Meet Britain's Makers: ZF Lemforder
In the heart of Solihull, where the spirit of British engineering has thrived for decades, we find ZF Lemforder, a tier-one automotive supplier known for its commitment to excellence. Recently, Made in Group CEO Jason Pitt had the privilege of visiting their state-of-the-art facility, shedding light on a company that epitomises innovation and precision in the automotive industry.
Driving Excellence in Automotive
ZF Lemforder is no stranger to the world of automotive manufacturing. They are renowned for their work with some of the globe's leading automotive brands and their contribution to the aftermarket. This visit, however, was more than a cursory tour; it was part of the Made in Group's ambitious plan to showcase the best of British engineering through a series of plant tours in 2024.
Hosting the visit was none other than Adrian Chell, the Plant Director of ZF Lemforder UK. Adrian is not only an expert in his field but also a passionate advocate for the sector. His more than six-year membership in Made in the Midlands and his upcoming delegation to Westminster illustrate his commitment to promoting the manufacturing and engineering industry.
Best Practices for Sustained Success
Adrian Chell shared valuable insights into the practices that have enabled ZF Lemforder to maintain a prominent position in an industry known for its ultra-lean operations. The moment one steps into the facility, the immaculate shop floor, operating with a just-in-sequence system and overhead lines, reflects a well-planned and organised plant.
Walking along the elevated platform, Adrian takes pride in showcasing the "fundamental skills room." This room, although condensed compared to the larger shop floor, contains many essential tools and components. What makes it unique is the presence of spinal diagrams and a 3D printed model of a person lifting heavy objects. It's a room that wouldn't be out of place in a chiropractor's office. The model serves as a visual demonstration of the consequences of incorrect lifting and offers solutions to improve ergonomics in various tasks.
Interestingly, the idea for this "fundamentals room" was inspired by a best practice visit to another business, which ZF Lemforder then adapted and enhanced to suit their own needs.
Challenges and Strategies
During the visit, Adrian discussed the challenges facing the sector, particularly regarding automotive OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers). Many larger automotive companies diversified their business during the pandemic to mitigate risks. However, this diversification posed challenges in maintaining lean production while accommodating the flexibility often required.
Adrian also shared ZF Lemforder's strategy towards achieving Net Zero emissions. He emphasised the importance of two standards, ISO 14001 and ISO 50001, which, when combined, cover a significant portion of the groundwork required for environmental preparedness.
Recruitment is another challenge that Adrian addressed. He highlighted the scarcity of skilled individuals with the right aptitude for the sector, even in a central location like Solihull. Adrian called for governmental leadership to bridge the skills gap and prepare the workforce for the manufacturing and engineering industry.
With a surge in customer orders, ZF Lemforder is creating new permanent roles, alongside their successful agency model. This flexibility, especially in the automotive sector operating a just-in-sequence line, proves invaluable when customers need to halt production for various reasons.
ZF Lemforder's commitment to excellence, innovation, and sustainability makes them a beacon of British engineering. Their willingness to share their knowledge and practices with industry peers through initiatives like the Made in Group's plant tours ensures that the legacy of British manufacturing continues to shine brightly.