Plenty of heart and soul … and a good cup of coffee
Bruno Vogelsang is calmly but assertively taking the Verwo Group forward. With the very latest technologies and a focus on lean processes he has every intention of becoming an icon in Swiss industry with regard to sheet metal processing.
“Tastes good, doesn’t it?” asks Verwo managing director Bruno Vogelsang whenever he pours a cup of high-tech coffee for his visitors. In the light-flooded cafeteria at his headquarters in Reichenburg, located half an hour’s drive from Zurich, you will find it — a state-of-the-art coffee machine as is used by the Costa chain in Britain.
It has numerous functions which, in the past, you didn’t even know you needed. No matter whether you want to mix a strawberry-flavored Frappuccino or not, it will always attract the eye of a sheet metal processing expert. The graceful metal support where you place your cup is more than impressive with its precisely cut edges and perfectly welded seams at the radii. This is just one of over 300 individual components that Verwo manufactures for the support frame and inner workings. “We were really able to demonstrate our full potential with this project,” says Vogelsang with a touch of pride. “And I’m not talking just about the perfectly produced components.”
The TruLaser Cell 7040 in action.
Thinking the process through to the end
What Vogelsang means quickly becomes clear as he reports on the project. “I have to admit that we had some luck at the very beginning, when I happened to ring up Thermoplan, a renowned Swiss builder of coffee machines.” This was a classic case of perfect timing, since Vogelsang was invited to attend the Costa project kick-off meeting the next day. Here he had to outdo two other competitors, also looking for the support frame contract. Vogelsang scored points with his modern equipment — in addition to a 2D laser machine and a punch laser machine, Verwo also utilizes an ultra-modern 3D laser system built by TRUMPF. Furthermore, Vogelsang was very convincing with histhoughts on designing all the logistics, right from the beginning, following the tenets of lean production.
Verwo was awarded the contract and tackled this large-scale project with its team. The word “large” is to be taken quite literally in terms of the gigantic engineering requirements, the multitude of individual parts involved, and the coffee machine itself, which is as tall as a man. Verwo emphasizes one piece flow in its production. This entails the workpiece being produced in one go, from beginning to end. A giant like this first has to be integrated.
“But we didn’t flinch and developed a concept which also contained optimization approaches for all the other suppliers,” says Vogelsang. “For instance, we provided assistance when Thermoplan switched over to one piece flow in final assembly.” The planning experts at Verwo even thought about installation at local outlets. In the past, two men were always needed to set up the coffee machines and it took them a good eight hours to heave the machine into position and connect it up. That was far too laborious, much too time-consuming. Vogelsang recalls: “We found the solution in the so-called ‘landing gears’ similar to those used on aircraft.” These are easy to lower with the help of a wrench. Then, the Costa’s installers can simply remove the transport pallet, retract the gear again and — voilà — coffee starts flowing in less than half the time previously needed for installation!
After the concept phase things went quickly. The first prototype was finished within two months. The final product was presented in Turin just nine months after the project was launched. Volume production commenced with 500 coffee machines in 2014 and there are plans to increase this number to 2,000 annually in each of the following years. When Vogelsang talks about the procedure used in this project, his satisfaction is tangible. His courage to change things has paid dividends. Ten years ago, Verwo would not have been able to take on such an order.
Mr. Vogelsang is making a stir
That’s because the situation looked a lot different when he took over the management of Verwo in 2004, at the young age of 28. In his view Verwo had simply collected too much dust in its one hundred years in existence. “We had too many irons in the fire and were even distributing doors and windows under our own name. Our customers never had a clear image of who we really were,” says Vogelsang, who immediately set about stirring the dust up — and that in no uncertain terms. “We threw excess ballast overboard and focused our attention on sheet metal.”
This was followed by serious investments in machinery. But, as the Costa project shows, you sometimes need more than good hardware. That is why Vogelsang decided to publicize his passion for lean production and to set a good example. He established the Verwo Service AG, his own division for process optimization. This helps his customers in the manufacturing industry to remain competitive, even though Switzerland is a high-wage country. This is a mission that all his 160 employees support wholeheartedly. They work hard on detecting any kind of wastefulness inside the company, waste that conflicts with the principles of lean management. Success stories like the Costa project show that Vogelsang is on the right road. In spite of the precarious economic situation in this Alpine nation, he can still lean back and enjoy his cup of coffee.
Contact us: MastersofSheetMetal@trumpf.com
This article was first published in Summer 2015.