interview | Berghof Membranes

Six questions to Jörg Schlaier

November 28, 2019

Clever questions instead of simple answers: Jörg Schlaier has been the head of the production site at Berghof Membranes Technology in Eningen since 2016 – and has restructured many processes following the philosophy of Lean Management more efficiently since then. The optimization specialist explains here in the interview where he developed his passion for this subject, why there are only winners in his opinion, and why he likes to float above things.

1)Lean Management is often used to refer solely to saving costs here. But is that the whole truth?

No, that is much too narrow. The basic idea of Lean Management is using valuable resources - personnel, material and time - as efficiently as somehow possible. Initially, the results can be considerable costs, for example because existing tools or machines reach their zenith and are an obstacle to further improvement. But in my experience, investments in other processes or new manufacturing technologies are always worthwhile because they pay off in the long term. And not only for the company itself, but for all of the things for its customers. This is because processes that are consistently optimized according to "lean" criteria guarantee products of the highest, consistent quality at the right time and at the best possible cost from sustainable - because it conserves resources - production.

2) In regards to experience: You have been able to quickly establish yourself as a valuable dialogue partner with all of the business units of the Berghof Group on all topics surrounding the optimization of processes. Where does this great trove of experience in Lean Management come from?

It has to do with my professional development. Already during my schooling as an industrial mechanic, and later during my mechanical engineering studies, I was fascinated by the question of how production processes can be designed better, more efficiently and faster. After completing my studies, I worked for a large medical technology group for many years in which the subject of Lean Management had a very high priority - just like in all business units of the Berghof Group. Through all these numerous projects, I became intensely familiar with the topic. All of the great successes we have achieved has increasingly convinced me that this approach works. I have seen, time and again, that in a Lean Management project there are only winners at the end of the road - if it is properly designed. And of course, this has had a lasting effect on the way I think and act.

3) How does a Lean Management project need to be set up so that at the end, there are only winners?

The important thing is to approach such a project in a truly comprehensive and open-ended way. Even if the topic of costs always goes with it: It shouldn’t be about saving money primarily, but about increasing efficiency - that is where the cost savings then inevitably enter in, but not only that. There are many other positive aspects that emerge. For example, for the team: Whoever can work more efficiently, makes things easier, is more productive and more satisfied. Furthermore, work safety increases when the distances between points are as short as possible and the work place is optimally set up to be ergonomic. That’s why “lean” projects, in my experience, always have a pull effect on the team and give rise to additional ideas for improvement. Which is why such a project is also never completed. Customers also benefit very much: More efficient production processes further minimize sources of error and allow higher piece numbers with the same optimal quality, which in turn has a positive effect on delivery time. That is a very core issue for us because our satisfied, long-time customers are our valuable asset - which is why we also see ourselves not only as a supplier but also as a partner for our customers. And offer not only top-class products but also first-class services on the topic of waster water treatment.


4) It almost sounds too good to be true. Is it really so easy in practice?

What is easy in life? The Lean Management approach is everything but easy because companies - and the people who work for a company - must be willing to give up their old familiar routines. Step out of their comfort zones, step into unknown territory - everyone needs to overcome this. In addition: The correct path is not always immediately clear, sometimes you end up in a dead end. Then it is important not to give up right away and to fall back into old patterns. It is also sometimes very strenuous and complicated, but my many years of experience have shown me that: No matter how long and difficult the path is, at the end it is worth the effort in all cases. More efficient processes create more satisfied customers - and that is our primary goal.

5) People are known to be creatures of habit. How did you manage to win over your team at Berghof for your philosophy?

Of course, the Berghof Membranes production team also had many questions at first, when we suddenly put some topics to the test. After all, membrane production at Berghof has a long tradition, the products are known and appreciated worldwide for their first-class quality and robustness. Which is also why we analysed the individual work steps more than the products or materials used. And the team quickly realized that the optimizations based on Lean Management pay off for them in detail. This has generated a great deal of motivation. In addition: There is a real pioneering spirit in all areas - that is what makes working at Berghof so exciting and special. It certainly has to do with our unique history. When I switched from a large corporation to the medium-sized Berghof Membranes, I really looked forward to exactly that. Looking back on the last three years, I have to say: My positive expectations were clearly exceeded - it is really impressive how much we have achieved in this short time. And the pull effect I mentioned earlier has already fully unfolded and ensures that we continue to improve in the interests of our customers.

6) Key word ‘motivation’: Whoever deals with such complex questions on a daily basis need a lot of energy. What helps you free your mind and get fresh energy?

I believe in the famous Latin saying Mens sana in corpore sano: a healthy mind lives in a healthy body. That's why I do a lot of sports in my spare time: Jogging, going to the gym, mountain biking - depending on the weather and my mood. A few years ago, I also discovered a new passion where I literally float above things - paragliding. Soon we'll be flying to South Africa again, I'm really looking forward to that!