Since 2004, I have run the ‘PICO filter elements and special filter manufacturing’ production department at MANN+HUMMEL in Marklkofen. The air filters we produce are 45 cm in diameter – the same size as a washing machine drum. The filter production processes of today have little in common with its predecessors. Technological progress, high levels of organisation and worldwide standardisation have all brought about significant changes.
When I first came to Marklkofen as a technical planner in 1992, MANN+HUMMEL was not nearly as well known as it is today: few people from further afield than the Vilstal region had heard of the lower Bavarian plant. Thanks to concerted public relations efforts, this has changed over the past decade. From an organisational perspective, much was in flux during the 1990s: indirect functions such as purchasing, mass production and technical planning relocated from the head office in Ludwigsburg to Marklkofen. The idea behind the decentralisation was to increase the independence and self-sufficiency of the sites. Shortly thereafter, technical planning across all production was organised into one department in Marklkofen. Bernhard Wimmer – today the plant manager – was my team leader during this time, while I was responsible for the planning of the rectangular filter elements. It would be years before these indirect functions would become directly assigned to production and be amalgamated into the departmental offices.
The department head structure, which still exists today, came about at the end of the 1990s. This management level is probably the closest equivalent to the role of the production manager, which Otto Lommer took up in the late 1980s, and has increasingly been occupied by individuals with engineering qualifications. As for me, my next move took me to BMW in Munich as a sales engineer, where in 2004 I took on my role heading up the ‘PICO filter elements and special filter manufacturing’ production department, which comprises multiple shifts and assembly lines. The Pico filter elements are used in commercial vehicles, ship engines and gas turbines, among other applications. Special filters are produced in different forms and can be up to a metre in height.
From a technical perspective, filter elements have changed significantly in the past 15 to 20 years. There has been a shift away from the old sheet metal filter elements towards metal-free elements with specific additional equipment. The spiral wound strap is one of the most significant examples of a technological breakthrough, whereby thread soaked in hotmelt adhesive is wrapped around the filter element. Since the early 2000s, we have also produced passenger car filter elements with plastic welded round filter elements, alongside our HGV filters and industrial filters. During my time as a sales engineer at BMW, I sold the first passenger car filter element and, since it was produced in the department in which I work today, I later also inherited responsibility for its production as department head.
Structures and standards
Something I feel has grown considerably over the past 25 years is the number of rules which have to be observed in production: there are now countless regulations and quality standards. For example, the ‘Production Basics’ set out how MANN+HUMMEL’s plants should be structured all over the world. Every single working process is visually depicted and standardised across all levels to ensure that all steps are carried out in the same way. Naturally, one consequence of these regulations is to restrict our freedom as managers. Production managers such as Otto Lommer really paved the way for all sorts of internal innovation, blazing a trail for things to come. This would be virtually impossible in today’s structure, where any procedural change must be approved by both the customer and the change committee. It must be said, though, that these regulations have led to increased transparency and allowed production to be compared on a global scale.
The incredible technological progress is also striking, particular with regard to automation and IT-supported manufacturing and logistics controlling. Today, robots are deployed in areas where previously nobody would have dreamed automation was possible. Re-supply is carried out ‘just-in-time’ meaning less material lying in wait on assembly lines and reducing the dependence on warehousing.
Labour and environmental protection standards are also far more prevalent than in years gone by. A certified environmental management system as per ISO 14001 was also introduced in 1998. Ergonomics are also now receiving greater attention in workplace design: Assembly employees rotate between workstations on the assembly line hourly, ensuring that stress is not placed any particular part of the body for too long. When considering new acquisitions we also focus on ergonomically optimised machines and manufacturing resources.
Women on the assembly lines
Something that has barely changed is the high proportion of women working in production. In order to offer all employees a harmonious work/life balance, the locations today offer a wide range of part-time options. While our female colleagues also have the opportunity to train further to become stand-in employees or installers.
Due to the sheer size of the site, the atmosphere in Marklkofen today may not be quite so familial as it was at Warth Castle, but there is a real sense of teamwork in the manufacturing areas. Numerous workshops are held both within departments and across all departments in which all participants – whether they work on the assembly line or in management – have an equal say. This method often allows us to find the most effective solutions incredibly quickly.