L.B. Bohle (special machines for the pharmaceutical industry) maintains short innovation cycles. Flexibility and speed characterize the cooperation between Dr. Robin Meier (Scientific Director) and André Klug (Head of Purchasing) as well. Prototype and marketability often are just a few months apart.
Dr. Meier, you as a pharmacist with a focus on pharmaceutical technology are at home at the interface of process, repair, and drugs. What is your interface to purchasing?
Robin Meier: Cooperation with the purchasing department is becoming increasingly important and intense in new and further development of our machines. Small organizations like ours need fast reactions. Purchasing plays a major role as the main interface here.
Mr Klug, can you always respond as fast as the technical department requests?
André Klug: We are a very flexible company. Our decision processes are short and our hierarchies are flat. The teams make decisions independently. They do not have to go through elaborate approval processes for every single detail. We virtually have no internal obstacles.
When does purchasing take action in innovations?
André Klug: It can vary. For some products, we are involved from the beginning. For others, we only come in when a semi-finished prototype is ready. From that moment onwards, we will figure out whether it makes sense or not.
The prototype serves as the pivot then?
Robin Meier: Our development workshop can transform ideas into prototypes very quickly and imaginatively. This proof of concept initially is about whether our idea generally works. The process is very open and dynamic. We are indeed developing very quickly. We often only need a few weeks from idea to prototype. In our latest development, for example, barely a year passed before first commissioning.
What do products that are quickly brought to the market mean for purchasing?
André Klug: We generally are already involved in prototype construction and procure components for it. The next step is to see what we can improve on economic and technical levels. Then we need to find the right suppliers and the right material. Suppliers give input as well. We then redesign anything that should be changed from a production point of view.
What components do you procure? Where is the focus?
André Klug: We are increasingly buying complete assemblies. Quality requirements in the pharmaceutical industry are extremely high. That means that not every supplier is suitable for us. Stable partnerships are important. The majority of suppliers come from the region.
What requirements does the technology have?
Robin Meier: In addition to metal parts, we purchase components that control and record the process: Sensors, actuators, ventilation technology, drive technology, fans that are precisely designed for the pressure conditions, throughput rates and temperature at hand. That is why we often work with a very short time frame for selecting suppliers for such components.
André Klug: We must cooperate with the supplier starting in the development phase. Solutions must be developed to match the application.
Robin Meier: The usual supplier may not always fit anyway. This may be the case with a flowmeter for very small fluid quantities. The usual supplier simply wasn’t able to deliver that device size. That means one has to look around.
André Klug: Choice really is very limited in some product groups. Additionally, suppliers are currently not necessarily dependent on new customers, and their capacities must be considered.
What can you do then?
André Klug: This is a challenge in electronics. It’s easier in the metal area, though the selection there is narrowed down by defined values.
Is a second source even an option for you?
André Klug: We welcome this in purchasing. We also receive specifications from our customers, however, where products are precisely defined. In such cases, we have no alternative, e.g. for an electric motor. This requires skilful management in order to make delivery capability and price match in the end.
How do you manage supply risks
André Klug: Our size enables us to keep close track of our critical products and suppliers. We have implemented appropriate measures. We work with call-off orders, inventories and fixed reprocurement times.
How transparent do you have to be in the supply chain towards customers?
André Klug: The requirements to transparency and documentation are certainly increasing. We live up to this where at all possible. However, some questions, e.g. concerning the origin of individual raw materials, can hardly be answered due to the size and structure of our supplier base.
Robin Meier: Of course, we meticulously check material quality of the stainless steels in all areas that come into contact with the product by X-raying components and materials in incoming goods. Of course, we also document this.
Have your expectations to suppliers changed as well?
André Klug: We buy assemblies rather than components. This means, for example, that we expect finished, coated turned parts, including connections. We leave coordination of the intermediate steps to the suppliers.
Does this influence the machine design?
Robin Meier: Robin Meier: We benefit from the fact that we can do a lot on our own in the early development stages. Later, we coordinate with the suppliers and adjust specifications when we realize that this is easier and does not influence the process, its stability and quality.
Does this increase your exchange with suppliers?
André Klug: Absolutely. We have the motor designed by the supplier today. He is, after all, the specialist for it. The approach has been changing.
Robin Meier: Some of our components would have taken much longer to develop without the cooperation of suppliers, also because we would have had to perform considerably more tests. Some suppliers are willing to become closely involved from the very beginning.
Where are friction points between technology and purchasing?
Robin Meier: This happens rather in everyday business than in the innovation phase. This is about machines that must be at the customer’s site at a fixed delivery date.
André Klug: The time window is reducing. Our customers have long decision-making processes. Years may pass between quotation and contract. The original delivery date won’t change, however. This can be difficult for procurement since delivery times on the supplier side are long as well.
How do you get the goods on time, then?
André Klug: Via a new tool we provide our suppliers with a weekly preview of our specific demands.. This is linked to a monthly supplier assessment. Suppliers must check the delivery list and actively report if they cannot deliver the quantity requested. In so doing, we have increased delivery reliability and can coordinate in advance if there are any delivery issues
How do you keep up with the fast pace of development?
Robin Meier: Innovations take place along with the daily business, which needs to keep going. This is only possible if we selectively recruit new employees, as we have done. Innovation is also an idealistic challenge. We have the task of hitting the critical point precisely that competition does not cover, yet is decisive for the customers. The market confirms time and time again that we have now succeeded in this.
How do you know where the customer needs help?
Robin Meier: We spend a lot of time on trade fairs and specialist meetings on continuous manufacturing. We hear a lot there, along with reports from companies about their experiences. When we presented our new concepts, we quickly realized that items such as uniformity in the product flow or uniform drying with different particle sizes are just what we need. It confirms that we are on the right track.
You develop fast and optimize a lot. What does that mean for purchasing?
André Klug: When a machine is brought to market quickly, we have to keep up with the pace of sales. However, since we continue to optimize the products after they are ready for the market, the article masters often change again. In that case, we stop the process and procure new items. Part of our flexibility and speed is making this work.
What is on your agenda for 2019?
Robin Meier: In terms of development, we have made great progress in the last two years. At this point, the primary goal now is to bring model maintenance to completion, and to achieve a standard that we maintain. We want to use our cooperation with universities to generate data and publish test series that show what the machines can do.
André Klug: We are expecting good sales for the new developments, which means that quantities will rise very quickly. We must ensure the supply for this by means of framework agreements and purchase commitments. Nevertheless: Capacity remains an issue. Any supplier who invests in a new machine tool today will find that the operator is the greatest issue. A shortage of skilled workers is evident. This also is the case on the customer side, where we supply turnkey solutions – i.e. machines including installation, assembly, and commissioning. We need skilled workers around the world for this. Additionally, only certain suppliers are approved by our customers. Not everyone is allowed to enter a pharmaceutical production site. This is a challenge for the purchasing department, not only from an organizational point of view but also from an economical one.
Source: TECHNIK + EINKAUF Prozessindustrie 1/2019