“The world is growing closer together“
Felix Gu, Vice President Sales Asia/Pacific at BENTELER Automotive, talks about the logistics of successfully restarting our plants in China, the biggest challenges and the positive effects of the crisis.
The lockdown in China is over now. In your opinion, what was the biggest challenge for companies in China during the ramp-up?
The Corona pandemic affected all of us, so we all had to master similar challenges. Some of them, like the obligation to wear mouth-nose-protection masks, were easier to solve than others. For example, travel restrictions meant that several employees at our plants were unable to start their shifts.
From a business point of view, our attention was focused on our customers - when do they want to start production again? How can we support them in the best possible way? And that also involved topics for us such as: How do we ensure our ramp-up for them? How do we deal with limited resources?
Good questions. How did you answer them?
Our first concern was for the employees and their health. Because - and this applies especially to the production area - if there is even a single corona infection in a plant, the entire production line has to be closed. That's why we all, car manufacturers and suppliers alike, place great importance upon protective measures and their compliance.
The second challenge, especially for our customers, was to get all components and all materials supplied - and on time. This is where BENTELER was able to display its international size. When bottlenecks occurred in China at the beginning of the pandemic - production was for instance completely stopped in Wuhan - we were able to use our capacities in Europe for one of our customers. Now the situation is the other way round and our Chinese plants can help out if there are any supply difficulties elsewhere.
In your experience, what is the most important thing to master the resumption of production successfully?
In this situation, very good preparation and planning are essential. This is not only important for our own company and our employees. Only with very good preparation, which is communicated transparently, is it possible to give customers the certainty that they can be reliably supplied - whenever they want to restart production. From the outside view, you only see closed plants. For me, comprehensive preparation also includes an analysis - which of our customers will need us, when and how intensively? What are the risks? We are updating this list daily - and coordinate our activities worldwide within the company. Our customers benefit from our size and our delivery flexibility through our global production network.
Already since mid-March all 15 BENTELER plants in China have been back in operation, by the end of April the production capacity was already back above 80% on average. That sounds like a return to normality. Is life "normal" again in China in other areas as well?
The situation is slowly returning to normality. For a long time, people had to wear mouth-nose-protection masks as soon as they entered public spaces - outdoors, on public transport, even in their own cars. In the meantime, the obligation to wear a mouth-nose-protection mask in public has been removed; it is sufficient to keep a safety distance of 1.5 meters. You are then actually allowed to do everything again.
That's good to hear. In Europe, we're also on the road to normality, but it will take time...
According to the information in the media, Germany seems to be coping well with the crisis. In some areas so good that we are learning from it. The global crisis is making the world grow together, not only on a large scale, but also on a small scale. For example, we used to visit our customers once a month and talk to them about products and prices. Now we talk on the phone much more often and also talk about current challenges and even hobbies. We take an active interest in each other's lives. The crisis has made communication much more open and our relationship much closer. Fortunately, even difficult times have their good sides. In a crisis you grow even closer together.
BENTELER is represented in China since 2002 and currently operates 15 production sites with around 2,600 employees. When the Chinese government officially announced the corona virus on January 20, many of the Chinese employees were on their way home to celebrate the Chinese New Year. The employees from the Wuhan site never expected to return to their plant only 55 days later. On January 23, Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, was sealed off. Even at that early stage, BENTELER prepared everything for resuming production as quickly as possible – for example, 166,000 masks and disinfectants were distributed. As early as February 10, production was resumed step by step, by mid-March, all fifteen plants in China had already restarted production, including the site in Wuhan. In April, the average production capacity was already back above 80%. Governmental regulations and own comprehensive safety principles to ensure the health of the employees continue to be strictly observed. To date, no member of the Chinese team has fallen ill with the coronavirus.