“We learn the most at night”
Companies have to continuously develop suitable strategies to match changing markets. That means: listening intensely and responding quickly. Ferdinand Hein, Frank Schmitz and Daniel Peltier explain how the oven manufacturer Hein does this.
Lots of people still remember the family bakery around the corner. Most of them are gone. What does this change mean for Hein?
Ferdinand Hein: The bakery trade in Europe has changed a lot in the past twenty years. In some European companies — in Germany and the Netherlands, for instance — there has been concentration of larger operations, some employing between one and two thousand workers. In France and Belgium, by contrast, there continue to be many small, one-man businesses. In short, the premises in Europe are quite diverse. That is why, fifteen years ago, we launched an innovation strategy that helps us quickly respond to changes.
What does that mean specially?
Hein: Since the market is in a state of rapid transformation — and is be- coming more concentrated, more complex and more price-conscious — we analyze it as intensively as possible in order to spot changes early on. We regularly hold brainstorming sessions with select customers who are bakers and ask: “What are the new trends? What do you need? What do you expect from our machines?” And, by the way, we learn the most from our customers during the night, since that is when the baker works. It is on the basis of this information that we develop our prototypes. One product of this approach is our “Stone Roll” hybrid oven. It is the first ever to combine the baking qualities of an annular-tube oven with those of a rotary oven, merging gentle convective heat with simple handling. Each new development in the past ten years has been crowned with market success. In the future we want to bring out a new product every three years.
That’s certainly an ambitious goal …
Hein: True enough! But ten innovation prizes in the past fifteen years testify to the success of this strategy. If we can continue to be just this innovative, then we’re on the right road.
Do these plans dictate any consequences for the operational infrastructure?
Frank Schmitz: Definitely. Two examples were installing a Stopa storage system and acquiring a TruLaser 3040 with Lift Master and SortMaster, both made by TRUMPF. What’s more, we have rearranged the machinery inside the hall. Included there was the TruPunch 5000 with the accompanying SheetMaster. We started automating our operations at the end of the 1990s with that machine.
Daniel Peltier: Hein has invested seven million euros in its production facilities since 2010. In just twelve months we turned our entire manufacturing process virtually upside down — and did so without any outside consulting agencies. We examined all the production steps and worked out job sequences that correspond exactly to our degree of vertical integration. Today we have achieved the optimum in automation. Now we are able to manufacture many parts ourselves, parts we would otherwise have to outsource.
Is your marketing department as well organized as your production?
Hein: Another part of our strategy is to follow new approaches in advertising and marketing. Along with traditional advertising campaigns and trade show exhibits, we attempt to draw attention to our products with unconventional measures. We have already undertaken some quite off – beat campaigns to point out that when you’re dealing with high-quality products, it’s not only the investment volume that is decisive. The longevity, operating expense, and service costs are also critical. Anyone who disregards these aspects will have higher costs over the long run.
Does this message reach the customers?
Hein: They have to understand that quality has a price. One example: We build our main oven from stainless steel two millimeters thick and of the highest quality. If the final customer is interested only in the purchase price, then we could build the oven with sheet metal just one millimeter thick. We would save hundreds of tons of stainless steel per year. But that’s not the way we think. A part of our company philosophy is never to degrade product quality, but only to improve it. In addition, we are convinced that service costs and the energy and operating costs are every bit as important as the investment price. And in this regard we are in a very good position with our products.
Who buys your ovens? The small bakeshop or industrial bakeries?
Hein: We build ovens for one-man bakeries, service stations and super-markets, for medium-size bakeries, and for industrial-scale operations. Our customers can choose from six families of ovens and fifty different models. Exports currently account for 98 percent of our sales. We deliver primarily to the EU, but to the USA, Canada and Japan, as well. All in all, 400 to 500 ovens roll off our production lines each year, and here it is worth noting that the number of larger systems has tripled within the last five years. Most ovens are delivered within three to four weeks after we receive the order. Once we’ve set a delivery date, we hold to it 99.8 percent of the time. That both pleases and surprises our customers. That’s why I am sometimes asked: “Don’t you have any orders?” My answer is: “Of course we do. In fact we’re working at 110 percent of capacity. But here at Hein we have a production process that lets us deliver quickly.”
Contact us: MastersofSheetMetal@trumpf.com
This article was first published in summer 2012.