Tackling the coronavirus outbreak: Learnings from thyssenkrupp China

Businesses around the globe are adapting their daily operations due to the coronavirus outbreak. Also, at thyssenkrupp, plants have been closed, employees are working from home, and strict hygiene and safety precautions were laid down universally. But while we are still fighting to flatten the curve in many parts of the world, our colleagues in China can draw a first conclusion on their fight against the novel virus.

How did they experience the first weeks of the outbreak and what can we learn from their actions? We interviewed the CEOs and general managers of our different business sectors in China.

Sebastien Baran, CEO, thyssenkrupp Steering Changzhou Ltd.

For the thyssenkrupp automotive experts in Changzhou, China, the biggest challenge in light of the coronavirus outbreak, was that it coincided with the Chinese New Year celebrations. “Most employees had returned home for the New Year and all cities and provinces began to implement blockade controls,” remembers Sebastien Baran, thyssenkrupp Steering Changzhou Ltd. in China.

Open communication in times of crisis

The guidelines set by the Jiangsu government – a province in the east of China – were updated daily and varies across regions, towns and cities. In these challenging times, the steering systems plant relied on open communication: “We had to deal with all these uncertainties and communicate with our employees with confidence and trust about how we will restart the plant in a safe way,” says Baran.

To do so, the company needed to comply with compound regulations, address transportation issues, quarantine topics, and deal with a lack of protective equipment. “We wanted to reassure all our employees that we will bring them safe in Changzhou and we have taken a number of measures, including the suspension of all external visits, the provision of canteen services and so on.”

Meeting deliveries and coordinating actions

At the same time, the factory had to deal with possible resource shortages from suppliers, making it difficult to ensure delivery without penalty and high cost. “On January 23rd, we launched a Business Continuity Plan emergency response to follow up daily at the plant level, at Presta China level, and at Presta global level, to align all actions based on the dynamic situation,” Baran recalls.

About a week after the Chinese New Year, we restarted the plant and we were basically back on track for normal operations after two weeks,” says the CEO.

An opportunity apart from all challenges

While the coronavirus continuing to spread, thyssenkrupp Steering Changzhou, in a worldwide BCP task force, continues to take steps in order to ensure long-term operations. “We are now monitoring the situation on a daily basis. We make weekly adjustments to our production capacity and supply chain management,” explains Baran.

In addition, the company has redefined priorities to avoid wasting funds and deferred projects that are not of the highest value added. In the eyes of Sebastien Baran – apart from all challenges – the corona crisis also is an opportunity to redefine business models and to strengthen localization.

General Manager of thyssenkrupp Springs and Stabilizers (Pinghu) Ltd.

For the thyssenkrupp Springs & Stabilizers factory in Pinghu, two hours south from Changzhou, the return of employees after the Chinese New Year was also the biggest challenge, as most people are from other provinces.

Quarantine after returning from New Year’s celebration

The local government approved the company's return to work after the plant close to Shanghai had taken measures in accordance with the country’s pandemic prevention and control requirements. “Under the premise of confirming that the health of employees is not affected by the pandemic, we helped employees to get back to the plant and quarantined employees before officially returning to work,” explains Qu Hailin, General Manager of thyssenkrupp Springs and Stabilizers (Pinghu) Ltd.

To address the challenges at hand, the factory immediately set up an emergency management team and held a video conference to discuss and formulate a series of emergency measures, such as procuring masks and disinfectant, banning employees from traveling until the end of the outbreak and avoiding customer and supplier visits to reduce the risk of being infected.

Measures to return to normal operation

“Only with good implementation of epidemic prevention and control measures, can we ensure work resumption and the safety of our employees. The measures include temperature testing, registration of identity information, wearing of masks, eating alone, disinfection of office premises, establishment of temporary quarantine areas,” Qu Hailin recalls.

Thanks to the great teamwork of all employees, the plant in Pinghu could resume a normal production capacity as the level as before the Chinese New Year.

Closer to customer with new solutions

The factory pays constant attention to the impact of the pandemic on customers and suppliers in their regions and strengthens communication with customers to take timely and effective measures. The General Manager says, “We are now strengthening exchanges with domestic OEMs to explore new business opportunities. At the same time, we are also developing new suppliers and trying to increase the degree of localization of raw materials to reduce production costs.”

Dr. Wu Jufu, CEO of Xuzhou Rothe Erde Ring Mill Co., Ltd.

Similar to their colleagues in the automotive sector, our bearing experts in China also struggled with the sudden escalation of the corona pandemic. “Manpower and logistics were severely influenced, and the supply chain and industrial chain were seriously affected during the outbreak,” remembers Dr. Wu Jufu, CEO of thyssenkrupp rothe erde (Xuzhou) Ring Mill Co., ltd.

Returning to Operations

By creating an emergency channel, communicating and deploying the progress of pandemic prevention at any time, the bearings plant in Xuzhou overcame the difficulties together. “We adopted flexible production management across production lines to reduce gathering of employees and ensured work resumption,” says CEO Dr. Wu Jufu. “This way, we reduced the risk of infection.”

The plant once experienced issues in logistics in the early stages. Raw materials could not be shipped to the factory and products could not be shipped to customers – in the face of cross-provincial logistics difficulties. “Based on our experience of logistic difficulties during the Chinese News Year in previous years, we had a certain amount of safety stock, that was prepared in advance before the holiday, and ensured an adequate supply of raw materials after the start of work,” explains Dr. Wu. Additionally, the plant actively adjusted the product structure and priority to ensure the supply of local customers.

Fulfilling Social Responsibility

At the same time, the plant actively fulfilled its social responsibility. “We extended the paid leave till work resumption and implemented a more humane management to protect the relative income of our employees. Colleagues also showed high commitment to get through this together,” explains Dr. Wu Jufu. “In addition, we also coordinated local government’s resources, and helped related business partners to resume work and production.”

All of these efforts paid off. The bearings plant successfully resumed full production capacity two weeks after restarted and can now again, guarantee the supply of products to customers.

Exploring domestic channels and localization

While the pandemic is still spreading rapidly and escalating on a global scale, Dr. Wu Jufu stresses, the factory still needs to continue their pandemic prevention and control measures – and come up with alternative approaches to production. “For some of the spare parts that need to be procured from abroad, we seek to explore domestic channels and a transition to localization, to reduce our reliance on areas struck by the pandemic,” says Dr. Wu.