We began today with our final site visit to Hörauf & Kohler (H&K), a developer and manufacturer of technical injection moldings and supplier to leading automotive manufacturers like BMW. Today was the first day I really stopped and thought about how fast our trip was going. We have just a few days left! Time is flyin’!!
I want to slow down time as I begin to recognize that our time in Germany is coming quickly to a close yet I’m eager to get to H&K. My Dad is a mechanical engineer who worked in the plastics industry for a time and hence I’ve long been familiar with the concept of injection molding, blow molding, insert molding and many other forms of molding. Hence, I was excited to see H&K’s process and to learn more about the injection molding process where the automotive industry is concerned. Upon arriving at the factory, just a few minute tram ride from our hotel, we were met by the plant manager and an interpreter. This was really our first group encounter with a true language barrier as the plant manager, unlike many of the German people, didn’t speak any English. Despite the barrier, our translator was able to effectively convey the technical information throughout our tour. The tour today was one of my favorites as we could get up close to examine the complex molds and followed the process of making various components. From plastic pellets to a finished component, we examined how each step contributed to the overall process. Though H&K isn’t highly automated, we still had a chance to see complex machines working in harmony. This is a delight to the son of a mechanical engineer and to a mechanical engineering student like me.
In addition to the engineering aspect of H&K, we also learned about the financial side of the business. Nearly all of H&K’s business is with BMW or other companies that supply BMW. This point brought the plant manager to shine some light on the negative side of that business model – which amounts to almost all their eggs in one basket. Needless to say, H&K is heavily reliant on BMW. Losing the BMW account to a company that could supply the product at a cheaper price or to BMW if it chose to bring the business in-house, would be devastating to H&K. The plant manager further noted H&K’s lack of innovation in recent years and its excess costs. Hearing a member of the company speak negatively about their company was surprising as we had not heard this during any of our other site visits. I found the transparency refreshing but it also made me wonder why H&K doesn’t appear to be doing more to stay relevant and/or to diversify all those eggs that seem to be in one basket. It will be interesting to see if H&K makes changes, both technologically and in its business model in the coming years or if it will continue down a path that may very well lead to its demise.
Following our time at H&K, we were given some free time. The larger group subdivided into presentation groups for the most part, which meant that Arman, Jackie, Ally and I stayed together. We took the opportunity to continue exploring Augsburg for a bit. Arman and I stopped at a small stand in town and both got falafels for lunch, which were very good. I’ve enjoyed this authentic Middle Eastern dish for many years and these turned out to be much like the falafel I have enjoyed from time to time back home. Meanwhile, Jackie and Ally snacked on some pizza from a nearby establishment. After having a bite to eat we walked through a few of the shops in town, enjoying the nice weather. While we probably should have been working on our presentation, it was nice to explore our ‘home away from home’ and to catch a glimpse of the daily life of those who live in Augsburg.
Still cognizant that time was flyin’, we made a quick stop for ice cream and then headed back to the hotel to work on our presentation for a bit before heading to the University to meet up with the German students in our group (Lara, Annabelle and Patrick). I have thoroughly enjoyed working with Lara, Annabelle and Patrick, and appreciate their directness and diligence regarding academic work. They take pride in their work and make sure it is done to the very best of their ability. Admittedly, on several occasions however, their directness came across comically. For example, Patrick was a few minutes late to a meeting and upon arriving was met by Annabelle who abruptly instructed him without any niceties to “sit down!” Arman, Jackie, Ally and I couldn’t help but sneak sideways looks at each other and quickly started chuckling. It didn’t take long for Lara, Annabelle and Patrick to all be laughing too. We soon got down to the business of sorting out our presentation and planning our presentation practice for the following day. Our time together was short in the grand scheme of things, but we accomplished much and had a good time doing it in the process.
After getting back to the hotel, having to run from the tram stop because of suddenly driving rain, we put our presentation materials away and got ready to join the rest of the group who were going bowling. This resulted from scouting out a bowling alley around the block from our hotel on a previous night. A large group of us went and we all had fun in three side by side lanes. These moments are highlights of the trip as I treasure the occasions taken by the bulk of the group to do things together in our free time. It’s rewarding to share time together, and it’s taking advantage of opportunities given that help bind us together in what I hope will be lifelong friendships.