Stefan Thone is enthusiastic and leads us immediately to the production lines at Hengstenberg in Frizlar, to show us their manufacturing execution system. We are standing between the two canning lines looking at a large screen presenting facts and figures about today’s production. As Group Managing Director of ATS I’ve heard a lot about this Manufacturing Execution System (MES) but never before have I seen it. ATS’s MES Software Development team based close by in Kassel started implementing this system in 1998. The software is dubbed CIMLine and is, without doubt, one of the best MES applications yet implemented. Yes, I am biased, but this article will explain in detail why Stefan Thone is so satisfied with CIMLine.

Hengstenberg was founded in 1876 and now employs 650 people at plants in Esslingen (headquarters), Bad Friedrichshall and Fritzlar and achieves total annual sales of Euro 150 Million.
The plant in Fritzlar has 120 employees and during the season the plant processes 29.500 tons of Sauerkraut, 7.000 tons of Red cabbage and 8.000 tons of Gherkins and pickles.

The story is best told by joining Stefan and his colleague’s at the 10.00 a.m. daily production meeting. Stefan, who is the Production Planning Manager, is looking at production statistics projected onto a screen and is discussing this week’s personnel planning with the Plant Manager and the Human Resources Manager. The detail in the statistics is impressive; firstly they look at the production statistics for each line over the last 24 hours represented as a percentage of the maximum production capacity. If the percentage is less than 90% they drill down into the details and discuss improvements in personnel planning, raw material delivery and immediate maintenance requirements. Actions are agreed and each Manager leaves the meeting to carry out his action points. Stefan walks to his office, picks up the telephone and delivers a series of instructions to his staff and his immediate work is done.

Frankly I’m astonished and as Stefan is showing us around the plant I start firing a series of questions at him:
Do you really trust the figures? Can you make decisions without checking the data? How do you know which operator is working on which batch of sauerkraut?
How do the farmers know when to bring in the white and red cabbages or the gherkins?

The plant is running at full capacity. Hengstenberg must process the harvest in just 3 months to produce the world’s best sauerkraut from the heart of Germany. All the machines are running, the operators seem to know exactly what to do. It’s really busy and I just can’t imagine that CIMLine is handling all of the data input without mistake. But Stefan assures me it’s working perfectly and takes me through each step carefully.

When the farmers pull in at the gate they use their “magic key”. This electronic tagging system is used to log in the cabbages, which are immediately weighed on the tractor-trailer at the weighing bridge at the entrance. The farmer to log in uses Kaba Benzing terminals, a batch number is automatically assigned and the farmer is credited for his delivery. After weighing the trailers are brought to a cantilever system, which tips the cabbages into the first processing system where the cabbages are inspected and the cores removed automatically. Thereafter the cabbages are shredded, mixed with acid and placed in fermenting troughs for 7 days. For 100 years people would stamp on the fermenting cabbages but nowadays weighted plastic sheets have replaced stamping. I found that a pity as I quite fancied myself stamping on fermenting cabbages and becoming a part of an old age tradition of making sauerkraut. Anyway after the 7-day fermentation process the sauerkraut is canned or vacuum packed in various sizes and sent to customers all over the world. The cans and packaging are being delivered to the filling lines from an impressive array of de-palletising systems and conveyor belts which are all coded and labelled automatically. The system is so precise that Hengstenberg knows which farmer delivered the batch of cabbages in any specific can and to which customer the can has been shipped. Nice piece of tracking and traceablity when you think of the fact that 30 tonnes of cabbages are processed daily!

At each stage of the process operators have logged in on Kaba Benzing terminals also using their magic keys. The cabbage batches and the activities of the operators are accurately logged so that time and material costs are being logged to each batch. Even the energy usage is being recorded. All of this data is being logged into a CIMLine SQL database.

This database is the heart of the system and when Stefan is at the daily production meeting it’s this data that he is presenting, with correlations and graphs to make decision making easier. This is important as the Fritzlar plant produces a wide range of processed products in addition to sauerkraut and is a complex mix of production lines, which can be switched to process different products.
ATS has developed a series of CIMLine modules, which Hengstenberg is applying at their Fritzlar plant. A Human Resource Module, Maintenance Management Module, Energy Management Module and a Material-Tracking Module. The data is all stored on the CIMLine SQL database and there is no manual data entry whatsoever making the data very accurate. The Kaba Benzing terminals and the PLC’s are also connected to the database completing the whole picture. At this stage the MES system is not yet connected to Hengstenberg’s ERP system from SAP so Stefan is currently evaluating the links he needs before asking ATS to implement this connectivity.

My final question to Stefan was the most important: has CIMLine led to improved efficiency and productivity? His answer was emphatic, we have seen major improvements in uptime and significantly lower operating costs so yes, absolutely.

My only problem now is that when Stefan heard that ATS has an office in Australia he thought it would be a good idea for him to return the courtesy of our visit to Fritzlar by welcoming him the next time in Melbourne – after the end of the sauerkraut season of course!