Plastics processing

Courage to implement digitalization is paying off

4 min.

Digital processes improve efficiency, support the employees and help save material. Joachim Schäfer is convinced of this, which is why the PLEXIGLAS® partner consistently promotes digitalization in his company. He provided us with a few insights.

© Schäfer Kunststofftechnik GmbH

Plastic is not always just plastic. About 70 different sheets, rods and tubes are available in the standard PLEXIGLAS® range alone. While this diversity offers great freedom of design, it also poses a challenge for resource-efficient production, as Joachim Schäfer, CEO of “Schäfer vollendet.” in Ortenberg near Offenburg, knows all too well. He relies on digital processes in order to work more efficiently and save valuable material.

Schäfer views digitalization as having great potential and believes it offers opportunities for growth in the future. He believes that, while digitalization helps in reacting to crises, it also requires businesses to move away from old routines and create new roles and tasks. He is convinced of digitalization, stating: “Turnover can be increased by around 25 to 30 percent with the same number of employees. And without any stress!”

The digital transformation at the medium-sized company was triggered by a trivial issue: “Too much text, too much paper!” In Schäfer’s view, the production control with work instructions containing vast swathes of text for over 11,500 different products was chaotic and confusing and no longer in keeping with the times. He first went about replacing the pages of text with images and reduced the amount of information to what was absolutely necessary. And, in the near future, the entire production in his company will be controlled digitally via an app – intuitive and clear.

“Companies that do not want to change will not survive.”

Joachim Schäfer, CEO of the plastics engineering company Schäfer Kunststofftechnik.

Digitalization starts with the customer

The digital production process starts with the customers who, for example, order components for shopfitting, light design or machine covers made of PLEXIGLAS® from Schäfer Kunststofftechnik. A customer creates a CAD drawing of their order in 3D and sends it to the processing plant as a STEP file which includes a machine number. “If everything we need is provided, we can accept the order in five minutes,” comments the entrepreneur.


Data in real time

The order data is entered and the orders picked. All components to be manufactured and processed for the end product are labeled based on the machine number and can be traced. After the various processing steps, all parts are collected on a pallet to be delivered to the customer. “This approach enables us to achieve a delivery accuracy of 97 to 99 percent,” says Schäfer.

Throughout the process, the customer can track the status of their order in real time via a customer account, in a similar manner to shipment tracking of packages. The functions are all user-friendly and are familiar from other apps that people use on their smartphones on a daily basis. This enables the same product to be ordered again at any time, or to be modified with very few clicks.

© Jigal Fichtner

Joachim Schäfer is the CEO of Schäfer Kunststofftechnik GmbH, which was established in 1963 and is today known as “Schäfer vollendet.” A team comprising around 95 employees develops, designs and manufactures system solutions from semi-finished plastics, made of materials including PLEXIGLAS®. The customers are from the mechanical engineering, medical technology, illumination engineering, interior design and advertising technology sectors. Schäfer Kunststofftechnik is certified in accordance with ISO 9001:2015.

© Schäfer Kunststofftechnik GmbH

Controlling production via app

All operating processes at Schäfer Kunststofftechnik are transparent for the employees. A large central monitor provides a transparent overview of the day’s production plan with images of the parts to be manufactured. Every employee loads their individual jobs from this monitor to their mobile device. Clicking on an image provides the information required for processing. Additional data can be called up in real time, such as the capacity utilization of the machines, while filter options such as “same order,” “same material” or “same components” enable employees to check whether parts can go through production at the same time.

If the app shows that a colleague is currently processing the same material, the colleagues discuss whether it is sensible to use a single PLEXIGLAS® sheet for both pieces. “This allows us to work efficiently and conserve resources,” explains the entrepreneur as sustainability is very dear to him.


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Accompanying employees through the digital transformation

At this juncture, the knowledge, experience and communication between employees is an absolute necessity. Schäfer emphasizes: “Digitalization still needs a human behind it.”

Despite all the benefits, the new technology can cause uncertainty among some people. Schäfer counters: “Digitalization is coming anyway. So it is more sensible to help shape it and work more responsibly in the future.” This approach creates success and reduces the risk of burnout syndrome and lost-time incidents.

The entrepreneur knows that some employees need a little more guidance on the path to a digital working world than others. “Digitalization has three aspects for me: humanity, clarity and honesty,” he says. As such, he does not like the term “Industrie 4.0,” but prefers to talk of “human digital.”

“Digitali­zation has three aspects: humanity, clarity and honesty.”

Joachim Schäfer, CEO of the plastics engineering company Schäfer Kunststofftechnik

Partnership of trust between manufacturer, processor and customer

If digitalization is implemented consistently, business relations between manufacturer, processor and customer will also change. Schäfer speaks of a “partnership of trust” and emphasizes: “We will have different conversations which focus more on strategy!” This will create the opportunity to develop new products together, or benefit from synergies.

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