Team Ramstein tours local car plant

Capt. Jenny Lovett
Kaiserslautern American

Members of Team Ramstein toured a German manufacturing plant recently as part of a goodwill program to build relationships within the community and to learn how civilians manage their company.

Led by Col. Bob Otto, 435th Air Base Wing vice commander, and Col. Henry Sanders, 86th Operations Group commander, the 10-member group witnessed how car hoods and dashboards are made at the Opel Car Parts Manufacturing Plant in Kaiserslautern.

“We could learn a lot from their commitment to do what’s prudent,” said Colonel Otto.
Opel uses a technique invented by the Japanese called LEAN, which calls for stronger safety measures and streamlined processes that requires responsibility from everyone on the plant floor from the manager to the assembly-line worker.

“We use LEAN here to effectively streamline processes that lower accident rates, thereby increasing production,” said Wilfried-Jürgen Ehrlich, tour host and plant manager. “Our accident rate has plummeted since the implementation.”

The 86th Maintenance Group implemented the same LEAN concept nearly two years ago and they too have experienced a reduction in accidents and an increase in production as well as a huge boost in unit morale, according to Col. Park Plumb, 86th MXG commander

“The interesting thing about this company is that a lot of the quality control and assembly line processes are the same that we use on the air base,” said Colonel Sanders.

The Opel plant opened in 1964 manufacturing automotive parts and today generates more than 450,000 gasoline engines per year.

“To see their production line is great for the military because we need to stay up with industry standards,” said 1st Lt. Melissa Milas, tour member from the 435th Civil Engineer Group. “In order to stay the best, we have to be able to compete with the best. Trips like this are a great way to share knowledge.”

As the first people outside the plant to view it, the group visited the assembly line and witnessed the building of the world’s newest diesel engine.
“We have the capability to build 400,000 of these per year but the demand right now is a little less,” said Mr. Ehrlich

“They’ve centered their quality control to measure performance at the lowest level, similar to the Air Force,” said Glenn Meyer, 735th CES deputy commander. “It’s nice to see how they do things. They’re a major K-Town employer, and we drive by here every day and don’t know what they do.”