Having passed the age of 50, Wolfgang Knottek has completely restructured his job shop and gone for complete automation. This has enabled him to hike his production capacity by a good 50 percent. As was said above — over 50.
“The crux of the matter in my view was whether or not my sons wanted to carry on the business,” reckoned Wolfgang Knottek. Otherwise the master metalworker, now 56 years of age, would not have invested in a new laser cutting system, involving a Lift master and Stopa storage system, in 2012. But after his sons Andreas and Michael decided to take over the business, he set about getting the job shop ready for the future. So for the second time in his life he made a business decision which demanded plenty of far-sightedness and a great deal of courage.
Alternative: Laser Cutting
The first time was when he took over the fitting shop after his father died in 1997. “Everything ran smoothly for a few years, but then came an upheaval when many of our long-term customers in neighboring industrial firms retired. We were almost out of work,” remembers Wolfgang Knottek. In his search for a way out of the crisis, he came across the idea of investing in laser cutting equipment.
As Knottek reports, there was only one competitor equipped with laser machinery in a radius of 50 kilometers. And his capacity was always booked up weeks in advance. So in 2005 Knottek purchased a pre-owned laser cutting machine. To minimize the financial risk, Wolfgang Knottek founded the LTT-Lasertechnik GmbH & Co. KG. “I didn’t have a single customer. If things went badly, then my father’s fitting shop would at least survive,” says the man from Upper Bavaria succinctly. However, nothing went awry. On the contrary: Word spread rapidly that LTT was doing good work. “And we still had the fitting shop. T h at let us supply complete component assemblies. That was my big advantage, since the others couldn’t do this,” states Wolfgang Knottek with pride.
In 2008 when his son Andreas joined LTT, laser cutting operations had long been running two shift s at full capacity. This son, a master craftsman in precision engineering, had spent several years with an industrial company but felt the urge to return to the trades. Not only did he bring with him vast experience in machine programming, but also in industrial fabrication and process know-how.
Masterring set-up costs
Young Knottek realized that it was not absolutely necessary to run two laser cutting machines in parallel in order to expand capacity. “The market is always changing. Orders volumes and manufacturing lots are oft en smaller, customers are more prepared to change suppliers, and the lead times are becoming shorter and shorter. Thus we have to keep our costs for set-up and non-productive times under control and in fact reduce them. This is why we decided that the only way to get ourselves ready for the future was an adventure in automation,” explains Andreas Knottek. That path led straight to TRUMPF. “We had had contact with them for many years and, during a visit to their demonstration center, saw all the benefits offered by TRUMPF laser machines. The automated configuration combining a Lift Master with a Stopa sheet metal storage system was exactly what we wanted,” adds father Wolfgang.
Wolfgang Knottek made what was probably the most far-reaching entrepreneurial decision of his life: to purchase additional property, build a new hall for laser cutting and storage, and to completely restructure the firm’s processes and workflow. This reorganization included transferring the fitting shop to a separate building. Welding or grinding dust was not to contaminate either the laser cutting machinery or the stainless steel processing unit.
To this end, a site was purchased and the building work was swiftly started. The laser unit and the modern sheet metal storage system were installed in the autumn of 2013, which meant that production commenced in January 2014. The old laser cutting equipment was sold at the same time.
Hurdles at the start
Since then LTT has been using a TruLaser 3030 with a 5 kW TruFlow Laser to cut sheet up to 25 millimeters thick, in formats of up to 3,000 × 1,500 millimeters. The Stopa storage system with its 205 pallet positions offers space for up to 2.5 tons of material. “Again we jumped in at the deep end and not everything ran smoothly at first,” says Wolfgang Knottek. “Our people had been working with another system for years, and it differed greatly in terms of programming, handling and preparatory work. At first we had to get used to the new opportunities,” reports the firm’s boss. His younger son Michael was able to handle some of the challenges at the start. Not only was he studying mechanical engineering, but was deeply involved in programming the new machinery.
Wolfgang Knottek is full of praise for the TRUMPF service team. “If something should ever go wrong, their service technicians are on the spot within a day and get right to the bottom of the problem. This was a very positive surprise to me. This means that downtimes are kept to a minimum.”
Despite several sleepless nights at the start, the three Knotteks today are quite relaxed when they think back to these times. “The decision was absolutely right. We have reached our first milestones and expanded our capacity by over 50 percent. Now it’s a question of acquiring orders to utilize it fully,” says the company’s top man, Wolfgang Knottek. He adds: “And when we are then running at full capacity, we can turn our thoughts toward serving a second production unit with our storage logistics. We already have plans for constructing an addition to the building.”
Contact us: MastersofSheetMetal@trumpf.com
This article war first published in April 2015.