The global interest in our coilover kits of our brands KW suspensions, ST suspensions, and ap sportfahrwerke continues to flourish. Fortunately, one of the largest construction projects in the history of KW automotive is now in the home stretch.
To meet the growing interest in our suspension products created for every demand, plans for an expansion of our production capacities first began in 2016. These plans had to be completely rescheduled on several occasions, as the demand was greater than we had initially planned for.
By summer 2020, we will be in the final stretch with the opening of the new Hall 7 with its automated pallet storage, automated small parts warehouse, new powder coating center, and new receiving area. Only a few days ago, the first workflows started in the approximately 4,500 square meter hall with the new storage and production areas.
Before we introduce these to you in a little more detail, let’s take a brief look in the rear-view mirror – because not only do we focus on individual suspension solutions, but also at exceeding our own high standards…
A look back to the origins
What has happened in Fichtenberg over the past two decades is quite impressive. At a time when the topic of lowering cars in Germany and Europe was either just a set of springs or a sports suspension for road cars, the two brothers Klaus and Jürgen Wohlfarth came up with the idea of developing an adjustable road-legal coilover suspension with part certificates in 1995.
The suspension systems during that time were either too stiff for everyday use, the handling post installation was worse than before, and with some sports suspensions and spring sets the specifications for lowering were not correct. However, Klaus Wohlfarth, whose business was then called “KW Tuning”, grew more and more dissatisfied with what he could sell to his customers from day to day. Although that is another story, that you can read on the blog or in the current KW catalog.
His own shop garage in Murrhardt was too small for the suspension production and so he went to the district Klingen to a former chicken farm. Even there, only after a short time, the storage and production areas of almost 200 square meters were already too small again and the then five-man “KW TUNING” company had to think about building its own production site.
It was in 1997 that Klaus Wohlfarth laid the foundation for the current KW automotive headquarters in Fichtenberg (Southwest of Germany). At his home town of Murrhardt, the idea of gaining a building permit for the foundation of a suspension manufacturing factory was not appreciated.
Since then, in the years 1998 to 2005 alone, a total of 13 conversions and extensions have been carried out. During this time, the factory area in Fichtenberg grew from the initial 1,050 square meters to 23,000 square meters.
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, due to the strong demand for the suspension parts from the KW automotive group, the starting signal for the probably largest construction and investment project in the recent company history was put into process at the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017.
A long-term commitment to the Fichtenberg facility
To manufacture every product under one roof faster and gain more flexibly for the future, KW automotive has invested massively in its production capacity.
In the mechanical production alone, the former hall 4, area has been more than doubled in the past years through extension and restructuring activities.
These stages of the expanded production are already in operation in the form of modern five-axis processing centers, CNC lathes, and a newly created sheet metal processing department with laser cutting and laser welding systems and folding machines.
Previously, various components such as mounting brackets for ABS cables and brake hoses on the coilover struts had to be outsourced. As of today, all this is now made in Fichtenberg.
Our colleagues from the mechanical processing department, i.e. the CNC cutting machine operators, milling cutters, and industrial mechanics manufacture the suspension struts, damper tubes, height adjustments as well as Clubsport and motorsport top mounts directly from the aluminum, stainless steel, and steel tubes as well as the solid aluminum material.
During our in-house dealer training courses and guided tours, our visitors always get wide eyed when they initially see for themselves that the entire suspension kits are manufactured for specific orders all here in Germany. Each day we produce “just-in-time” about 400 suspensions, through our flexible production structure, for our brands KW suspensions, ST suspensions, and ap sportfahrwerke.
More than 20 years ago, KW did not even produce 400 coilovers per year and the product range only consisted of nine different kits for four vehicle applications. Today, the KW automotive group already has more than 26,000 different suspension applications for over 2,350 vehicle applications in its portfolio.
Although the special thing about our production structure is the fact that we do not build and stock the same coilover suspension kit 400 times a day; at KW automotive everything is a little different. Of the 400 kits that we produce on average every day, over 85 percent have a batch size of “one”. In other words, we produce almost 350 coilovers a day for different vehicles!
You probably also know that a coilover suspension is a rather complex product. While in the beginning, an average of three to five assembly steps was necessary to produce a coilover suspension kit, today a KW 3-way Clubsport and other KW coilover suspensions require more than 85 individual production steps.
For example, a KW Variant 3 coilover suspension kit consists of more than 400 individual parts and for each individual damper, we use more than 80 different components; which of course differ from vehicle to vehicle.
So our colleagues in the damper assembly department alone build the adjustable compression stage valve from more than 20 individual parts!
The colleagues from the motorsports department and the suspension prototype department first moved into the new building. KW automotive has long been offering 16 different suspension valve technologies. Not only are the adaptive dampers or 1-way, 2-way, 3-way, but as well as 4-way adjustable and non-adjustable coilover kits which are also available for road use are available from us.
Our development and motorsport engineers create technology milestones and completely new damping systems. For a long time, we have been a trusted development contractor for numerous automobile manufacturers and produce dampers and complete kits for selected limited-edition models. Numerous racing cars in various motorsport classes are also homologated with our racing shocks, which can be adjusted 1-way, 2-way, 3-way, 4-way, and 5-way depending on the regulations.
Also impressive is the construction section completed in the summer 2019 with the new administration complex including canteen and the new installation test workshop.
The total factory area in Fichtenberg has grown from the initial 1,050 square meters to over 45,000 square meters; of which around 21,000 square meters have been built in the last three years!
Industry 4.0 meets suspension skunkworks
As huge and elusive as these figures are, they are only a small part of what is just ahead on the finishing straight. Just like with our KW coilover suspension kits, the revolutionary lies always in the small details. Only a few days ago, our new and fully automated shuttle and high rack system went into operation.
This robotized warehouse, which is specially adapted to our requirements, was built by Gebhardt Fördertechnik in Sinsheim and offers space for 4,300 pallet storage units on several levels. For example, it is in use around the clock to supply the suspension springs for the new powder coating department with its various temporarily stored components as a buffer and control instrument at customer takt time.
Since recently, it has been possible to order customized coilover suspensions and height-adjustable springs from our brand ST suspensions. All mainsprings are available in 18 different RAL colors upon request.
If you like, you can even have a custom marking applied to your individualized ST springs. Perhaps the lettering “#mystylemysuspension” will be one of the most popular letterings…
Thanks to the new possibility of ST suspension customization directly via the specialized trade partners and the ST suspensions homepage, the new powder coating center also began working at the start of June on the upper floor of Hall 7, directly above the new goods receipt.
There are five paint booth boxes in which it is possible to change quickly to different RAL colors. We store a large part of our chassis springs in intermediate storage, primed in grey, in order to coat and label them for custom orders.
In recent weeks, for this new and expanded process, more than 2,500 different springs have been moved into the automatic warehouse in recent weeks. Soon, we will thus be able to increase our daily coating capacity from around 400 springs to over 1,200 springs. The entire customization process will then be automated and only the springs will be powder-coated by hand.
After coating, the order-related and individualized springs flow indirectly into the chassis assembly line via our automated small parts warehouse. This warehouse has it all because in the future it will be the new hub of our “built-to-order” chassis production.
Currently, all individual parts are being moved into the new “automatic small parts warehouse” from their previous storage locations. “This is currently a mammoth task for our colleagues,” says managing director Klaus Wohlfarth.
“This will still take a few more weeks, as more than 60,000 individual parts are being moved and also compared with our ERP system.”
This small-parts warehouse has three aisles, each with 23 levels, and 15 robots are in operation around the clock. Every four seconds they supply their colleagues at the “picking stations”. In one hour the 15 robots move about 880 containers. These containers with the picked components then flow into the new assembly line.
In preparation: new assembly lines and conveyor technology
The integration of our new assembly lines and conveyor technology is currently running at full speed. For this purpose, the last part of the storage and conveyor technology is currently being set up.
Among other things, the production of our motorsport suspensions will be integrated into the two automated warehouses. This will not only improve the construction times of our homologated suspensions for factory customer motorsport, but also that of the racing custom-made products.
A further advantage of the new processes in suspension strut and damper assembly is significant shorter production and assembly times, which directly benefits order-related production. This year we will have also completed our conversion and restructuring of the new dispatch logistics center. This is because, in the future, all worldwide shipments of our chassis will be made directly from Fichtenberg.
By the way, we are one of the top employers in our region in Germany and are looking for technical and commercial staff directly in Fichtenberg or simply send us a speculative application.