Tomas Jindra, WITTE Automotive Bulgaria: The production in Bulgaria positions us in proximity to key markets

Automation & RoboticsInterviewSouth-East European INDUSTRIAL Мarket - issue 1/2015

Tomas Jindra, General Manager,
WITTE Automotive Bulgaria

Dear Mr. Jindra, would you please present yourself and WITTE Automotive to our readers? Which are the key products and solutions that distinguish your company from the other manufacturers on the global market?
Since 1899 WITTE Automotive GmbH represents innovative and powerful know-how in the development and production of technical solutions for locking and latching systems. Today, it is a globally operating company supplying all well-known vehicle brands with WITTE Automotive products latches, hinges, lock sets and door handles.

WITTE was founded by Ewald Witte in 1899 and started as a factory specialized in the manufacture of latches for luggage/suitcases.
In 1935 WITTE Automotive began manufacturing door brackets for the automotive industry. The VW-Kafer was the first car with a door handle made by WITTE.

The global presence had been started in 2000 at the beginning as ”WITTE STRATTEC”. In 2006 ADAC Automotive joined the strategic alliance as the third member and VAST (Vehicle Access Systems Technology) was founded. This strategic alliance with the American companies develops the products worldwide in six engineering centers and manufactured in 19 facilities all over the world.

Beside four plants in Germany, the WITTE plants are represented in whole Europe, concretely in the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and also in France. Global presence of WITTE Automotive is ensured by the Vehicle Access Systems Technology Alliance (VAST) in the USA, Mexico, Brazil, China, Japan and Korea.

WITTE Automotive Bulgaria’s manufacturing plant in the Bulgarian city of Ruse has been operating since 2014. What are the facility’s specialization and production capacity?
The company was found in august 2008, which almost coincided with the beginning of the global economic crises in the autumn of 2008. The development of WITTE Automotive encountered the serious questions regarding the survival of the company as a whole, keeping the production capacity, human resource, clients and markets, making some strategic decisions.

One of them was keeping the Bulgarian project, hiring a team of designers who were sent for an extensive training in Germany, hiring a purchaser and the preparation of a team for the future development in Bulgaria. In parallel the decision for starting production in rented premises in Ruse in May 2010 was made.

The production itself started with the transfer of two machines from the plant in Czech Republic and stepwise intended transfer of other machines and products in parallel with the enlargement of the numerical strength of workers and employees, their training and good preparation for facing new challenges.

Given the foregoing, WITTE Automotive made the decision to invest in a land spanning about 100 000 m2 and in the building of a new plant in the autumn of 2012. An administrative building spanning about 3000 m2 and a production hall spanning about 11000 m2 including storage and offices are currently built.

Currently, the old production is transferred to the new building; new lines and equipment are subject of intended transfers after the successfully passed client audits and their permission for the production of their parts in the new location. Still, the rented premises are kept and now we are managing two plants in Ruse with different products and technology groups.

What made you decide to invest in new production capacities in Ruse and in Bulgaria in general? Which markets and segments is the plant’s production aimed at?
Delocalisating the production and choosing Ruse and Bulgaria as a whole as the most appropriate place is the result of extensive economical and geophysical research. On the one hand, each company and a manufacturer is under the constant market pressure for cost optimization, improving the techniques, looking for new ideas and, on the other hand, the proximity to their clients, located in this part of Europe (Hungary, Romania, Turkey etc.).

What modern technologies and equipment and by which manufacturers and providers are implemented in the plant?
The new products and the lines for their production are developed in the different departments of the plants of WITTE Automotive around the world: Design department, Machine building, Industrialization etc. For the majority of the electronics, part of the hydraulics and the mechanics of the machines, however, are used pre-fabricated modules of worldwide recognized manufacturers such as: Siemens, FESTO, Bosch, etc.

What is the importance of this investment for the overall development of WITTE Automotive? Do you plan other similar investments in Southeastern Europe in the upcoming years?
We will monitor the automotive market and take the right steps at the right time.

WITTE Automotive continuously extends its product range. Where do the R&D activities of the company take place? What innovations should we expect from WITTE in future?
The continuous enlargement of the product variety is comfortable and orientated to the requirements of the market, our clients and our clients’ clients. Currently, we have a group of Junior Designers, we are also preparing a group of Engineers for R&D.

But not only the potential of WITTE Automotive R&D centers are used for this purpose, but also those of VAST Alliance (which WITTE Automotive belongs to), located on almost all continents - Germany, Velbert; Czech Republic, Nejdek; Czech Republic, Pilsen; Bulgaria, Ruse; France, Paris; China, Taicang; Japan, Tokyo; South Korea, Anyang; U.S., Grand Rapids; U.S., Milwaukee; U.S., Auburn Hills.

For the testing of the new products the relevant physic-mechanical laboratory, climate laboratory, laboratory for measurements of the sound insulation and others were developed in the different plants of the group. Most of the products are type and ”know-how” patented.
Innovations are always confidential in order manufacturer and customer interests to be protected. This is why they are announced only after releasing the new models on the market.