Fri, 09/11/2018 - 07:45
Shaping the Automotive Mould
Having doubled its production capacity in just two years, Baur Formschaumtechnik s.r.o is looking to maintain its rapid rise through major investments and continual expansion
Writer: Jonathan Dyble
Project Manager: Thomas Arnold
“Today I’m in the car for eight hours, driving from the Czech Republic to Bridgend in Wales where I’ll be tomorrow. From there I’m travelling to London on Monday, Abingdon on Tuesday, Cologne on Thursday and then I’m going to be back in the Czech Republic on Friday Morning.”
Speaking to Nicholas Gwynne, and his satnav, it is clear that Baur Formschaumtechnik s.r.o (Baur s.r.o.) is moving into both busy and exciting times.
Having joined Baur at the end of 2015, then transferring to Baur s.r.o, the firm’s Czech Republic unit, less than a year later during an internal restructuring phase, Gwynne is now playing an integral role in overseeing its transformative regional expansion plans as Jednatel (CEO) of the business.
Just two years ago, Baur s.r.o. was producing approximately 90,000 polyurethane part pieces for the automotive industry per week. Now, it is hoped that the Czech Republic operations alone will be producing more than one million part pieces per month by 2020.
“Having a built a brand-new plant 95 kilometres from our existing site, we began operating there in 2018, largely due to the rising demands for polyurethane parts that we have been receiving from our customers, and due to the expansion possibilities that the new plant allows,” explains Gwynne.
“In the short time since, we’ve already doubled our production capacity, and are looking to ramp this up even further moving forward.”
Baur Formschaumtechnik was formed as a family company in 1976, courtesy of Charlotte and Reinhard Baur.
The firm manufactures formed foam parts from polyurethane, a versatile plastic material that exists in a variety of forms and is utilised in a multitude of different industries and applications.
In 2004, the business was sold to Dr David Spitzer, a qualified chemist who became the Company’s new Managing Partner.
Three years later, Baur launched its operations in the Czech Republic, named Baur Formschaumtechnik s.r.o – a division that has become crucial in facilitating the Company’s meteoric rise within the automotive manufacturing industry.
By 2015, Baur had seen its production area expanded to a total of 30,000 square metres worldwide.
In Germany, Baur creates parts for a range of industries, from ski lifts to ventilation systems. Meanwhile, the business also operates in Germany, China, Czech Republic and with corporate partners in the US and Mexico, alongside the Czech Republic.
The automotive manufacturing industry is becoming increasingly competitive by the day, driven by emerging and evolving markets, rising consumer interest in new mobility services and the development of new technologies.
In ensuring that it achieves such rapid progress in the face of this competition, Baur s.r.o. has placed significant emphasis on both upscaling with the development of this new plant, but also upgrading and enhancing its operational efficiencies with substantial investments into new equipment.
“We understand that our ambitions are bold, and these have required us to invest in new machines, new technology, and new ways of doing business,” says Gwynne. “Investing in these things, in our people and in the new plant, will allow us to cope with the higher levels of business that are becoming expected from our customers.”
The implementation of state-of-the-art technologies makes up a major segment of this current investment agenda, with the Company exploring the use of robotics and automated manufacturing processes across all aspects of the business, from its assembly lines, to its stamping processes, to its warehousing.
“We have started our first tests with cohabitational robots in the aim that these will eventually play a major role in undertaking our production work,” reveals Gwynne. “Equally, we’re planning on introducing a new warehousing unit that will feature high level racking and automated forklift trucks.
“Industry 4.0 is where our focus lies, and will continue to lie, for some time.”
Alongside the new plant, the new warehousing unit will be crucial in maximising the business’s productive potential, allowing Baur to maintain a higher level of output on a more consistent basis.
At present, Gwynne estimates that it goes through approximately 42 tonnes of raw materials per week, producing 300-500 pallets of finished polyurethane products during this time. Comparatively, the new warehouse will be able to hold 2,634 pallets, offering a multitude of untapped productive benefits.
Gwynne adds: “This brand-new high racking warehouse will enable us to compensate for fluctuations in customer requirements and to allow us to produce on a constant basis rather than on an order to order basis, even when we are producing significantly higher volumes.”
While investing in industry leading equipment will be key to Baur s.r.o’s success moving forward, the firm is equally keen to take a similar approach in helping its staff to excel.
Skills shortages have become an increasingly pressing issue in the Czech Republic, not only within the national manufacturing industry but on a much broader scale across all sectors, largely due to an unemployment rate of less than 2.9 percent.
In tackling this, Baur s.r.o has substantially bolstered its talent retention and employment strategies in recent years – a characteristic that Gwynne feels the business can now pride itself on.
“I’ve never come across a company in my previous 40 years of working that invests so many resources in helping to train its staff,” he states. “We have set up our own apprenticeship programme and have implemented a tiered matrix system in terms of how we pay our people and in terms of how they can progress internally.
“If someone joins our company and is lacking skills or experience, there is room for them to learn and become qualified internally.”
Baur’s emphasis on training is evident in a number of ways, from the financing of external programmes for its employees, to in-house language training, where staff have the chance to learn English and German.
“We have to be both resourceful and innovative in how we compete to attract the best talent, but we also like to ensure that our workers feel like they’re part of the family culture here,” Gwynne adds. “We help in renting apartments, and we’ve given our workers increasingly generous holiday allowances.”
Investment into new technologies, facilities and training are all fundamentally futureproofing Baur s.r.o, enabling it to excel in an increasingly competitive market.
The versatility of polyurethane will see it continue to be a key material in the manufacture of automobile parts in whatever way the market moves. However, for Baur s.r.o, recognising any adaptations and positioning itself accordingly in line with these will be key to ensuring that it remains ahead of the curve.
To this end, the firm has been and will continue to monitor industry trends closely, from the emergence of hydrogen and electric vehicles to alterations in current models, whilst also diversifying its expansive product range in new and innovative ways.
Gwynne concludes: “We have to ask ourselves, where is the market going? With polyurethane being such a versatile product, there are lots of opportunities for us if we are able to capitalise.”