Patience and Diplomatic Skill
Business with China
How does a small to medium-sized capital goods manufacturer find a market for its products in China? Xiaohong Han, lady student of business engineering, has prepared a detailed answer for the machine builder Klotz.
China is far away. Not only geographically. In spite of all modern means of communication, language and cultural differences make the way to one of the world’s most prosperous economies cumbersome.
Reliably exploring the market and market opportunities on its own, is often a first, high obstacle for a medium-sized firm. Far less than the majority of the Chinese companies are represented on the Internet or have an English-language web site. Fax and telephone? Those who did business with China quite some time ago will find that frequently the former business partners can no longer be reached. The reason is that the Chinese telephone network and the phone numbers have changed.
For Xiaohong Han, these are difficulties she easily overcomes. For the 27-year-old student – who is currently finishing a Master’s degree in business engineering at the Rosenheim University of Applied Sciences – a market analysis, which she did in the course of an internship for the machine builder Klotz, was an easy job.
“To us as an export-oriented machine building company, the Chinese market is attractive”, says General Manager Peter Klotz. “Thanks to Ms. Han’s work, we now have sound data and have established initial contacts in order to explore our sales opportunities and create a promising strategic option.”
“Who wants to be successful in doing business in China, should in any case become familiar with the Chinese culture”, recommends the future business engineer Han. “And even rudimentary knowledge of the language can work miracles. In addition, much patience and high diplomatic skill are required. Chinese enjoy bargaining. So contract negotiations can often be a very lengthy matter.”
The Bavarian specialist for measuring technology, automation, and special-purpose machine building supports junior staff from natural sciences and engineering sciences and offers the possibility to write specific graduation papers in the company itself. Additionally, at Klotz GmbH students are given an insight into the business practice of an innovative, small to medium-size firm in the course of an in-house internship.
Telephone: +49 8221/905-311
Telefax: +49 8221/905-33
The owner-managed Klotz GmbH, a limited liability company based at Kötz near Günzburg/Germany, develops and sells innovative, technical products and solutions of high quality for use in development, production and quality assurance. Initially (in 1962) founded as a design office and operating since 1969 as a limited liability company, the company has shown for more than 50 years that it is a reliable partner and consultant for the optimization of production and development processes. Renowned industrial companies of Germany, which are among the customers, appreciate this. The high degree of identification of the well-trained and highly-qualified employees with the company ensures a high quality of the products and services. In acknowledgment of the particular commitment in the exchange of experience and knowledge within the German industry as well as for the active support of the technology-oriented visit and information programs (TOP), Klotz GmbH received in 1993 the TOP honorary award from the Federal Ministry of Economics.
Time that Matters
MIGRATION TO INVENTOR AND PRODUCTSTREAM COMPASS
In specialty machine construction, the time span for design, construction, and production of machines is often quite tight. In 2003, Klotz GmbH in Kötz decided to migrate to Inventor.
A short while later, the system was supplemented with the PDM solution Productstream Compass Pro from Autodesk.
Klotz GmbH is an owner-operated, internationally oriented specialist of specialty machine construction. Measurement and testing machines belong to the design and production program as they are used, for example, in passenger car and commercial vehicle steering gears, pistons, valves, motors, etc. Also included in the portfolio are automation and operating technology, operating equipment, and special grippers.
Optimal tools desired
What does not (yet) exist in the market will be developed by Klotz. The company has the individual parts and assemblies of the system to be externally manufactured. Everything converges again in their own facilities for the final assembly. Five of the twelve employees work in construction. In addition to purely constructional activities, purchasing and work preparation belong to the areas of responsibility of these colleagues. “Our employees are our most important capital,” explained managing director Peter Klotz. “That is why we do everything possible in order to make the best working equipment available to them.”
Thus, the company already possessed its own drawing management early on that made it possible to access the complete construction documents, also of very old machinery within a few minutes and display or send these. Even the request for a 3D CAD system has existed for a long time. Yet it was not that easy to find the optimal system. The search for the right application already began in the 1980s.
Race under time pressure
In a company such as Klotz, the evaluation and introduction of a new system quickly develop into a race with time or with the large contract of an automobile supplier. “In order to understand the time pressure, one must realize the role of the specialty machine builder in the supply chain of the end user,” explains Peter Klotz. “Our customer can only award the contract to the system builder – thus also to us – when he himself has received the corresponding production contract. And because his delivery deadlines are tight, ours are even more so.” At the same time, customers demand that their systems become continually more flexible in order to reduce model running times and to increase profitability. Whereas only a few models of an assembly or a part could be produced on the same line in the past, today one has to rely on being able to manufacture consecutive models without expensive modifications. The fact that these consecutive models are not yet designed when the production system is conceived does not make the matter any easier. Thus, one stood in front of a formidable challenge at Klotz in January, 2003: A large automobile supplier required a test facility for a fully automated assembly line for power steering for various vehicle models. What was especially problematic here was docking to various power steering models. During 2D times, one built models from agglutinated boxes in these cases and later processed the problem parts with the aid of Autodesk Mechanical Desktop. Subsequently, the parts had to be updated in various systems. With the introduction of a 3D system, such media breaches should be abolished and the required flexibility created.
Can one evaluate and implement a 3D CAD system and then embark with full strength on the construction of a new test facility within a mere eight weeks? The risk was as big as the opportunity that lay within. In the end, the courageous won out and the decision was made to enter the venture. Three systems were evaluated. A brief training of one to two days took place for every test position. Subsequently, three design engineers alternated in their servicing of every system in order to give an evaluation in the end.
Although the two other solutions at this time were functionally ahead of Autodesk Inventor, the overall concept of the Autodesk products, the ease of operation, the expected short familiarization time, and the competent system house team were convincing. Almost simultaneously with the decision, we received the purchase order from the automobile supplier. Four design engineers between the ages of 30 and 54 attended a two-day training course at the system house and one week later began with construction. The decision of management, project leaders, and design engineers was unanimous: In the future, Klotz will only design and model in 3D with Inventor.
Although the design engineers first had to familiarize themselves with Autodesk Inventor and several well-rehearsed “2D processes” had to be accommodated, the construction for the new system was able to be completed faster than calculated. The quality of the results was thereby clearly better than before, and the cost of modifications compared with 2D was much smaller.
Both the Klotz company and its customers profited from the opportunity to discuss technical problems with the virtual 3D model. The information exchange thus improved and accelerated internally and with the customer. The reconciliation with departments that are not accustomed to reading 2D diagrams was noticeably facilitated. Thus, for example, electrical engineers can join in a conversation without a problem when the subject is cable routing, control cabinets, and the integration of steering, measurement, and control engineering. “One practically receives an introduction to concurrent engineering together with the 3D technology,” assesses Peter Klotz.
Due to the scarce amount of time, the planned implementation of the PDM system Productstream Compass Pro with the start of Autodesk was delayed. “That was an expensive mistake,” admits Peter Klotz. Six months later, after the Klotz team very successfully completed its customer project and also some other projects running in parallel, the PDM implementation began. “Compass was also implemented in record time – much faster than we expected.” Now they had to retroactively administer the existing data, and this proved to be very expensive.
Compass makes dreams come true
After the introduction of Compass, design engineers´ dreams came true. One has continuous access to a clear presentation of all data. The ERP connection also worked out excellently via an individually programmed interface. Autodesk Inventor assigns parts lists directly to the ERP system so that one no longer has to enter duplicate data in the CAD environment. Compass also correctly stores customer drawings with their drawing headers and concatenates them with the corresponding projects. Finally, one jointly implemented numerous new procedures that Productstream Compass supports with the Celos system house from Neu-Ulm.
With a few additional modifications, productivity was able to increase significantly again. For every drawing, the system automatically generates PDF and TIF files. The modification index of drawings is maintained automatically to a large extent. The drawings assigned to one assembly can be converted, archived, and exported for transmission in external formats. In addition to the integrated Inventor standard part library, the Klotz engineers load many bought-in parts such as pneumatic or hydraulic parts from the part server of Cadenas GmbH that were similarly completely integrated into the workflow. Parts are automatically stored as standard parts in Productstream Compass and concatenated with ERP data.
Now it begins
This report could now close with the conclusion “Within twelve months, Klotz GmbH achieved all goals of the 3D implementation.” Yet the story continues. In January 2004, the next contract of the automobile supplier came with the additional request to store the adapters required for the various power steering models in a tool magazine within the machine. One must therefore integrate a special mechanism for the tool exchange that was conveyed earlier from outside over the belt. The design engineers focused their ambition on constructing the entire system significantly more compactly.
With that came the shining moment of Autodesk Inventor and Productstream Compass. The new system was greatly improved – such extensive work would never have been undertaken with a 2D 2D construction alone. In addition to a highly integrated system, one created an extremely satisfied customer in this manner.
Digital factory future
Peter Klotz sees many opportunities to better utilize his construction tools. At the moment, the focus is on putting the systems into the correct perspective with the aid of the Inventor Studio long before production and to present a working machine to the customer already during the offer phase. The Klotz team and its customers look forward to the new opportunities of future Inventor versions and the truly digital factory.