Growth needs space. Despite sluggish growth in the welding sector as a whole, Fronius International has been able to improve its performance year on year. For this reason, large-scale expansion of the factory was needed to be able to deliver the required quantities of welding torches.
Welding torch production has always been located in the center of Pettenbach, which lies near Wels at the foothills of the Alps and is home to the Fronius headquarters. When the new factory was built in the industrial area of Pettenbach, production was initially split between the old and new facilities, although the majority of torches were built at the new plant.
Wherever higher quantities of product are needed, production processes need to be even more integrated, making the reasons behind the new factory predominantly strategic: “In the past we were definitely more function-oriented. Each part of the production line, whether turning, milling, torch body production, or final assembly, tried to churn out the highest volumes,” explains Michael Reder, group leader for prototypes and process reliability for welding torches. “If we finish manufacturing a welding torch and see that it is missing a part because someone else at a different point along the process chain has fallen behind, production comes to a halt, which then leads to the delivery being delayed.”
For this reason, Fronius decided to switch to more process-oriented approach, whereby the relevant technician is responsible for planning the products over the entire value-added chain. “Thus determining which and how many individual steps are needed to produce a specific XY welding torch,” continues Reder. “If, for example, individual components are missing at the final assembly stage, because there were upstream personnel-related issues at a turning or milling station, immediate help can be provided. Some staff from assembly can be made available to help at the affected station.”
Theoretically, it would be possible to organize process-oriented production across several sites, but it is much more beneficial to have all processes under one roof for a number of different organizational reasons. Therefore, since October 2019, all production steps for welding torches, covering almost all individual components, have been carried out in the same location – just like one big production line.
“Even production steps that had previously been partly performed by external service providers have been brought in house, such as hardening of the drive rollers,” explains Reder. “From time to time the often prolonged delivery times from external partners also caused longer lead times. This is why we have carefully examined which suppliers have slowed us down in the past and then taken this into our own hands.” Of course, process optimization of this size scale requires a lot of space, which is now available.
Furthermore, the extended building complex offers enough room to test modern production technologies: “However, it is not possible to simply get rid of five existing processes and replace them with a different one. It takes time to a establish new technology into the overall workflow,” adds Reder. “You would start by adopting a two-pronged approach in order to gradually replace the obsolete technology.”
All in all, these steps enable processes to run smoothly and result in shorter lead times, “because we are able to react more quickly to problems of all kinds,” underlines Reder. “In the future our goal would be to avoid supply bottlenecks wherever possible, so if one does arise, we are now able to respond quickly.”
At the end of the day, the entire setup is geared towards providing the customer with a high-quality service, as quickly as possible. As part of its broad growth strategy, Fronius is therefore investing heavily to ensure this essential service.
“In addition to expanding the factory, we wanted to be able to work even closer with Lebenshilfe, an organization that helps people with disabilities in the world of work, which we have been supporting for several years,” explains Walter Rauch from the prototype and process reliability for welding torches department. The organization strives for the inclusion of people with learning difficulties in the broadest range of social environments. It is also important to Fronius to contribute more to society and to better integrate the Lebenshilfe employees into its production operations. “The employees take on fairly simple tasks, such as joining plug connections together. Until recently they were based in the branch office in the center of Pettenbach,” explains Rauch, who has been with the company for decades.
“The move to the newly expanded factory has made it much easier for them to be involved in the entire value-added process because they now know what their section does, what their components are later used for, and how many people are working on it. We also provide them with company work clothing, including Fronius overalls from the production department, so that they really feel part of the team. Objectively speaking they might seem like little things, but for those involved, it makes a huge difference to their happiness. We therefore hope to be able to contribute as much as possible to the social inclusion of everyone.”