WMF discusses the advantages of German engineering, process excellence, and agile just-in-time production.
Despite strong international presence across the world, Geislingen-based manufacturer WMF Professional Coffee Machines has not lost sight of its German roots.
Since 1927, its headquarters in southern Germany has been home to WMF’s entire value chain – from the initial concept to the design and production of machines, right through to packaging, delivery, and service.
Alexander Schlee, Vice President Production Coffee Machines, says WMF embraces a proud and customer-centric “Made in Germany” philosophy.
“Alongside our engineering expertise, the geographical concentration of the entire value chain at the Geislingen site provides a key competitive advantage and is the secret behind our agility and efficiency,” Schlee says.
“Thanks to the close interdisciplinary collaboration between colleagues, we are able to implement solutions quickly, even in the case of complex requirements. Furthermore, we discuss changes to existing solutions as well as new developments and trends almost every day. As our production and assembly departments are literally on our doorstep and because we collaborate with many local partners, we are able to incorporate this constant flow of ideas into our work within a very short time.”
WMF’s process begins with the customer defining their specific coffee machine configuration from a broad range of standard modules, which is then manufactured via a make-to-order production process.
For every machine configuration, a production order is created automatically, and assembly is carried out in single batches. All of the key components required for the coffee machines are preproduced, preassembled, and delivered to the final assembly line on a “just-in-time basis” to ensure that WMF’s production process is agile and efficient.
In many cases, this is even done onsite, as preassembly and final assembly are located very close to each other.
“In other words, final assembly takes the relevant assemblies from small buffers. If these buffers run low, preproduction reacts by producing and filling the buffers. This ensures that the right quantity is always produced while keeping delivery times short and stocks low,” Schlee says.
WMF’s preproduction focuses on turned parts such as grinder disks, plus around 3000 different sheet-metal parts for various functional and design elements.
At the end of the value chain, intensive quality assurance is carried out before the housing is added to the coffee machine and it is packaged ready for delivery.
“To ensure that our products deliver on the promise ‘Designed to Perform’ in real life and on a sustained basis, WMF coffee machines must be able to adapt to any customer situation,” Schlee says.
“If we used make-to-stock production instead of just-in-time, it would tie up huge operational and infrastructural resources for one thing. For another thing, we would always have to have products available in huge quantities to ensure that we had the right assemblies in stock for every customer configuration. We are able to avoid these disadvantages by using a fully demand-based workflow control process based on the Kanban principle.”
Kanban is a method of production process control oriented to the actual consumption of materials at the supply point and place of consumption. This makes it possible to reduce local stocks of preliminary products in and near production, which are then used in products of the next integration stage.
“For us, the key question is: ‘what is the best decision for the product?’ Quality and rapid availability of parts are undoubtedly the top priorities, but it is also important to consider the total cost of ownership. In practice, this is manifested in a stable network of largely European, German, and regional suppliers,” Schlee says.
“Many of our regional partners deliver to our just-in-time production process several times a week, or even daily in some cases. These tightly scheduled delivery times allow us to plan on a short-term basis and enable dynamic development processes. We are fast, agile, and efficient, with no large stock volumes or lengthy response times. Particularly in the current situation, where international supply chains are grinding to a halt due to the pandemic and materials such as plastic, stainless steel, and electronics are running low, we have a clear market advantage and can continue to pursue our strategy of customer proximity without any major stumbling blocks.”
The greatest challenge Schlee identifies of WMF’s customer centricity is supply chain management.
“At the end of the day, it is only worth running a site if it is operating at high capacity and producing products efficiently – including with the minimum acceptable stock levels. In the case of make-to-order production, this benchmark can develop into a planning tour de force,” he says.
“Process excellence with regard to planning and logistics is without doubt just as important as the actual technological expertise when it comes to long-term market leadership. What’s the point of developing the most innovative machine in the world if you can’t deliver it due to a lack of parts? And with 600 to 800 individual parts per machine, this can be a real challenge.”
Another core component of WMF’s in-house production is its software development, from machine control, telemetry, and analytics to modern payment and IoT concepts.
“Meanwhile, other components, such as those in the fields of electronics or injection moulding, are procured from the relevant specialists… on both a national and an international scale. This ensures the perfect mix of in-house production and external procurement for the products and for our customers,” Schlee says.
Despite WMF’s localised production, Schlee adds the manufacturer is not hindered by growing globalisation and digitalisation. In contrary, he calls it an advantage.
“In order to realise our strategy of customer proximity on a global scale, we need to be networked with our customers and suppliers around the world. Digitalisation and market integration help us enormously,” he says.
“This does not conflict with the ‘Made in Germany’ philosophy. [Our] central innovation and production processes are concentrated at the Geislingen site, and country-specific adaptations in terms of design, models, functionality, serviceability, or delivery times are what allow us to achieve international success.”
Back on the shop floor, Schlee says digitalisation is providing WMF with greater data availability and automation than was possible before.
“We have already applied the principles of automation to large parts of our preproduction. Further concrete planning regarding partial automation will focus on the machine start-up and inspection processes. In preassembly and final assembly, the potential for automation is fairly low as we are not a mass producer and also have many variants,” Schlee says.
“We intend to step up our efforts to leverage the benefits of data availability with regard to all aspects of paperless production including transparent, end-to-end quality data, and real-time key figures. Furthermore, an interdisciplinary project team is working to establish transparent data flows with no media disruption between all supply chain participants – with the aim of using digitalisation to make the world of logistics a simpler place.”
For more information, visit www.wmf-coffeemachines.com
This article was first published in the November/December 2021 edition of Global Coffee Report. Read more HERE.