We would like to bid farewell to our wonderful colleague and former production manager, Karl-Heinz Gerdes, who is entering a well-earned retirement, and thank him for his service. Over the course of 34 years, he has experienced lots of changes to the business, helped implement developments, and contributed to shaping our unique sectional flight manufacturing process. longest-serving member of Schneckenflügel’s manufacturing team, he has lots of stories to tell. So we won’t write much about him, but let him speak for himself.
Karl-Heinz: 34 years at Schneckenflügel! Didn’t things get old?
At first I was afraid they would. I trained as a motor mechanic, then worked in mechanical engineering, most of the time cutting for such applications as tractor trailers. In 1988, I came to EIMA, from which C.E. Schneckenflügel was spun off in 2016. At first, I thought, “I won’t be doing this for long.” But it never got boring, and I stayed. First it was cutting, then the press, then production manager in 1998.
What do you find interesting about sectional flight production?
Versatility in mechanical engineering is something I have always found fascinating. And there was always something new going on with the sectional flights. For one thing, we manufacture many different ones. For another, the technology is always advancing. We even built our own press for large flights.
Sectional flight manufacture is craftsmanship – the techniques we use today took a while to develop. Now we are teaching these techniques. We sometimes laugh about the way we used to tackle projects. For an order, it took us a huge number of trial flights to gradually get to what the customer wanted. We marked the dies and tried out different versions until it was perfect. We joked that the customer wouldn’t need to do any welding – he could just paste the flights on. That’s how well they fitted. Today, this precision is standard for our products.
Does that mean that there are no more problems?
We still have days when orders don’t work perfectly right away. That’s the way it is with craftsmanship.
And that’s something I try to teach new employees. I like to tell the story of how I once gave up on a sectional flight. For this order I had tried out a huge number of dies, sometimes with more pressure, sometimes with less. Nothing worked. So I finished a different order and went back to this one the next day. And all at once, it worked. That’s what you have to do sometimes. Keep calm and come back to the problem.
But then you do have to have a certain feel for it. Not everyone does. You can teach people techniques, but if they for what they’re doing, it doesn’t work. No matter how hard they try. I have also trained people non-verbally. One colleague couldn’t speak much German at first, but he was talented. Today he is training others.
How has the technology changed?
Technological progress has been fantastic. Cutting with a laser system, then with a plasma system. It’s amazing what we can manufacture with a new press, help from cranes, and special materials for large sizes. It used to be unthinkable. Project overview is also much better with modern software for monitoring manufacture. We already have machines that are Industry-4.0-capable.
We can see how well a machine is being used. We can monitor capacity usage much better and control it in advance. Our colleagues in the office have an immediate picture of what we are doing.
I’m no PC freak, so I had to figure it all out. Monitoring work from a computer was odd at first. But it really does help. But I still like to go through the hall to the different machines to keep in touch personally with the operators and to view the processes live. Then I can take a short break and talk to the people on the floor in person. That’s an important part of the job.
What will you miss in your work for C.E. Schneckenflügel? What do you appreciate most?
Cooperation was always great, from office to production. The team always had my back. It has always been important to me to motivate my team and keep them enthusiastic about their work. We do make mistakes. That’s human. But we are a good team and support each other.
The work was also fun because I was able to present my own ideas and try them out. You can’t do that everywhere.
And how will you spend your time in retirement?
I will go fishing and ride my motorcycle. And I will stop by Edewecht once in a while.