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How can digitization and Industry 4.0 be used for small and medium-sized businesses? Kai Ellenberger, Managing Director of Maschinenbauers Ellenberger, accompanies Etventure founder and Changerider initiator Philipp Depiereux on his journey and reports on the necessity of digital transformation from the point of view of a small mechanical engineering company and how important Industry 4.0 is to secure jobs.
Kai Ellenberger – an industrial engineer who digitalises his company with innovation and curiosity. The engineering company Ellenberger was founded in 1983 by his father, and specializes in the machining of castings with linked robot centers. Today, 25 employees work for the company and mainly produce engine and structural parts from cast blanks, hydraulic housings for agricultural machinery, filter elements for plant construction, as well as rollers and wheels for worldwide use in mass production. “Our vision is no longer just about special manufacturing processes, but about the whole process. We want to design and build an automation process for the customer. Via a data flow, we can preventively maintain the devices and offer additional added value, “says the managing director from Kaiserslautern.
“If you are always afraid, you will not be able to innovate in the long term”
Industry 4.0 is the mega topic of the economy in Germany. Even for small and medium-sized companies, it is an essential question of future competitiveness on the international stage and offers great potential for new business models. “Everyone talks about Industry 4.0 and digitization. Actually not a new topic. The challenges have been there the whole time. Only now do you think: How can I merge internally produced data, such as machine conditions or quantities to a simple standardized level and evaluate them? “Ellenberger said.
In order to work on innovation, find new business models or recognize possible “pain points”, it is above all employees who are looking for innovative solutions. Often, the implementation is not so easy. Ellenberger sees a lack of technical and expert knowledge mostly as an obstacle and advises to look for good partners: “If you create transparency and trust, you can secure these areas through strategic partnerships. This is absolutely necessary, so that the company remains with small businesses. If you are always afraid, you will not be able to innovate in the long term. “Kai Ellenberger himself also tries to improve internal processes through day-to-day business through new innovations. For example, he already works on an internal knowledge database and the development of playful training tools.
“Today we still have 25 employees, but make almost twice the sales”
Automation can be a quantum leap, especially for a company’s competitiveness. Already in 2005, Ellenberger began the conversion from manual to robotic in the completion. Thus, an employee can look after five machines with the help of a robot. For many employees, however, fears also accompany the use of robots: will there still be one’s own workplace in the future? “Together with a local newspaper, we said in a report that robots secure jobs. That was also the case, because without this automation we would have completely lost a major customer. Today we still have 25 men, but make up almost double the turnover. That means the productivity per employee has increased enormously. ”
But in spite of all the positive developments, Kai Ellenberger too was on the brink of failure: a production area was doubled in order to realize two projects. The company has gone ahead to build its own hall. First, it should be made parts for a diesel engine. Due to the VW scandal, however, they no longer came to the agreed quantity. At the same time, the second project was postponed for two years. “Thus, the hall was empty for now. Since we were close to complete failure, because such a small company that simply can not handle. What did I learn from this? It is difficult when working with major customers to get binding contracts. We are now working more specifically and are more likely to accept smaller orders to spread the risk. ”
Towards the end of the journey, Kai Ellenberger encourages people to deal with digitization: “No path leads past digitization. Everyone should at least deal with the topic. But do not let it drive you crazy, but try to implement what is possible. ”
You also know lateral thinkers, game changers and tireless optimists who stand up for the digital transformation? Nominate them as Changerider Rider! These and all other episodes are available as video or in-depth discussions in the podcast on iTunes, Soundcloud and Spotify.