Frauscher production on the pulse of time
Supply Chain Director Gerald Buchinger (on the right) with his colleagues in production.
Over the course of several years, Frauscher has continuously optimised its production to meet the expectations of the market. In an interview with Supply Chain Director Gerald Buchinger, he shares his insights into growth-related challenges and current developments such as the digitalisation in the production process.
In mid-February 2020, you finished the production of the RSR123 wheel sensor with the serial number 50,000. That's certainly a reason to celebrate. How proud are you of this achievement?
Gerald Buchinger: Since its birth, the RSR123 has set very high quality standards in terms of production technology, involving extensive working and testing steps. With the introduction of a new version of the sensor, which enables a higher degree of automation in production and can handle larger component and process tolerances, we have achieved an important milestone. Required updates, which may have been necessary in the field, are now a thing of the past. In addition to the well-known outstanding features of the RSR123, the quality improvement has also been recognised and appreciated by customers resulting in a positive effect on sales figures. This development is certainly a reason to celebrate and a reward for all of our hard work – from customer service and production to meticulous analysis in our R&D laboratories.
Last year, the production figures of this sensor rapidly increased. Why is it so popular?
Gerald: The RSR123, produced since 2007, has two key benefits. First of all, it is highly resistant to electromagnetic interference. Secondly, it has a pluggable connection cable. These properties are in great demand in certain countries. This has enabled us to open up new markets. While around 6,000 units were produced in 2018, the production output rose by more than 80 percent to just under 11,000 units in 2019.
This is a remarkable development. How many units of the RSR123 do you expect to produce in 2020? When are you planning to produce the 100,000th RSR123?
Gerald: We are currently able to produce up to 90 units a day – with a lead time of 3.5 weeks. This means our production capacity for this type of sensor is over 20,000 units per year. The exact time when we will produce the 100,000th sensor will be determined by market demand. As with all our products, we constantly monitor trends and take timely action to meet customer requirements as quickly and as effectively as possible.
In addition to the RSR123, Frauscher has other interesting sensors in its portfolio with the RSR180 and RSR110: What makes these sensors stand out?
Gerald: As the oldest sensor, the RSR180 has already contributed significantly to the successful development of our product portfolio in the early years. Recently, we have also introduced a new version. The well-known functional characteristics have been retained and the product is now even more robust against shock loads.
The third sensor in the bundle, the RSR110, has an open analogue interface and can therefore transmit very precise data. We offer it as a single wheel sensor (RSR110s) and as a double wheel sensor (RSR110d).
Can you give us an insight into the production areas at Frauscher? How are they structured?
Gerald: We have divided production into three areas:
- Sensor production
In 2019, we produced almost 30,000 sensors. To ensure that our sensors can withstand a wide variety of stresses, we carry out comprehensive tests regarding functioning and temperature. By using additional curing ovens, we are also able to optimise throughput times. In addition to the RSR123, we also produce the RSR180 and RSR110 sensors, various analogue sensors and, soon, the SENSiS DP.
- Electronics boards production including trackside connection box construction
We have our own specifically developed testing equipment. We can test automatically, and we are able to carry out in-house coating of the electronics boards. By using a conformal coating system, we are able to offer the highest level of protection against adverse environmental conditions. In an adjacent area, trackside connection boxes are assembled, wired, and tested according to project specifications. On request customers carry out factory acceptance tests.
- Warehouse logistics
Alongside a variety of internal logistics activities, our staff also carry out the assembly of wheel sensors with protective tube and rail claw, packaging and labelling, as well as dispatch. The ergonomic assembly islands with cordless torque wrenches have become indispensable for our employees. For the customer, our pre-assembly of the sensors and adjustment of the rail claw to the announced rail profile is a great advantage, because the installation time of the sensor on the track can be reduced to a minimum.
What was the biggest challenge you had to face in the past years?
Gerald: We are very pleased with the fact that we were able to tap several new markets in the last few years. Due to the dynamics of these markets, the demand for materials and personnel is steadily increasing. At the same time, there is customer demand for very short delivery times. This rapid growth has presented us with new challenges, for which we had to find suitable solutions. After all, it was and is our goal to produce best-quality products in the shortest possible time.
You have mentioned several growth-related challenges. How did you manage to adapt the organisation and processes to deal with them?
Gerald: We introduced a completely new production concept in 2013 in order to meet these challenges. It has worked exceptionally well so far for both one-piece and large orders. Ever since, we have focused on time-based procurement with fixed throughput times. Among other things, the lean approach, adjustment of working time models, and our structured production process play a major role. Two important goals were to increase output quantity without requiring more resources and to meet delivery dates. We succeeded in achieving both.
Quality and growth – isn’t that a contradiction?
Gerald: For us, quality and growth are not contradictory at all. We are proud to be able to maintain our high level of quality despite the ever-increasing demand. Our goal is to continue to meet our own quality standards in the future and to consistently improve. Several factors contribute to this: Our quality assurance department supports production staff to ensure reproducible product quality. Daily quality checks as well as regular audits and certifications such as ISO-9001, ISO-14001, ISO-45001, and the IRIS certification are carried out specifically for this purpose. Moreover, regular training for employees and suppliers maintain the high level of quality awareness. State-of-the-art software helps us cope with increased production volumes.
Automation in production will become even more important in the future. How did you position yourselves in this case? Can you give us examples?
Gerald: First, I would like to stress that automation is not intended to replace our employees. Rather, our aim is to assist them in their work as production output increases, for instance, by having robots such as the Cobot carry out monotonous tasks. After completion of a training phase that lasted several weeks, this robot has been in use since December 2018. Its task is to transport the sensor housings to a surface treatment machine. Additional measures on our journey to more automation include the expansion of the vacuum encapsulation lines.
By and large, we are already very well positioned when it comes to automation. At the same time, we still have a lot of new ideas, and we are always keeping an eye on current developments. If new approaches are deemed beneficial and economic for our employees and our production process, we test and implement them.