The Fritz Winter Iron Foundry solemnly inaugurated on October 26, 2017 their new US Headquarters in Kentucky with a first production line. This line is dedicated to the production of brake discs for US automotive companies. Twenty new US employees for the local production had been trained intensely at the main plant at Stadtallendorf, according to the train-the-trainer-procedure. They are supposed to pass on their newly acquired know-how to the future US-employees at the new location. The basics were an intense job training program as well as an optimized team work.
Approximately 7500 kilometers separate the Hessian Stadtallendorf from the new Fritz Winter Drive in the Industrial Park Wilkey North near Franklin/Kentucky, at a one-hour ride in the North of Nashville/Tennessee, the centre of the US country music. There, in the Greenfield, the Fritz Winter Iron Foundry constructed the first section of their new plant: On a surface of approximately 25,000 square meters, a state-of-the art foundry with a mechanical machining department and an annual capacity of more than 60,000 tons of iron castings came to life. The favorable location between the European automotive manufacturers in the South of the USA and the US manufacturers in the North enable, according to CEO Jörg Rumikewitz, an excellent starting position. This involves considerable costs for the iron casters: After all, they invest more than 100 million Euros in the first phase of the new construction, it is planned to employ 300 persons in a first step. In order to build up a fresh, well qualified personnel there, Fritz Winter strike a new path: The first twenty new US-employees for the production were intensely trained at the Hessian main plant according to the train-the-trainer procedure: They are supposed to pass on, as multipliers, their company-specific know-how they have acquired at the respective production stations at Stadtallendorf to the future US-employees. “We can say that these employees are our personnel starter kit for the USA”, says Firat Saritekin, industry master and head of the molding shop who is in charge of the technical lead for the US project.
For this purpose, there have been established sponsorships: Thirty mentors, experienced Fritz Winter production workers, take care of the new ones that are supposed to work as foundry specialists, pattern makers, electricians, mechatronics engineers or CNC milling engineers and later will train the new US-staff as team leaders. One of them is Dennis Presly who, during his stay for three months at Fritz Winter, acquires knowledge in the monitoring and control at the pouring furnace control station: “I like being able to make a lot of new experiences I can take with me across the pond.” Nevertheless, a big hurdle had to be overcome right at the beginning: “At first, we stumbled upon the language barrier, above all with regard to the foundry-specific language”, remembers Saritekin. However, after overcoming of the initial fears of contact and a little bit of small talk, the communication became better and better, even though it was realized at the beginning with the help of mobile phones and dictionaries. Also Shawn Simmons and John Shannon Burton are looking forward to their new commitment at Fritz Winter in Kentucky: “We were surprised above all how good the team work was”, both say who had worked before in a US aluminium foundry that produced, among other things, automotive stabilizers.
When asked for their reasons to hire at Fritz Winter, they assert: “Fritz Winter is the number one of the sector, and such an opportunity to build up a new production line is unique.” Also the high security level in German companies has surprised them in a positive way, even if the production software is more complex than local solutions. The new starter team is purely male. “Of course, the work in our melting shop is rougher than in other areas, but there are many men who especially like this rough work and the handling of liquid iron”, explains Andreas Fiedler, Head of Human Resources at Fritz Winter Foundry at Stadtallendorf. In this context it is very useful that a big part of the new US-colleagues comes from the aluminium casting sector which is widely spread in Kentucky.
In order that the job training would smoothly work, the mentors had developed, together with the division managers, a detailed training program. This implies also rules of conduct, security advices and work instructions translated into English language that show for example how the operation of machines of the molding line or the changeover of patterns work safely in practice. Finally, there will be used an identical molding line in the USA as it is used at Stadtallendorf. Also the behavior in case of defects was intensely trained. “Thus, our new US-colleagues can bring a lot of knowledge to their future job”, says molding shop manager Saritekin. In addition to this, there was a block teaching at the Association of German Foundry Specialists (VDG) as well as the acquirement of formal permits as for example crane or lift truck licenses. Each training unit ended with a so-called “Feedback-Sheet” which confirmed the ability of the new ones. A dual training system, as established and proved here for decades now, is rather unknown in the USA. Here, in a company you use to work your way up to a team leader, coordinator or supervisor. “Elaborate training plans have helped us very much for the productive training of the new employees”, confirms Melanie Wagner of the Human Resources department, in charge also of the job training program: “Finally, we did not know at the beginning what we had to expect. However, looking back we can say that all the new colleagues knew how to use their opportunities and that our strategy was right.”
This is also Alan Morrison’s (core shop) impression – with 28 years of experience in the foundry industry he is some kind of a senior among the US-colleagues. He also considers the good team working at Fritz Winter as a major advantage in comparison to many US-companies. “Without any happiness at work, you finally cannot do a good job”, says Morrison. His mentor Michael Mai is of the same opinion and adds that the new employees have learnt with big curiosity. Furthermore, a win-win-situation has arisen as the German colleagues were able to refresh their language skills in exchange and benefit from the experiences of their US-colleagues. In order that there was no possibility for homesickness to arise – nearly all US-colleagues have families at home – there took place different activities after work. At these occasions, also the families of the German colleagues were included. The program included bowling, handball or billiards, but also the visit of a US World War Memorial. “Thus, we can achieve also an improvement of the international understanding”, says Niclas Ruhl, industry master for foundry and fettling and godparent at the molding line. The only thing core maker Alan Morrison really missed from his homeland Kentucky was the Blue-Moon-beer with taste of orange.
However, there is much work waiting for the new ones at the new US-location in Kentucky. There, the new Fritz Winter plant is slowly taking shape: Currently, the new molding machines are being installed, pouring lines are under construction and the new furnaces are still packed in the new hall as well as the machines for the mechanical machining and the fettling. “After their return, the new colleagues support the set-up and start of operation of the new facilities – everything proved pouring technique as it is applied also at Stadtallendorf”, says Jörg Schurich, Project Manager for the US-staff of Fritz Winter. And also the mentors and further Fritz Winter workers accompanied the start of production in Kentucky for nearly five months as of early summer. In summer, it was supposed to carry out first production trials and to produce first machined castings with low volumes. “The construction of our new plant at Franklin is an important milestone in our strategy of globalization”, explains Jörg Rumikewitz, CEO of Fritz Winter. “The central location in the East of the USA and with this the proximity to our customers is a big advantage, furthermore, the availability of highly qualified work forces and the excellent local infrastructure.” This is more and more important in order to be able to satisfy the flexible requirements of the automotive customers. “Thus, we continue to strengthen our position on one of the most important automotive markets worldwide”, adds Henning Knipper who is working in the Corporate Development area at Fritz Winter.
It is about cast iron brake discs with extremely tight tolerance requirements that are supposed to guarantee to Fritz Winter an adequate business also in the electromobile automotive future. As the company from Stadtallendorf near Marburg has committed itself nearly 100% to the vehicle manufacturing with products like brake discs, engine blocks and cylinder heads. Its customers imply nearly all big players of the automotive, commercial vehicle and hydraulic industry. An annual melting capacity of 1,000,000 tons of liquid iron, more than 25 million castings and approx. 650 million Euros of turnover are convincing arguments for calling themselves Europe’s biggest independent foundry. However, the real work at Fritz Winter USA will begin in 2018 after the run-up of the production to the full capacity. “We are looking forward to our future in Kentucky”, resumes Jörg Rumikewitz his expectations with regard to the new plant.