Sheet metal maker and team player
What makes a job shop expand both quickly and reliably? The keys are courageous decisions and employees who enjoy coming to work. Thomas Claaßen shows how all that can happen.
Becoming his own boss was long a dream of Thomas Claaßen. By 1999 the time had come. He dared that fateful step and hung out his shingle. Ever since then, things have been moving up, and up, and up. The one-man shop has long since outgrown the garage where it all began. Today’s payroll lists 220 names. And everyone in the Saterland-Scharrel region associates the company – Maschinen- und Metallbau Claaßen – with high-quality products made of sheet metal. The firm is located in the northwest section of Lower Saxony, within a triangle defined by the towns of Leer, Oldenburg and Cloppenburg. “We have an excellent reputation in the region,” emphasizes the general manager. “We are known as a job shop equipped with modern machinery and thoroughly committed to apprenticeship training.”
A good team is, in his view, an important factor in the ongoing development of his business. And at the same time, this is his largest challenge. “The shortage of skilled labor makes things tough for us.” There’s one thing he’s sure about: “Anyone who doesn’t prepare for that and who doesn’t make training a top priority will fall by the wayside, sooner or later.” That is why he wants to be an appealing employer and build loyalty among his employees. Anyone interested in earning a master craftsman’s certificate or pursuing or continuing university studies will find a sympathetic ear in management and can count on support.
“Over the long term, our problem won’t be finding technicians or engineers. What we’ll be missing are good people working the press brake or laser cutting machine – the operators,” Claaßen points out. He counters this trend with a well-established apprenticeship training program. Here he profits twice, because word gets around and that attracts new applicants. At present, 16 young men and women are learning to be precision mechanics, metalworkers, industrial clerks and office staff. He is planning to increase the publicity for his company and to make use of the social networks to recruit newcomers.
The door to opportunity
Thomas Claaßen’s team also includes employees who otherwise would have hardly had a chance to land a job. “Our Syntegra subsidiary currently employs 35 disabled people, many of them with speech impediments,” Claaßen explains. They make up simpler sheet metal parts. They are a part of a perfectly normal manufacturing operation and are integrated in the staff. “The people in the Syntegra team are proud of having a job in a regular commercial enterprise,” says Claaßen.
Claaßen is convinced that good employees are one prerequisite for business success. Modern equipment is the other. Asked about some of the milestones in the company’s development, his self-assured response is: “We invest continuously. In this respect, each and every one of the past years represents a milestone.”
The equipment on his shop floor already includes a total of thirteen TRUMPF machines. In addition to a variety of press brakes and a punch laser machine, there is also a TruLaser 5030 fiber. “That was our first machine incorporating a solid-state laser and one of the first machines of its kind to leave the TRUMPF plant. That means we were in the lead,” says Claaßen. Quick response is decisive in any case. “You have to be ready and willing to make decisions. If you ponder an investment for four years, then you are already three and a half years behind the field.”
A single source – even for complicated parts
He sees his company as an all-rounder and the shop’s technology reflects this. “I want to offer my customers totally carefree service and products. That is critical for us. If you limit yourself to just a single technology, then it is difficult to develop a market position.” Quick response times and maximum flexibility are, for him, the measures of all things. He has automated his laser machines and press brakes, increasing productivity and ensuring that the parts are of excellent quality. Shipping only the best is an integral part of the Claaßen concept. That is why the company also insists on an initial sample inspection. “Before a part is manufactured in quantity, one piece is fabricated and meticulously inspected,” Claaßen points out.
The company basically manufactures everything – from laser cutting of simple parts to complex assemblies. And the trend is clearly in favor of the latter. “We want to strengthen our position as a system partner among our customers. For us, complicated welded assemblies have moved into the limelight.” The company uses its own fleet to make deliveries – right to the line, if need be. “We have to be flexible,” Claaßen emphasizes. “We need always to be mindful of that, in spite of all our growth.”
Contact us: MastersofSheetMetal@trumpf.com
This article was first published in June 2014.