Germany lags behind its neighbors when it comes to statistical coffee consumption: According to the online statistics portal Statista, the 7.9 kilograms of raw coffee per head that the Swiss consume is 2.4 kilograms more than the amount consumed by Germans. And Switzerland’s lead is not just confined to the quantities of coffee brewed. The country is also home to famous manufacturers of automatic coffee makers. The name of one of the largest producers, however, is one of the least well known: Eugster/Frismag.
The company was founded in Romanshorn in 1976 by Arthur Eugster and initially manufactured household devices such as egg boilers and waffle irons. In 1978, his brother Markus came on board and added coffee machines to their range of products. Today, Eugster/Frismag AG is a partner of many well known brand-name manufacturers, developing and producing fully automatic coffee makers and coffee capsule machines in its five plants – three in Switzerland and one in both Portugal and China. The high quality standard demanded of the devices is reflected in the company's cutting-edge production processes, which have been continuously improved by permanent Lean Managers since 2015.
Prevention as Key
Jasin Zekiri is responsible for all lean projects at the Romanshorn plant on Lake Constance. The aim, he explains, is not simply to accelerate processes but to identify and avoid unnecessary activities. “Working without waste ultimately leads to cost reductions and a positive effect on the health of staff.” While analyzing logistical processes, he noticed a weak point: “At the end of production, around 200 cardboard boxes weighing up to 40 kilograms are packed onto pallets – without the aid of equipment.” Even though there had not been any specific complaints or incidents up to that point, the Lean Manager saw a need for action here, not least because the coffee machines are becoming more technically complex and heavier. “We think prevention: if an accident were to happen, any solution would be too late,” explains Zekiri. The company places huge importance on the health of its staff. With that in mind, it focuses on making its work processes as ergonomic as possible.
The first idea, to use a robot to provide assistance, was quickly rejected by the people responsible. “It didn't make any sense for the process,” explains Zekiri simply. Instead, the project team turned its focus to lifting devices and researched a number of ergonomic solutions for lifting and stacking cardboard boxes, which was when it found Schmalz. The main challenge was for staff loading the pallets to be able to reach the top rows without putting a strain on their back. “Even with a manual lifting aid, the highest stacking level is usually around 1.70 meters,” says Christian Fluri, Technical Consultant for Schmalz GmbH in Switzerland.
New Concept Impresses
A visit to the EMPACK trade show in April 2018 got the ball rolling: one of the solutions Schmalz was presenting at the fair was its new JumboFlex High-Stack. This tube lifter enables employees to ergonomically stack goods weighing up to 50 kilograms at a height of up to 2.55 meters. “We had never seen such a concept before and we instantly knew we had found the right solution,” recounts Jasin Zekiri. Shortly after that, representatives of Eugster/Frismag tested the device again thoroughly at Schmalz in Glatten, Germany, and the company became the first customer in Switzerland to choose the new version of the ergonomic vacuum lifter. It combines the JumboFlex High-Stack, with an operating height of up to 2.55 meters, with an aluminum overhead crane that covers a work area of 2 x 5.5 meters.
Despite some teething problems, staff were quickly convinced of the benefits of the vacuum lifter. “There was definitely an acclimatisation period,” Zekiri admits. The JumboFlex High-Stack won them over thanks to its intuitive operating concept. Alongside the ergonomic one-hand grip for controlling the tube lifter, an additional handle makes it even easier to guide the tube lifter with the second hand – for instance, when fine tuning the height of the workpiece. The device is infinitely adjustable and can therefore be ergonomically adapted to every operator. “Since our workers have gotten a feel for the device, they can’t imagine working without the High-Stack anymore,” reports the Lean Manager.
However, he had to clean up one false assumption: “Many of the staff though the process would now be quicker – but the aim was to protect staff and focus on ergonomics to prevent cases of illness.” This illustrates the real concept behind Lean Management: Even though the cardboard boxes are not stacked higher or faster, the vacuum lifter has optimized the process significantly. The ergonomic improvement has had a positive effect both on the health of staff and on their motivation.
The Lean Manager rates the collaboration with Schmalz just as positively: In solving the teething problems, the company showed it would always deal with the concerns of Eugster/Frismag. “The faith we showed in them was proven right, and we would be happy to work on another project with Schmalz any time,” Zekiri continues.