"Our employees are of utmost importance to us”
Andreas Stadtherr, plant manager of the BENTELER steel mill in Lingen, Germany, on crystal balls, flexible production and environmentally friendly steel tubes.
How has the Corona pandemic changed your tasks?
The BENTELER electro steel mill in Lingen has been in existence since 1974 and currently employs about 260 people. As plant manager, my most important task at present is to ensure that they get through this challenging time in good health. We have developed a comprehensive package of Corona precaution measures to achieve this. For example, the focus has shifted to hygiene measures: mouth-nose protection masks, disinfection, distance rules, extended showering periods, changes to the way breaks are arranged and other measures. This sometimes leads to challenges in daily work but is absolutely necessary to safeguard the health of our employees.
Does the workforce understand this?
Yes, I would like to thank the works council in particular: the cooperation works very well. We discuss every initiative together, from health protection measures to working hours. The workforce also responds very well. This has not just been the case since yesterday. Due to the declining steel tube market, we took measures even before the pandemic to compensate for fluctuations in demand. And we have adjusted our personnel capacities accordingly. In times of Corona, depending on the situation, we make use of the possibilities of short-time work, reduction of holidays and overtime or mobile working - always depending on current customer demand. With all these measures, the following applies: Our employees are of utmost importance to us, enabling us to get right back on track after the pandemic.
What do you expect for the future?
Forecasts are difficult, the crystal ball is unfortunately not reliable. As a steel mill, our main task is to supply the BENTELER seamless tube plants with starting material. Therefore, we are 80 percent dependent on the customer base of the BENTELER steel tube plants. The remaining 20 percent of our production is delivered directly to customers from the automotive sector and other manufacturing areas. Our goal is to reliably supply our customers with the quality they are accustomed to - now and after the Corona pandemic.
What else do you think is needed to meet the economic challenges of the Corona pandemic?
The biggest adjustment screw is consistent cost control - all expenditures are scrutinized. We are working intensively to reduce costs and continuously improve our efficiency. Another important aspect is inventories: we have to keep adjusting them in line with our order situation. Of course, it is a complex task to continue to ensure customer-oriented and flexible production with lower inventories and adjusted expenses. But we are tackling this challenge.
How do you ensure this?
The economic impact of the Corona pandemic has changed customer behavior. Orders are placed at shorter notice. Our aim is to react as flexibly as possible. For this reason, we are in regular contact with the works councils on the developments. We are adjusting our capacities accordingly. This means that we alternate between production and temporary standstill in blocks of several days. Our plant is an electro steel mill. Unlike a conventional steel mill with blast furnace, we can ramp the plant up and down relatively easily and flexibly. It takes about half a shift to get all the equipment up and running.
What else distinguishes an electro steel mill from a conventional steel mill with blast furnace?
It is more environmentally friendly. Our plant works 100% with steel scrap - and reincorporates discarded steel products into the production process. For steel production, we operate an electric arc furnace in which the steel scrap is heated and melted down by using graphite electrodes. The direct CO2 emissions are 95 % lower using this production process than in the case of production in a conventional blast furnace.
Is there any experience that you take with you from the challenging time of the Corona pandemic?
Absolutely. For example, the pandemic has further advanced digitalization in our everyday work. For example, we rolled out our new collaboration software across the Group earlier than planned. It has proven its worth in cooperation within the plant - and beyond. Regular data exchange and contact with other sites and with our central functions in Paderborn is very important for our plant. In the past, we were sometimes the only participants in meetings who were called in by telephone. Today everyone meets in video conferences and is virtually connected. This saves costs, as business trips are no longer necessary. And it is environmentally friendly. I hope that we will continue like that in the future.