Steinbeis Consulting Center achieves impressive results with its efficiency improvement instrument
There are plenty of quality improvement techniques to choose from, but if you need something that is suitable for a firm in the manual trades or an SME, something that is easy to implement and inexpensive, you will search in vain. With the introduction of the VFMEA, Professor Dr.-Ing. Ralf Hörstmeier, director of the Steinbeis Consulting Center for Applied Motion Technology (ABT) founded in 2011, established a practical method that lays a foundation for quality enhancements. The VFMEA was introduced in 2013, and ever since, a variety of craftsmen’s workshop businesses and SMEs have benefitted from the method.
VFMEA is a German acronym for “waste, potential error, and influence analysis.” The ABT Steinbeis Consulting Center has been involved in practical implementation of the method from the beginning and it can be applied to all kinds of industries and crafts. What makes the method special is that a company’s owner works with the employees to identify errors and wastage, and this is used as a foundation for future optimizations. “We cover the overall structure and all areas of the business, so nothing is left to chance and no errors or examples of wastage are missed,” summarizes Ralf Hörstmeier, adding that “other methods take more of a technical approach and look at individual areas, whereas VFMEA is a management tool; it’s hands-on and easy to use. For example it uncovers gaps in communication within a business or encourages people to improve processes, without significant effort or major outlays.” Once the foundations have been laid, if necessary other quality methods and management systems can be used.
One company that benefited from using the tool was a long-established specialist workshop and typical Swabian business. Based in Stuttgart, the painting company Rücker was able to take full advantage of the VFMEA methods. The family-owned business, officially called Maler Rücker GmbH, was founded 30 years ago and is now in its second generation. Its slogan is “Color Brings Joy to Life” and the firm has 30 employees serving clients in the regional state capital of Stuttgart and the surrounding area. Its clients include both companies and private individuals. Rücker offers a wide variety of specialist services including all kinds of renovation and refurbishment work, indoors or outdoors – whether adding something new, preserving the existing, or protecting the old. This can be anything from laying insulation in a loft to lining a basement, or even janitor services. As members of the local craft guild, the owner Ingo Rücker and his workforce have a duty to deliver “premium quality services and the perfect performance of specialist.”
Rücker described the VFMEA method as “a welcome instrument for improving quality” and his firm is now an official pilot company for the method in his sector of industry in Baden-Wuerttemberg. “I’ve always wanted to do something about errors and wastage in my company but I just didn’t have the methods for systematically capturing and analyzing things,” explains the business owner. “Thanks to VFMEA, I now have the right tools at my fingertips.”
In keeping with the idea of being “helped to help yourself,” the company boss and his co-workers were supervised by Hörstmeier, who showed them how to put their own company, structures, and processes under the microscope. This entailed examining organizational factors, communication, personnel, customer contacts, contracts, and procurement before looking for areas of wastage, their causes, any connections, and potential areas of improvement. “Starting the project with help from a supervisor completely fullfiled our expectations. The results included a list of errors and areas of wastage that we drafted as a group, and we’ve been using them ever since,” explains Rücker. “We’re now targeting specific areas to introduce measures, and this is a good starting point for our company to optimize processes.” Including employees in the process helps ensure it is widely accepted – as the managing director confirms: “The project went down really well and it really boosted commitment.” A project coordinator has also been chosen by the team members to provide support.
The Steinbeis consultant Ralf Hörstmeier emphasizes that the method requires only a reasonable time investment and is inexpensive. It provides a good foundation, and the final documentation comes with an individual list of actions, thereby enabling any company to decide for itself how it wants to take things forward. In anticipation of future developments, the next plan is to offer VFMEA apps to provide effective assistance with implementation. These highly practical methods have already been tested with small businesses offering electrical, painting, metalworking and woodworking services, and are currently being adapted for wide-scale use at companies in all sectors of industry. They will be introduced in collaboration with chambers of commerce and business associations. In some states of Germany, they may receive financial backing.
“Every company has the potential to improve, no matter how big or successful it is,” says Lena Strothmann, president of the Bielefeld-based Ostwestfalen-Lippe Chamber of Craft Industries, lending her support to the method. “Among other things, it’s about pinpointing the potential to save money and eradicate waste. That said, improvements in communication also make things a lot better.” Norbert Durst, innovation and technology officer at the Chamber of Craft Industries for the Stuttgart region, is sure of one thing: “Digitalizing business processes is a big topic at the moment – even for workshop businesses. But before you introduce digital solutions, other things have to be optimized first. VFMEA is a really good way for craftspeople to eliminate errors and waste in processes.”
Maler Rücker GmbH (Stuttgart)
Freelance journalist (Bielefeld)