This is #newtk: when good processes become even better

Automotive-sector | Engineering | People at thyssenkrupp | All over the world, our colleagues at thyssenkrupp are working to safeguard the future of our company by making it more flexible, more efficient, and more high-performance. In our new #newtk strategy, we are putting performance center stage – just like our colleague Chenchen Zhang. At our Chinese location in Changzhou, he and his team have managed to optimize a crucial quality process in the area of steering support in such a way that it can be completed five times faster than before, which has enabled the team to meet the rapidly increasing customer demands.

Sometimes you and your team face challenges that are almost impossible to solve at first glance. This was exactly the situation Chenchen Zhang encountered. As an end-of-line engineer at the Changzhou plant of thyssenkrupp, he checks the quality and functionality of all newly produced steering components before delivery. A decisive test for the satisfaction of the end customer, where Chenchen and his colleagues take a close look at the torque and acoustic behavior of the product.

As an end-of-line engineer at the Chinese steering plant in Changzhou, Chenchen Zhang is responsible for the final inspection of the produced components – a decisive quality process for customer satisfaction

As an end-of-line engineer at the Chinese steering plant in Changzhou, Chenchen Zhang is responsible for the final inspection of the produced components – a decisive quality process for customer satisfaction

This alone is an enormously complex process, often involving several thousand units per day. However, for one of their most recent missions Chenchen and his colleagues had to completely rethink this elaborate process for a certain component. “Because customer demand for our Column EPS electromechanical steering support has recently increased significantly, we were faced with the task of rapidly upgrading our production line in Changzhou to a monthly capacity of 60,000 units,” Chenchen explains. “A requirement that went far beyond our actual capacities – especially since the final quality inspection is very time-consuming and the ‘bottleneck’ in the overall process.”

Step by step to the optimal process

Chenchen and his team immediately started to tackle the problem systematically. To shorten the testing time, the experts first carried out tests on a total of 1,500 different process variants. A clear condition, however, was that the quality of the test itself had to remain at the same level. “At the end of the first project phase, we had reduced the cycle time per unit by half – from 120 to 60 seconds,” says Chenchen. Using special software, however, he noticed at the same time that there was an inexplicable waiting time in the now already time-optimized test procedure, which stopped the machine for 18 seconds for no apparent reason.

Every second counts during the final inspection of complex components such as the "Column EPS" steering support

Every second counts during the final inspection of complex components such as the “Column EPS” steering support

Continuous improvement: first a 120-, then a 60-, then a 23-second test cycle

In order to get to the bottom of this “black box” phenomenon, the Chinese team decided to ask their colleagues at the Eschen steering plant in Liechtenstein for advice. “Together we were able to trace the problem back to an automatic system self-check that forced the machine to take an unnecessary break. After a brief consultation and further testing, the software experts in Eschen finally updated the software of the system in Chongzhou – and on the same day, the cycle time was another 18 seconds shorter. And more: “By working together with our colleagues, we were able to solve not only our own problem, but also various local challenges in Liechtenstein,” explains Chenchen.

Despite their success, Chenchen and his team wanted more. And so they worked together on the process, exploring additional variants and correcting flaws. In the end, their success proved them right, says Chenchen proudly: “We were able to reduce the time for one production cycle by a further 33 seconds – and thus increase our monthly capacity to over 70,000 pieces just in time. Everything with no extra personnel. Our mission was more than fulfilled!”

Teamwork and leadership excellence – ingredients for optimal performance

Chenchen is especially proud of his colleagues. After all, the experienced leader is well aware that such an impressive performance improvement can only be the result of perfect teamwork.

Chenchen and his colleagues worked on every detail to significantly shorten the cycle time for testing the assembled steering supports. Eventually, the experts managed to perform the complex process five times faster – without additional personnel and with the same quality

Chenchen and his colleagues worked on every detail to significantly shorten the cycle time for testing the assembled steering supports. Eventually, the experts managed to perform the complex process five times faster – without additional personnel and with the same quality

“When I joined thyssenkrupp in 2015, I had the luxury of being able to learn and improve without much pressure, because my team always backed me up,” Chenchen looks back. “Today I am a manager myself and try to be a role model. I see it as my duty to train new colleagues, lead and motivate my colleagues to perform better, always ensuring that my team has all the necessary skills to solve even the most difficult challenges. This is because performance means everything to me. And our recent success shows once again how important it is for our entrepreneurial success to constantly improve in all areas.”

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