack of qualified personnel has naturally hit the Emsland region. As an entrepreneur, you just have to rethink things.” This is why he specifically asks potential new employees about their wishes. “Obviously you can’t fulfill all of them, but our flexible program is certainly a major plus factor.”
He also tackles the lack of skilled workers by training them himself. “We attach great importance to fostering upcoming specialists. We always have between 15 and 20 apprentices,” says Peters. This applies to all kinds of vocations: machine operators, metalworkers, draftsmen and office clerks. In addition, his skilled workers are constantly offered advanced training courses. The results of his strategy are a flourishing enterprise and his first award. In 2007 he received the promotional prize awarded by the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung daily in recognition of his economic advances and systematic personnel development.
Things go better together
Peters is not only breaking new ground with his staff development program, but also in how he cooperates with other firms. This year, for the second time, he presented his company together with a partner company from the Netherlands at his own stand at the Hannover Trade Fair. “This company orders all its laser components from us. We work hand in hand,” he emphasizes. If, for instance, there is a move to modify components, representatives from both companies exchange views and look for the best possible solution.
In addition to its own products — such as stone sorters and tube grinders — the Dutch company also produces welded assemblies. So does Peters. “However, we don’t compete with each other,” he says. “We manufacture primarily high-volume series. Depending on the complexity of the component, this could involve quantities of 100, 500, 3,000 or even 30,000 units. Our partner firm, on the other hand, specializes more in manufacturing individual components. This is why we complement each other so well — and strategic partnerships are quite simply important for the future.”
Technologically speaking, Peters has already planned his next steps. “We recently expanded our welding facility and purchased two robots. That ought to be enough for the next couple of years.” However, he is yet again looking at figures of the business involving laser technology. He is currently thinking about buying a Stopa high storage bay and investing in automated bending with the TruBend Cell solution from TRUMPF. “We have to be flexible in preparing for the future and we need to continue streamlining operations, which is why automation is such an important issue for us.” There is still a lot of excitement in the Emsland region. Peters has already demonstrated his willingness and courage to embrace change – and has always been rewarded for it.
Contact us: MastersofSheetMetal@trumpf.com
This article was first published in summer 2013.