Building new processes with Lego

BE-NICE – the call for friendly, open relations with one another describes a central guiding principle of Business Excellence (BE) at Rheinmetall Automotive while serving as the working platform of this division via the Networking, Information, Communication and Exchange (NICE) divisions. Participants can make their best-practice experiences available there and exchange with one another.

Business Excellence is built on the premise that companies only remain competitive when they continually improve themselves. The system provides methods and techniques that reconceptualize, mutually define, and successfully implement these optimization processes in production and administration. For Andreas Dannhauer, senior manager of Business & Production Excellence at Pierburg in Neuss, the willingness to learn from one another is a significant success factor for his work. For him, the crucial element is to improve processes in order to increase quality, efficiency, and productivity. For this purpose, optimization techniques are applied that have been proven and tested all over the world, such as problem solving, Six Sigma, and Lean Management. For example, workers experience in workshops how they can simulate production processes with Lego blocks and illustrate procedures in new production lines with simple cardboard boxes. One’s personal share in the success fosters motivation and the willingness to redesign processes in one’s own working environment. “We want to show,” says Dannhauer, “that continuous improvement is a process in which everyone can actively collaborate.”

Utilizing optimization techniques

In doing so, the specialists utilize appropriate optimization techniques tuned to the abilities and knowledge levels of the workers: Six Sigma for quality improvement, Lean Management to reduce waste, and Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) to ensure reliable equipment and resources. Here, the sustainable success of a continuous improvement process substantially depends on the acceptance of the workers. In order to achieve this goal, Andreas Dannhauer and his team are engaged on site in the Mechatronics Division plants and also share their experiences with other companies. In addition to online dialogue via BE-NICE, the BE team meets together at least once per year at a Business Excellence conference with representatives of the Pierburg plants. Exchange of knowledge remains at the forefront here. “We want to exemplify what we communicate in our trainings and workshops,” says Dannhauer. “If a plant in an area of our Business Excellence system is especially good, we contact the other plants and ensure the knowledge transfer.” This role as mediator is very appreciated by the plant managers with which Dannhauer and his colleagues keep close contact. This was how it was possible to demonstrate to representatives of the other production facilities in the Spanish plant in Abadiano, Basque region, how the Lean technique 5S is implemented on location for the structured organization of the work environment. After all, the best learning successes are achieved through concrete examples.

Optimization techniques

Pierburg Business Excellence combines worldwide proven and tested optimization techniques:

  • Six Sigma techniques for quality improvement
  • Lean techniques for reducing waste (increase of added value)
  • Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) to ensure reliable equipment and resources
  • Integrating employees to achieve trust, transparency, and sustainability of the improvements 


Six Sigma

Six Sigma was developed by Motorola in the USA in 1987 and achieved great popularity when it was introduced at General Electric by Jack Welch in 1996. It involves improving existing processes and developing new ones to reduce output variance (deviation of produced parts from the specification). The applied method follows the DMAIC principle for structured work in five phases: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control.


The fundamental principle of lean production for efficient design of the value-added chain was devised by the American scientists Womack, Jones, and Roos in the early 1990s in their book “The Machine That Changed the World”. They defined the principles of a superior development and production system in terms of efficiency and quality. The worldwide benchmark for lean production was the Toyota production system. Lean goals are to produce the current customer needs in the smallest possible batch size (ideally one) at the latest possible time. That ensures the fastest possible reaction to changing customer requirements in relation to volume and delivery date. Moreover, the “Eight Wastes of Lean” should be avoided: scrap and rework, transport, unnecessary movements, redundant processes, overproduction, waiting times, inventory, and also underutilized knowledge of the workers.


Total Productive Maintenance concentrates on reliable equipment. In doing so, it is the responsibility of each employee to maintain all equipment in perfect high-performance condition, for example through regular cleaning procedures, periodic maintenance, and proactive exchange of machine components.


Applied Lean methods for structured organization of the working environment through sorting, setting in order, shining/sweeping, standardizing, and sustaining. In Japanese: Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, and Shitsuke.

Benchmark projects of other companies

For this reason, however, the knowledge transfer of the Business Excellence community is also organized at an interplant level. 12 companies from very diverse industries not in direct competition with one another collaborate in this way over a time period in a benchmark project under the sponsorship of Audi, organized by the management consultancy Macils.


All participating partner companies, including Siemens, Fischer, and Schmitz Cargobull, present a benchmark case and pass on their know-how in this way. For example, Audi presented its outstanding production system at a transfer workshop. The collaboration is currently continuing in Neckarsulm, where Audi shares know-how in shop-floor management with a project team from Kolbenschmidt. Pierburg also presented such a case with the Business Excellence Assessment. In this process, the BE managers and the local BE coordinators reporting to them jointly measure the current status of the 13 plants using a comprehensive questionnaire. “Based on the results, we develop goals for the coming year together with the plant managers and create a road map,” says Dannhauer.

„OPEX is everywhere“

Interview with Francisco Xavier de Velasco Rivero, Chief Operating Officer Small-Bore Pistons

The Small-Bore Pistons division is the largest operative unit of the Hardparts division. Here, Francisco Xavier de Velasco Rivero pursues a strategy similar to that of the Mechatronics division. The native Mexican, responsible for smallbore production worldwide, has established a structure that brings him closer to his goals of “Operational Excellence” and “World-Class Manufacturing.” For this purpose, new central functions were established and reporting lines were adjusted in his team. Heartbeat spoke with the COO about the current situation and the potential of Business Excellence.

Can you explain your focus on Business Excellence?

In our headquarters, we have now established three functions to support our worldwide sites. One of them is Operational Excellence. The OPEX senior manager along with his team is supporting the plants in the continuous improvement activities. Then we have the Capex & License function and the third one is Industrial Engineering in order to support all the new launches and other activities for preparing the lines in the plants. Basically, we are using all the different tools that we all know like Six Sigma, VSM, Kaizen, SMED, and TPM, in the end striving for World-Class Manufacturing (WCM).

And how about the plants?

We are establishing an international team with OPEX experts from all the plants to support them back on. This team will report directly to the central function. These resources will of course be responsible for implementing all necessary operational excellence production systems in the plants. In addition, they will be an international resource that can be pooled by the central function to support any other facility if needed. This is a centrally controlled task force. The team is fully international and fully flexible.

How do you proceed?

World-Class Manufacturing is not new for us and we have already invested some years of work so far. We have made an initial assessment of the different plants for evaluation. We located the position of each plant and we defined actual plants to close the gap sin order to come closer to the ideal process of WCM.

Do the plants have objectives for their improvement?

This will be part of their Management by Objective agreements. This year, the plant managers and internal plant production managers already have a certain percentage of the MBO linked to operational excellence activities.

Local for local?

Yes, because at the end of the day, what we want is that the plants drive the improvements ahead. For sure, we as a central function will guide them, but the main drive has to come from the plants.

How are you teaching them?

So far, we have three workshops planned for the coming months. The intention is to start in Neckarsulm, but later on, we will do these workshops worldwide. For the first one, we are thinking of including all the plant managers; for the subsequent workshops, most likely the people responsible for operations.

How is your cooperation with Mechatronics in that domain?

We have already had different contacts in the past, which we will now reactivate with our new organization. Our intention is to avoid reinventing the wheel and if they are doing something which makes sense for us, we will also adopt it. You know, OPEX is everywhere. Due to our different processes, we may solve some issues in different ways.

Are you fixing the production processes worldwide?

It is our main task to fully establish OPEX in a sustainable way in all the plants. We need to define what the optimal process is and what the gaps are. To do so, we will verify the situation at each plant and then define specific action plans.

Are there similar lines in all plants?

We still have differences due to how we have grown. What we strive for is to standardize the machines and manufacturing processes. That is what we are doing now, for example, in Chongqing from the very beginning, we made sure that they had the best technology available on site. There are still opportunities. So in our “Boost” initiative, a project of the overall improvement of the Small-Bore Pistons business unit, OPEX is one of the main levers and we really want to utilize it.

Six Sigma is the fundamental principle

The DMAIC principle, consisting of the five phases define, measure, analyze, improve, and control, is the fundamental guide for the implementation of all processes at Pierburg. The Six Sigma method has developed into a fundamental principle of the structured approach. Both the continuous improvement process of quality management and the problem-solving process according to the IATF norm are oriented upon DMAIC. “Continuous improvement," says Dannhauer, “figuratively means rolling a ball further and further up the mountain.” However, to keep it from rolling back down again, steps must be carved into the mountain. At Pierburg, these are standards and/or systems, codified in handbooks, work instructions, or descriptions that all participants in all plants are obliged to adhere.


The mutual development of standards occurs via socalled Center of Competence (COC) teams. These work groups handle the key issues – Shop-Floor Management, Total Productive Maintenance (TPM), Key Performance Indicators (KPI), and problem-solving strategies. As a rule, such a team consists of four plant managers and one business excellence manager. “This has been very well received on site,” states Dannhauer. “This allows the plants to play their own role in designing what they will later implement. New issues can also be worked out in this way and integrated into the system.” Part of the philosophy of the optimization manager is to help others help themselves. In doing so, one proceeds according to the snowball principle. Knowledge and methods are transferred in the plants. Coaching is provided to local coordinators, whose task it is to promote Business Excellence on site. In parallel, they are trained to become Lean Management Trainers or Six Sigma Green Belts or Black Belts. Dannhauer and two of his colleagues are Master Black Belts.

Practice-related workshops

In addition to knowledge transfer and strategy development, the BE managers are however active in numerous workshops. These typically involve a high degree of practice from real life, for it involves personal experience and design of the change. In the 5S workshop, for example, a basic Lean tool, the first order of business is sorting out, setting in order, and shining (cleaning).This process is then later standardized and continually optimized. In the Advanced Lean Training, 12 participants simulate five production processes with Lego blocks over four days. The colorful blocks are well known and popular virtually all over the world. The Teams produce “Legoraris”,Ferraris out of red Lego blocks and “Legoghinis”,Lamborghinis out of yellow Lego blocks. Building aLego car out of 200 blocks single-handedly requires at least about ten minutes, assuming one is skilled in it.The Advanced Lean Training conveys how to develop an effective production process to produce a car (even in different variations) in as little as three minutes.Supported by two trainers, the participants prepare the production process, apply Lean techniques, organize the material, designate the workers, and arrange the work stations. This allows pure theory to come alive and become clear while being put into practice.

Value stream analysis is mandatory

For some time, all the plants for all product groups have furthermore been implementing regular value stream analyses. In doing so, production processes are analyzed backwards from delivery of the product back to the raw material supply. The attention then lies on the information relevant for controlling. These include customer requirements, the information flow to the suppliers, the material flow, and all key data. They are graphically prepared and formatted in a value-stream map (VSM). Analogously, the Mechatronics sites have begun to transfer these analytical methods to their administrative areas as service-stream mapping (SSM).Dannhauer is certain that a great deal of optimization potential exists here.

Learning organization

For Business Excellence, the way is the goal. It continually progresses in incremental improvement steps. At the same time, advancements in digitization also drive changes. But before it makes sense to digitize and/or interactively design a process, it must be analyzed, optimized, and standardized. To do this, one needs the methods and techniques of the Business Excellence system, which are further developed together. The manager of the Business Excellence division sees this as a true win–win for everyone involved.

„Heart of the matter“

Interview with Ken Schmidt, Senior Vice President Operations at Pierburg

Ken Schmidt entered the company as an assembly manager in Nettetal in 2004. Since 2013, as COO, he has been responsible or production and logistics in the Mechatronics division of Rheinmetall Automotive at its 15 locations worldwide and is also in charge of Business Excellence.

Where do you see the main tasks of Business and Production Excellence?

The main task is repeatedly to point out that we need cultural changes in the company. We want to have the colleagues open for the continuous improvement process and really strive every day to become a little bit better from one day to the next. I see the second fundamental task in the standardization of the process landscapes within our plants. Through transparency, trust, and openness in our concerted action, we have created a basis for trust among the plant managers that inspires them to support and exchange with one another, thereby animating the process of Global Excellence. Moreover, it was very important for us not to centrally preplan the optimization and standardization of processes, but rather to cointegrate the plants intensively, for example through our Center of Competence.

What implementation strategy did you apply?

Business Excellence is a comprehensive integrated system that should ultimately pervade the entire company. But we’re not that far yet. Initially, what was important to me was to introduce Production Excellence and eventually a production system. To do this, we changed the organization: one person was gradually set aside in each plant to handle Business Excellence tasks. With additional supporting regional coordinators and concrete target agreements, we achieved a high degree of acceptance and therefore a high degree of penetration in the plants.

What are the main ideas guiding the implementation?

The central aim is to generate trust within the Group, form a team, and then make real progress in development together. We therefore have to change the mind-set and thinking. The staff should directly experience how it helps them to work according to a structured procedure with available tools. This also means allowing a culture of failure. It is the only way to build the willingness to try out something new. We have learned to integrate the colleagues and remove their fears. The culture of continuous improvement arises only in collaboration, and we have a great team.

What role does digitization play in process optimization?

We try to introduce digitization with many small measures. Having a data matrix code therefore helps us to work faster and more efficiently on the plant facility because the responsible person can scan and immediately view the instruction manual and electric-circuit diagram. With so-called smart glasses, we save one or the other flight because we can solve the problem on a PC.