It’s not profit, but workplaces that Holger Klein wants to maximize. That sounds crazy, but it’s a central mission at the Lebenshilfe Zollernalb e. V.
Holger Klein is actually bucking the trend. Instead of automating, he’s looking for processes that create as many jobs as possible. That’s his actual mission — but he has to stay competitive at the same time. That’s a tight wire act which Klein has mastered day in and day out since May 2009. At that time he founded an integration project for handicapped persons, the AIZ Arbeitsidee Zollernalb gGmbH (a not-for-profit PLC) in idyllic Albstadt-Lautlingen. It’s the first project of its kind at Lebenshilfe für Behinderte Zollernalb e. V., an organization for the disabled, where he has been the director for ten years. “We want to build up core competencies and network them,” says Klein about the strategic alignment.
He’s already done a lot in this regard. Around six hundred mentally and physically handicapped people work in modern workshops at four locations in the Zollernalb region: in metal and plastic processing, cable assembly, assembling printed circuit boards, and manufacturing system components and water meters. There is also a clean room and a print shop. And the organization’s own roasting facility in Albstadt-Lautlingen sells high-quality coffee.
Breaking new ground
At this location Holger Klein is now developing a new area: sheet metal processing. A structure purpose-built for the integration project houses modern laser cutting, punching and bending machines. Some of the parts manufactured here are for internal use, but most are for business clients. It should be said that the AIZ was launched at the most unfavorable time imaginable — right in the middle of the financial crisis. But, as far as Klein is concerned, there was no going back; his planning for the project had been going on for too long and was too thorough for that. “We rigorously examined our economic outlook,” he recalls. “And starting up at a bad time has one benefit. Every monthly report gives us a sense of achievement,” Klein notes with a wry smile.
The integration project is not only breaking new technological ground: “Working in our shop in the adjacent building are people so severely disabled that they don’t stand a chance in the regular labor market,” Klein explains as he points through the large window. “Our integration project, on the other hand, works like any other commercial company.” All the workers are enrolled in mandatory social insurance programs, and disabled and able-bodied people work together. “In the integration project here, our goal is to avoid going into the red. We don’t intend to maximize profit, but rather to maximize workplaces.”
Sheet metal production works closely with the fitter’s shop, located directly overhead. Porch shelters made of glass and stainless steel are manufactured here. With its own “Designvordach” brand, Lebenshilfe has become a market leader in southern Germany. This highly successful product is manufactured jointly by the twelve employees in the two departments. Simon Schneider is part of the team. A genuine “product” of the Lebenshilfe and full-fledged metalworker, he started at Lebenshilfe nine years ago, when he was twenty years old, in a training program as an industrial mechanic and then as occupational trainer. As production manager for the last one and a half years, he has been helping to expand sheet metal processing.
Daniel Gonser has recently been assisting him. With a degree in social economics, Gonser previously worked in the central purchasing department at Lebenshilfe. Now he handles organization and human resources for the sheet metal department and the fitter’s shop. They’re exciting jobs for both: “When you work with disabled people you shoulder a lot of responsibility,” Schneider stresses. “They need much more and more detailed instruction before they can do the work — but then they normally work much better and more carefully than people who have no disability.”
Proud of the job
Using the touch-screen on the TruLaser 3030, he shows co-worker Markus Maier how to call up and start a program. Maier has been with Lebenshilfe for three years, in metal processing for the entire time. “For instance, I bend a part on the press brake, place it on the punching machine, and then start the program,” he explains. He likes his work, says it’s “brilliant”— and he’s proud of it. “I’d like to continue working here. This is my job,” he stresses.
As he clears the machine, he’s helped by Hakan Okutan, who recently started an internship here in the integration project. Until now he has been assigned to the shop storeroom next door: “The work here is a lot of fun,” he says. “I unload the parts, check the back, and deburr them if necessary. Then I stack them in crates and I help my colleagues carry larger sheets or parts.”
Components and assemblies are manufactured by AIZ gGmbH for customers in medical technology, mechanical engineering, construction and the furniture industry. “Right now about forty percent of the orders come directly from the surrounding area, the Zollernalb district, and sixty percent of the parts go to customers outside the region or in foreign countries,” Klein says. He is expecting the share of regional orders to decline. That’s why he finds it so important to build up core competencies and to network them. “After all, no one travels a hundred kilometers to have two screws fitted,” he says. “We need a unique selling proposition that makes us interesting for customers outside the region. We provide every phase in the manufacturing process, all under a single roof.”
Intensive partnerships with corporate customers are also important to him, and they go well beyond production. For the furniture manufacturer Interstuhl in the neighboring town of Messstetten-Tieringen, the AIZ workers not only make sheet metal parts. At Lebenshilfe, the Interstuhl apprentices also do social internships. A joint trade show appearance is another facet of the close partnership. “We collaborate all across the board, because we have to network,” he stresses. He is acutely aware that price also plays a crucial role: “In the market, there are only three possibilities: you can cooperate, compete or disappear. We try to not to do the latter,” he explains with a laugh.
Contact us: MastersofSheetMetal@trumpf.com
This article was first published in summer 2011.