MKN has always prided itself on its quality, creating bespoke suites, combi ovens and multifunctional cooking appliances for a high end clientele.
However, where the German manufacturer has possibly had its drawbacks is in its lead times.
But now the company is investing in a technologically-advanced processing line that aims to transform its production and dramatically cut the time to order from its factory in Wolfenbüttel, near Hanover.
Export manager Christian Franke detailed: “We started to implement this new production system 3-4 years ago.
“We were facing aggressive competitors, so we either had to reduce the quality of our equipment, which we were not prepared to do, or improve our internal manufacturing processes. It’s been a big challenge to find ways to do this.”
Nevertheless, putting a lean manufacturing system into place has already trebled combi oven output from what it was even a year ago.
The Kanban technique that has been instituted is supposed to eliminate labour and inventory waste and regulates production based on consumer supply and demand. The efficiencies even take into account how tools are stored, with MKN producing its own mobile tool trolleys which can be transported to wherever they are required.
The new automatic processing line is housed in a production hall which was expanded towards the end of 2014 – with the build taking just a few months.
Wayne Bennett, MKN’s UK projects director, explained: “We had a traditional way of carrying out pre-component assembly, taking the raw steel sheets through the factory process by process.
“This is quite labour-intensive and could take up to 2 days to get through the different departments. It created long lead times for an appliance.
“The new machine carries out all the processes in 8 minutes – it only has to run for 3 hours to deliver the same output of a 24 hour a day, three shift system. I believe it’s the first of its kind in the thermal cooking technology sector.
“This will create a dramatic reduction in lead times and we hope that within the next 2 years we will be building modular equipment to order within just a few days.”
On the combi oven side of the business, MKN is already at the point of delivering within 24 hours, but wants to roll it out to its Classic range which has many variations and is therefore a much more complex project.
The new machinery represents a multi-million Euro investment, which sales and marketing vice president, Martin Ubl, believes is only possible due to the company’s privately owned status.
“For instance, the development of our FlexiChef multifunctional appliance took 5 years and a lot of money. An independent company can invest and create something special.”
The FlexiChef was introduced 4 years ago and features what is said to be the first automatic cleaning function in the industry. “There are quite a few pressurised cooking systems on the market, but normally the highest pressure they can work at around 0.35bar,” said Ubl.
“But because the FlexiChef’s construction is reinforced, it’s possible to cook with 0.8bar, which increases the temperature and therefore doubles the cooking speed.”
MKN’s commitment to quality goes right down to the components, as around 98% of components are manufactured on the premises.
Bennett commented: “We are not an assembly plant – you can only guarantee quality and be a premium supplier by controlling your components. If you are reliant on a third party, there is always an opportunity for errors to creep in.”
The company’s most recent expansion is the latest in a long line of future-proofing moves, with 2012 seeing the plant reach 80,000m2, while in 2008 a production hall for combi steamers was added.
Recently it bought out the nearby original Bako factory, when that firm moved to bigger premises. The latest step also takes place just ahead of the company’s 70th anniversary this year, as the original factory was constructed on the site in 1946.
The firm is proud of its sustainability credentials that include 30,000m2 of solar panels on the premises’ roof, which provide electricity along with a local hydroelectricity supply. MKN has also been awarded with ISO9000 and 140001 certification.
In terms of or dealer policy, Bennett detailed: “We have a very simple model: we are 100% distributor focused – there is no direct customer trading. Even when others classify clients as a ‘key account’ to sell direct, we still work via a distributor, which is unique in the marketplace.”
The manufacturer employs around 500 people, and a significant proportion of the workers in the German headquarters are apprentices. “We put a lot of effort into bringing young people into the company to educate them, grow them and keep them,” said Ubl. “They have the knowledge we need.”
Bennett added: “At any one time, around 10% of the workforce is apprentices, usually split 50/50 between the shop floor and the administration department.” The students even have a college area within the factory in which to study.
With double digit turnover growth recorded for 2014, the future seems bright for the manufacturer. And while it has around a 45% market share in Germany, the company is pushing to increase its presence in other markets and has significantly increased its global reach over the last 10 years.
“However, we are possibly not so well known in the UK,” said Bennett. “But when anyone comes to visit the factory and sees the size of the business, they understand that there’s a lot going on behind the scenes.”