Production alliance at Liebherr

By Alex Dahm08 January 2009

Efficient manufacturing and delivering machines on time has a co-operative international dimension at Liebherr-MCCtec where flexibility is a fundament. Alex Dahm reports from Liebherr factories in Austria and Germany.

As a result of continuing strong demand for new equipment and a need to maintain quality standards, manufacturing capacity is still being increased at Liebherr. Expansion is a feature immediately apparent on arrival at, for example, two of the Liebherr-MCCtec group plants in Austria and Germany. Both have large new manufacturing and assembly halls under construction to cater for increasing demand for the division's port, offshore and crawler cranes plus duty cycle crawlers, piling and drilling rigs.

In light of the dramatic volatility of the world's financial markets and the widely held view that this will trigger a general economic slowdown, it might appear to some that this expansion will just become unnecessary extra capacity almost over night. There is, however, more to it in that Liebherr-MCCtec has considered its ability to accurately fulfil demand and has developed a strategy of flexibility in design, manufacturing, purchasing, etc. across its main plants in Europe.

This flexibility is designed to accommodate variations in demand, in terms of minimising delivery times, correct production volume and product type. A central feature of what Liebherr describes as its international production alliance is that, "All the participating production facilities must be capable of supplying all products to identical quality standards," explained Manfred Brandl, Liebherr-Werk Nenzing managing director.

To manage the complicated production alliance "we have introduced a matrix organisation which we operate very systematically," Brandl explained. While the alliance applies to more than 110 products, there is a also a focus at each of the four plants: ship to shore and rubber tyred gantry cranes for container handling in Ireland; offshore cranes in England; mobile harbour cranes and reach stackers in Germany; and heavy duty crawlers and foundation machines in Austria.

In addition to the product in the alliance, employees are also a primary part of it. They need to be able to work on all the different work stations across the different plants according to demand. To help facilitate this all operator work stations at the participating MCCtec group companies have to be identically equipped with the same machines and CNC control systems so that employees are immediately familiar with the workplace at different sites. Training, much of it in-house, is a fundament of the philosophy borne out by the 242 people in the three or four year "dual training" system in the MCCtec group.

"Planning and organisational responsibility has to be centralised although day-to-day operative management responsibility remains local," Brandl explained. Certain functions are centralised, including: research, development and design, production planning, purchasing and sales.

A further factor on the theme of flexibility is commonality of components, for example, the electronic control systems and the driveline components, which are basically the same across the group's products whether it is a crane or an excavator, explained Walter Länge, Liebherr-Werk Nenzing managing director. The Litronic system is Liebherr electronic hardware and software from its factory in landau, Austria. "We consider it extremely important to use precisely the same hardware for all our machines. This not only increases spare parts availability but also achieves a higher standard of reliability," Länge explained.

Software is vital in the functioning of the control system. The more often a piece of software is used, the greater its reliability, Länge said, so, "We therefore try to use our software components as frequently as possible." The operating system software that supports applications, sensors and peripherals "is identical for all our applications, Länge said.

A project that illustrates benefits of the production alliance is the MTC 78000 heavy lift (2,000 tonne class) offshore crane, first reported in this magazine in June 2008, page 6 and pages 45 to 50. Capacity is 1,600 tonnes but could be up to 2,000 tonnes and the maximum load moment is 78,000 tonne-metres. Manufacturing a crane that weighs more than 1,500 tonnes and has a boom length of 87 m presents major challenges met with the help of the MCCtec production alliance. The main steel work is done in Rostock while the boom, which weighs 300 tonnes, is built about 70 km away. Ancillaries and machined components come from Nenzing. Assembly of the first unit, that will go to work in the Gulf of Mexico, is underway in Rostock, as is fabrication of the second unit.
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