As we move into 2022, we thought it would be interesting to look back at the last two years and speak to the two people who have successfully steered the Ervin European manufacturing plants through these extremely challenging times. We wanted to know more about the difficulties their teams have faced, how they have dealt with them and what they are planning for 2022 and beyond. Thorsten Stephan is Head of the Ervin Stainless Division in Sprockhövel (Germany) and Mike Schwarz is the Plant Manager at our Ervin Amasteel factory in Glaubitz (Germany).
The most immediate challenge that the Covid-19 pandemic brought to all manufacturing businesses was how to maintain production while keeping staff safe. Mike and Thorsten managed to create safe working environments in both Ervin plants, while some office staff were able to work from home. Both factories were facing significant growth in customer demand during 2020 and 2021, and yet even with the restrictions due to Covid, both plants met their output targets each year.
Commenting on this achievement, Thorsten said “the teams at both plants reviewed all processes and systems, successfully implementing a broad range of improvements which helped us meet our output objectives. Close working relationships across the global Ervin network of plants and offices also provided valuable, expert resources when we needed them.”
At Glaubitz, in addition to the production targets, the team had another challenge. “We have just completed the development and testing of our new degreasing additive, Amapure, which is now in full production,” said Mike. “It has been a great effort by all the team to achieve this on-time launch without any impact on the production of our existing abrasive product range.”
Underpinning their success is a programme of investment. Both plants have seen significant investment in machinery, equipment, recruitment and training. Thorsten explained “At Sprockhövel we have increased warehousing capacity and we also added more shifts so we can run on a continuous 24/7 basis. We recruited five new team members in 2021 and had to find a way to deliver most of our training online to keep everyone safe while maintaining our commitment to continuous improvement.”
As Mike points out “High quality teams produce high quality products, so effective recruitment and retention are key to our success. We increased our headcount at Glaubitz by around 20% over the last two years. Maintaining a strong team spirit hasn’t been easy through Covid, but the management team found a way.”
Of course, the pandemic hasn’t been the only challenge for manufacturers. Many industries have suffered from volatile pricing and supply of raw materials and Ervin has been no exception. Rising prices for paper, pallets, scrap steel, shipping and of course energy have been just some of the cost increases our purchasing teams have been dealing with and whilst some are easing, others are forecast to remain high and possibly increase further during 2022. Our planning teams have worked hard to secure continuity of supply in the face of pressures on the shipping and haulage industries.
Ervin abrasives are “The World Standard for Quality”, so our manufacturing plants have had to not only meet stretching volume output targets, but also ensure that our premium abrasive products continue to deliver the best possible results for our customers’ blasting operations; the highest productivity and lowest cost. “One of the achievements we are most proud of over the last two years is that despite dealing with pandemics, price rises and ambitious growth targets, we have maintained or even improved product quality” commented Mike.
Along with the highest quality products, both plants play an important role in supporting customers. Ervin’s technical experts work closely with the sales teams to help customers get the best possible results and value from their blasting operations. As Thorsten explained “Our customer representatives and sales teams have worked together to build new information workflows; improving the speed and reliability of responses to customer requests.” At Glaubitz, the test centre stayed open through the Covid pandemic. “We completed over 50 testing projects in 2021” says Mike “some with customers present, others via online video conferencing.”
Looking forward, Thorsten and Mike have plenty of exciting developments planned for each plant. “We will be developing our business in new markets and our existing customers keep ordering more Ervin products, so we need to keep increasing our output.” said Thorsten. At Glaubitz, Mike says his team are working on several opportunities. “We are receiving Amapure orders for delivery to customers in the next few weeks, and we are expanding our customer testing and technical support.”
Both Mike and Thorsten and their teams are also thinking about how the blasting industry may change over the rest of this decade and the opportunities that will present for manufacturing Ervin abrasives. Whatever the next few years brings, it is clear that Thorsten, Mike and their teams at Sprockhövel and Glaubitz continue living the values of John F Ervin who started the company in 1920 with his unquenchable desire to do things the best possible way.