Training Industrial egineer Location Viechtach, Werk 11 Position Quality manager
Training General business administration Location Rehau Position Commercial production specialist
The little one’s press coverage left a big mark. "This MINI explodes boundaries," wrote Germany’s "Autobild" magazine. The British journal "Car Magazine" dubbed it "technically impeccable". It’s the Countryman they’re referring to; the MINI conceived for off-road driving is now the biggest of the 6-member MINI family. A child with many fathers and a few mothers too – many of whom came from REHAU.
In the critical development phase, twenty people at REHAU worked together to get the infant up and running. It marks a milestone in our company history because of how loaded the Countryman is with a whole range of REHAU components. In addition to a few small components, REHAU provided the bumpers, the rear spoilers, the rocker panels, wheel arch covers and supporting structures. "Our challenge,” said project champion Danijel Macanovic, who was on board from the start, “was to establish a dream collaboration between the client BMW, Magna Steyr, the automotive engineering developers based in Graz, our own technical department and of course the plants in Feuchtwangen, Viechtach and Moravská Třebová in the Czech Republic."
From the very first request in June 2007 to the production launch in August 2010, step by step the team grew together, shuttling back and forth between Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria. Alongside Danijel Macanovic stood Thomas Göppel, Quality Control Manager of the Viechtach plant, Development Engineer Carsten Sperrer, Quality Control Manager at the Moravská Třebová plant Vaclav Schramm, and the commercial product specialist Silvia Rauh who was responsible for calculating production costs. "100,000 kilometres were clocked in the car during that two-and-a-half years," Macanovic succinctly says. "It was a really intense, crazy time." In Graz, there was also Josef Koch, Director of REHAU’s Assembly and Logistics Centre there. Despite joining the team later than the others, he brought with him the invaluable experience of previous collaborations with Magna Steyr.
When he joined the project was in the middle of the hot phase for the first preliminary series – the test run, so to speak. "It was good for the collaboration that I already knew some of the people at Magna Steyr and understood how the company functioned," reflects Koch. That helped proceedings because they weren’t only facing serious language barriers in describing the individual component parts, but also the firm cultures and methodologies were markedly different. "You have to imagine the development of a car to be like the building of a house," explains Macanovic. "The client first defines the design concept via the exterior, the body contour – the so called Strak. As system suppliers, we have to design polymer components accordingly because any new design generates specific functional and legal requirements." A time-consuming process, this one for developing the Countryman. One-and-a-half-years, in fact. There was no margin of error; the workflow had to mesh like gears. Every single move was documented, of course, in order to be able to reconstruct the origins of any mistake that might turn up later.
In this intensive phase, the REHAU team in Graz was in charge. To lose the least amount of time a whole new office was dedicated exclusively to the project. Everyone was in contact together in person as much as possible, rather than on the company’s videoline, telephones or conference systems. "Modern communication technology is certainly a great boon but it can’t replace direct personal contact with the client and partners," states Carsten Sperrer. "Of utmost importance is meeting with participants face-to-face across the table, openly and honestly addressing insecurities, observing reactions, and solving problems."
Parallel to the development work the plants themselves, with those people who would actually carry out the plans in the future, were brought on board very early in the process and this proved another decisive factor in the success. That way practitioners like Thomas Göppel of the Viechtach 11 plant and Vaclav Schramm from the Moravská Třebová plant could invest their technical knowledge early on. In Viechtach, among other elements, bumpers, rocker panels and rear spoilers were manufacturered. In the Czech plant it was the wheel arch covers and the cover strips. In the assembly and logistics centre in Graz, under the supervision of the Viechtach 11 plant, final production of the rear spoiler was realised.
This all demanded, strict, serious and thorough calculation. Even determining the range of offerings that would eventually end in a purchase lasted nearly six months. Silvia Rauh was one of the numbers wizards maintaining a master excel file and keeping a calculating eye on all of the production costs, starting from the very first client request. Even for this experienced industry sales person the project was a challenge. "The complexity and variety of the product range demanded extra overtime." For the team, as the first Countryman parts came off the assembly line in August 2010, this was on one hand a long anticipated moment and on the other, the end of an era. However, the high point appeared the weekend beforehand in the Moravská Třebová plant when watching a fierce football match among teams from Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria. Carsten Sperrer remembers the team from Magna Steyr pulling up together in one of the first new MINI models: "That was truly a great moment – one I wouldn’t have missed for the world," says Sperrer.
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