Wind power drives WfB forward

High-tech machines create future-oriented jobs for the disabled

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Th Lead Feb
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High-tech machines create future-oriented jobs for the disabled

The fact that a Trumatic 6000 LaserPress, a Trumatic L 3030, and a TrumaBend V 85 S can be found sheet metal processing in the East Frisian town of Aurich in Germany is not so unusual. What is unusual is that the machines there were acquired in only three years although the company previously only had experience with chip removal processes. The actual uniqueness, though, is that these high-tech machines have created future-oriented jobs for more than 150 disabled people. Economic success agrees with the Werkstatt für Behinderte gGmbH (Workshops for the Disabled). Most recently the company added a TRUMPF Tubematic to its fleet.

Error-free and on time

“We don’t receive a bonus from our customers. They expect from us the same quality and punctuality as they do from any other supplier,” explains Georg Brahms, shop technical manager. Three years ago he had the idea to expand the WfB’s (Werkstätten für Behinderte) range of products by adding sheet metal processing.

In addition, WfB in Aurich owns a laundromat, nursery, cafeteria, store and workshop and a large assembly area. Other shops, including a chip removal center, are located in the towns of Wiesmoor and Burhafe.

The sheet metal processor’s customers include wind power plant manufacturer Enercon and Jansen Elektro, one of the suppliers for the nearby Meyer Werft, as well as manufacturers from the food industry. They value the products and services that WfB provides, because it offers much more than just punched and lasered parts.

More than punching and laser processing

Design is becoming increasingly important. For about two-thirds of its orders, WfB provides design support. Jens Wagner, who came to WfB three years ago, is responsible for this service. He looks after four machines in sheet metal processing and supervises five disabled employees as well as three other machine operators. For example, he simplified the design for a parts console made of stainless steel so that one work step could be completely omitted. Instead of two parts that had to be punched, formed, and welded together, they are now produced from one piece-punched and laser cut on the Trumatic 6000 L combination machine, bent on the TrumaBend V85, and done. This considerably lowers the production costs for that part.

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Georg Brahms, Manfred Zagel, and Joachim Lambertus (left to right) invested in a sheet metal processing center three years ago.
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Integrating new processes is also part of Wagner’s job. As soon as serial production is running, a mentally disabled employee begins loading and unloading the sheets and parts and starts the program. As a rule, they have to train for two years in the company to become familiar with the machine work sequences. “Naturally, the performance of our employees varies greatly, but everyone, regardless of whether they are disabled or not, is highly motivated,” explains CEO Manfred Zägel. The task of his management team, which includes Brahms and Joachim Lambertus, is to organize processes in production so that each disabled employee has a suitable workstation.

High tech guarantees the future

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Line production at the assembly hall: Each disabled person is given a workstation that corresponds to his or her needs and skills.
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Behind this company are the non-profit organizations Lebenshilfe e.V. Aurich and Lebenshilfe e.V. Wittmund with a board of directors. The Bundesverband der Lebenshilfe (Federal Association of Assisted Living, a German non-profit organization that helps mentally disabled people) operates such shops throughout Germany to give disabled people the opportunity to exercise their skills and interests with corresponding activities. As early as the 1960s, the parents of disabled people organized with just this goal in mind. That’s how Aurich came to be the home of one of the first workshops of this kind. “Mentally disabled people don’t want to be constantly protected; they want to stand in the proverbial rain also,” says Shop Technical Manager Brahms, who was expected to retire at the end of 2004 after 17 years at the WfB. He will pass the torch to Lambertus. “Due to the remachining work accruing in the sheet metal processing, we have created 150 jobs for the disabled,” explains Lambertus. This is primarily assembly work so that WfB can deliver complete sub-assemblies to its customers.

The Trumatic 6000 L is used to produce a housing for Enercon, which the worker in one of the assembly lines equips with electronic components and additional accessories. You don’t need to shy away from comparing the assembly line production here, if on a smaller scale, to that at TRUMPF. And the error quota? “It is very low,” emphasizes Lambertus, “Once the sequence is clear, our employees are extremely reliable!”

A matter of roundness

Finally, its newest investment, a TRUMPF Tubematic, has also proven that the German company is on the right track with its decision to get into the sheet metal processing industry. The tube-cutting laser machine was already at 50 percent capacity when it was put into operation. It has taken over almost all tube processing tasks from the Trumatic L 3030, equipped with a RotoLas, so that the machine can be used again primarily for processing straight sheets. It is important to CEO Zägel that the machine be financed without any subsidies, solely from the revenue earned from the sheet processing center. He and his employees already have more ideas for the future: Laser welding would round off the WfB range of services nicely.

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The housing was produced using the Trumatic 6000 L; employees equip the housings for Enercon with electronic components and accessories on the assembly line.
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This article originally appeared in the October 2004 issue of TRUMPF’s Express magazine and is reprinted here with permission. For further information on WfB, contact

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