The variety is remarkable: furniture and lighting systems for aquariums, component assembly for automotive products, CNC processing, disposable pallets, making up cables, packaging work, contract furniture and assembly benches are just a selection of the products made at the Zoar Lutheran Welfare Workshops in Rockenhausen (in the German state of Rhineland Palatinate). This is where one of the approx. 700 workshops for disabled people in Germany demonstrates that sharing in life and business operations can be successfully combined. The center was founded in 1967 and about 850 people, i.e. all disabled to some degree, manufacture products for private customers, trade and industry at five business centers. They produced 28 million parts in all with a value of EUR 8.5 million with the team of 190 workers (educational staff and specialists and master craftsmen with an additional educational qualification) in 2012.
They included 6.5 million automotive parts, 50,000 covers for aquariums with a lighting system and 135,000 disposable pallets made according to individual customer requirements. The spectrum of customers ranges from private individuals to public sector institutions and even small and medium-sized enterprises and large industrial customers, which use Zoar as an extension of their production facilities. And financial benefits are not the only crucial factor for most of them - 50% of the labor costs can be offset using the equalization fee for disabled persons and the sales tax rate is 7% - but they also appreciate the high quality and reliability at Zoar.
MTM as the common basis with customers
“A conversation with an industrial customer triggered the use of MTM; it became clear to us that we would create a common base for the Zoar workshops with the MTM process, which this customer was using, and would be able to gain credible data,” says the Commercial Manager, Torsten Walter. “Following in-depth discussions, we decided to work with MTM in the future too. This involved MEK at the outset; now we use UAS, logistics data and MOS, which we manage using TiCon®. One crucial factor for using process building blocks is that we can respond to customer enquiries quickly as a result. Then this provides us with the opportunity to win the order and we don’t become entangled in lengthy discussions and then end up providing the quotation too late.”
Productivity in workshops for disabled people
One important factor when preparing a competitive quotation is the productivity at the workshops. This needs to take into account the fact that the people working here:
Kurt Philipp, the Head of the Specialist Integration Support Department, comments, “The productivity at our carpenter’s workshop is higher than that in the small parts assembly section; but the productivity in the latter is higher than in the arts and crafts department. This is because disabled people select the areas where they are able to cope well. If people with more serious disabilities have problems handling the productivity levels in the carpenter’s workshop, they prefer to work in the small parts assembly section, which tends to involve simple tasks, or they become creative in the arts and crafts department. It is a particular challenge to transfer a standardized performance level like the MTM standard performance to the actual situation in each department. We face questions like the following on a daily basis:
and they can only be answered with a great deal of experience.”
Adapting the working methods
“When calculating the quotation, we draw up planning analyses using the normal working methods,” Works Manager, Rolf Nehrbass, explains. “Once an order has been placed, we handle the detailed planning and the working method is adapted to the individual abilities of the employees who are used. For this purpose, we develop special aids with the managers in the workshops, which enable the employees to be able to reach the goals too. This is a particularly challenging and interesting aspect of our work and it demands a great deal of creativity.” Philipp emphasizes that “we also have to take into account business management issues when using human resources, for the disabled people receive wages for their work. They may be relatively low, but definitely play an important role in the calculations – at least 70% of our revenues are paid out to employees – and in the end we have to cover our costs with our work.”
The quality of the products is an important sales argument for Zoar. Alexander Distler, the Head of the Quality Assurance department, says, “Our customers have very high quality standards. To meet these, our quality management system has been certified in line with DIN 9001 and our environmental management system according to DIN 14001. We also use methods from ISO 16949, like FMEA and PPAP, for the automotive customers.”
Walter adds, “Our decision made in 1996 to be one of the first workshops in Rhineland Palatinate to obtain certification was absolutely right. As a result, both the structures and the ways of working at our workshops have changed, because we put the rules into practice. Another important step is implementing productivity management with MTM. It will help us safeguard our competitiveness in the market place in the long term.”
“The workshops have also been certified in the field of care,” Philipp adds, “for a high degree of quality in care is very important and affects productivity. If the people here do not feel that they are an essential element in the process and their contribution to working life is not important, our production will directly suffer. So the quality needs to be good in every department so that we can continue to survive in the market place. So the next step involves obtaining certification for Zoar overall, i.e. for the living quarters too.”
Developing into a complete provider
A great deal has changed at Zoar during the last ten years. This development process has moved the company from providing purely support assistance for regional companies to a greater depth of wealth creation, which starts with purchasing raw materials and involves just in time processes – in individual cases, just in sequence – and ends with the deliveries to the customer’s assembly work stations; Zoar has established itself as a complete provider of products that are ready for sale. As the logistics has constantly grown here, Zoar will increasingly use MTM’s logistics methods in the future too. Zoar also plays an important role in ensuring the permanent integration of disabled people in the world of work through its RBG GmbH subsidiary. As an integration company, it particularly stands out through the fact that it pursues economic goals and at the same time employs disabled people on at least 25% and at most 50% of its work stations. As a general labor market company, its business operations are dictated by the market and competition and it uses subsidies just as any other company could.
One highlight in its range of products is an assembly table, which was developed in-house and is designed along ergonomic lines (see illustration); it has already been successfully used at many companies.
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