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Shop floor management at Steel

Processes in the steel industry are optimized

Shop floor management at thyssenkrupp Steel: CIP manager Sebastian Stronski with Carsten Rokitt
Fotos: thyssenkrupp Steel Fotografie / Rainer Kaysers

By introducing shop floor management at thyssenkrupp Steel, the steel company is bolstering its focus on its customers, especially in the process industry.

Carsten Rokitt is not afraid of venturing into uncharted territory. That’s how he describes his work – exploring areas that not many people have been yet, if at all, where he’s left vulnerable to attack with little recourse. Since he started his first job at thyssenkrupp Steel in front of a blast furnace back in 2000, he has been taking on these kinds of positions time and time again, whether as an internal consultant establishing innovative processes at the company or as a constructor of the world’s largest cloth filter system. Together with his 15-member team, Carsten Rokitt introduced the management tool of shop floor management at Steel as one of the first companies in the process industry to do so.

The core principles of shop floor management

That was almost two years ago. On this particular Thursday afternoon, the Head of Production Systems visits the coupled pickling and tandem plant in Dortmund. This is where coils for customers from the automotive industry are further processed, for example. 100 coils customized according to customer requests are produced every shift. Employees work around the clock, with over 1.9 million tons of steel passing through the plant every year. One core principle of shop floor management is to be a manager who is present onsite and see what’s going on for yourself, rather than just writing e-mails and arranging meetings.

That means it’s only logical for Rokitt to take a look at how the principle he has introduced to Production is embodied while five rolling stands each apply up to 3,300 tons of pressure on steel sheet next door. He observes how shift coordinator Patrick Rau schedules communication with his team at about 3 pm. At daily meetings in the morning and afternoon, the team all congregate at the board, which visualizes which order is in process, what its objectives are, which processes are being executed, and where there are issues by means of tables, columns, and figures – in other words, it depicts Production and its tasks at a glance.

“We are establishing a new management culture – and it’s an ongoing process that never truly ends.”

Carsten Rokitt, Head of Production Systems bei thyssenkrupp Steel

The advantages of shop floor management in the process industry

“If the board is kept up to date, then I know that the processes are being put into practice,” says Rokitt. The board is one of the few situations in which the tool that is transforming Production in the long term is made visible. The core of the concept – direct, transparent, and effective communication on the part of the manager – tends to happen behind the scenes. The shift coordinator Rau has experienced this effect firsthand: “Shop floor management has transformed working here in Dortmund over the last few months – with positive effects on our results.” Problems are resolved with a view to the long-term, “Because we have made it mandatory to write up who’s doing what and regularly take a look at what we’ve achieved,” he says, giving an example. “If an error pops up, then we take a more structured approach to finding the cause than before.” This allows processes to become more transparent and efficient, and boosts quality in turn. It has also been possible to identify positive effects on occupational safety – and Rau says that this takes top priority. Rokitt is satisfied.

Carsten Rokitt introduced shop floor management at thyssenkrupp Steel
Carsten Rokitt is responsible for shop floor management at thyssenkrupp Steel. This tool for managers helps to put a greater focus on customers, as the continuous improvement process becomes part of day-to-day business. The manager is seen and heard in Production, communicates directly and effectively with employees, and coaches them instead of instructing them.

New management culture as a continuous process

Integrating a management tool in the everyday workflow requires perseverance. Shop floor management was tested and finetuned at six training sites for a good year before being rolled out to business units at all plants by the beginning of 2020. 2,000 managers have undergone training, while 430 boards have now been installed in production departments alongside production-adjacent operations. Now it’s time to consolidate those principles, or, as Rokitt puts it: “The managers have passed the management test – now it’s time to put it into practice.” This isn’t always easy. That’s because “Creating a new management culture is no mean feat – it’s an ongoing process that never truly ends.” If an error occurs, then we don’t look for the “person at fault” but work out a solution instead. The manager coaches employees instead of merely instructing them. “We used to make the best technician the boss – now we are empowering managers to manage even better,” he explains.

The board in shop floor management
Daily discussions at the board: Patrick Rau (right) convenes with his employees to compare the target and actual status on a scheduled basis.

Shop floor management is closely intertwined with the continuous improvement process – the ongoing journey to optimize operations. The goal is for thyssenkrupp Steel to gain a competitive edge and manufacture products that meet the most challenging customer requests. Customers in the automotive industry in particular – who know firsthand what shop floor management can achieve – have welcomed the step.

The expansion plans have also shown that the project is standing its ground. The principle will be extended to administration, while the processes are to be digitalized. The latter in particular is an enormous undertaking. After all, the 15-member team headed by Carsten Rokitt is to once more break new ground. If shop floor management is still a novelty in the process industry, then its digitalized equivalent is even more so. This need to venture into the unknown won’t subside any time soon – but Carsten Rokitt is ready for whatever comes next.

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