View This Article in BOSS Magazine
A unified culture is the backbone of KIRCHHOFF Automotive's success.
KIRCHHOFF Automotive – a part of the KIRCHHOFF Group, a family-owned and managed global company founded in Germany in 1785, is a renowned full-service supplier of best-in-class vehicle body structural components. It creates sophisticated metal and hybrid skeletal systems on which many vehicles depend, such as front-end systems, bumpers, chassis, floors, cross car beams, and other components that are essential to drivability and passenger safety.
As the largest business unit in the KIRCHHOFF Group, the automotive division is home to 8,000 employees and 27 production plants in 11 countries. In North America, the business is focused on joining technologies such as spot welding, metal inert gas welding, precision placement adhesive, metal pressing, and advanced technologies such as Generation III steels. They work with a variety of steel strengths, from standard grades to advanced high strength steel. Their hybrid designs use different combinations of steel and aluminum or metal and plastic, depending on the needs of the OEMs they serve.
You’d be hard-pressed to name an automotive manufacturer that doesn’t rely on KIRCHHOFF Automotive’s expertise in building state-of-the-art crash management systems, body-in-white (welded steel structures), cross car beams, or chassis applications. In the earliest stages of dreaming up the next innovation to hit the road, whether it’s to make vehicles safer, sleeker, or friendlier to the environment, manufacturers turn to KIRCHHOFF Automotive to help make those visions real. At present, the company’s expertise in lightweight automotive design is highly sought-after by electric vehicle makers.
As an employer that views structural integrity as a core value, KIRCHHOFF Automotive expresses their expertise through a dynamic, collaborative, and highly imaginative culture. The company’s owners have built an organization with flat management structures that make for fast and confident decision-making, empowering their teams to do whatever it takes to be the best they can be.
“As a private company, we're not worried about making the next quarter's numbers. We're worried about making decisions for the long-term viability of the organization and the associates that work for KIRCHHOFF Automotive,” said KIRCHHOFF Automotive’s EVP of Sales & Technical Development, Josh Forquer. Their laser focus on process and machinery is matched only by their focus on cultivating and retaining a highly motivated ecosystem of employees who work hard and play hard.
Keeping that ecosystem thriving is a challenge that Forquer is working hard to meet. As automakers integrate new technologies that depend on software and computerization, the industry is competing with high-tech companies for talent, and fewer graduates are choosing to work in manufacturing. “As people branch away from the automotive industry, it's important for us to continue to develop employees internally as well as recruit from the external sources in order to compete on a global basis,” he said.
External job seekers with little or no experience in welding and metalworking can expect to be thoroughly trained and given opportunities to continually learn and grow. “You can come in not knowing what stamping is and eventually run a multimillion-dollar press line — as long as you're willing to put forth your best effort, opportunities to learn and grow within the company will always be available.” Forquer stressed.
KIRCHHOFF Automotive keeps close ties with top universities, both for research and development work and recruiting new people. The company is also working with the Precision Metalforming Association to offer basic stamping and welding courses for anyone in the organization who wants them, from entry level positions to top level executives. That way, those new to the stamping industry are able to communicate in the vernacular of metalworking and be better connected to KIRCHHOFF Automotive’s core work.
As important as job skills training is, the KIRCHHOFF approach to culture starts with a shared vision of the company’s goals. Aligning with those objectives unifies everyone from the cleaning crews to the corner office and keeps everyone on the same path to organizational growth. “Every single one of us contributes to making our vision become a reality,” affirms KIRCHHOFF Automotive’s vision statement. “The company develops its employees and actively supports their health and satisfaction.”
Forquer is justifiably proud of his division’s performance during the pandemic. Although the automotive industry was at a standstill, the North American operation was able to avoid any drastic changes. “We believe in our employees, this pandemic provided an opportunity for cross training within our plants and offices. We knew were going to be OK because everybody was making the right decision for the long-term viability of the organization.”
As the pandemic raged, KIRCHHOFF Automotive grew receiving strong support from their OEM customers. As we go to press their new $15 million state-of-the-art welding facility in Dacula, Ga., is gearing up for production.
With new opportunities arising for new employees, leadership realized that along with keeping their existing employees engaged, they had to establish relationships with new hires and introduce them into the company’s culture.
Social events such as online coffee and tea tastings, trivia games, talent shows, photography contests, podcast interviews with senior leadership members, deepened connections among the teams. “In our online conferences we’re not just talking about spreadsheets, we’re talking about life in general, and we make sure everybody understands that,” he said.
Forquer envisions the growth of the electric vehicle sector as a way to attract new talent. With the largest OEMs investing billions in new processes and techniques to accommodate the shift away from internal combustion engines; new metalworking technologies will be front and center in their efforts.
“We take the long-term view with all of our stakeholders, both internal and external,” he concluded. “We’ll invest in our employees, and they will invest in us. Together we will last for many generations to come.” One thing is certain: The structure for that longevity is firmly in place.
KIRCHHOFF Automotive is a development partner to the automotive industry. We are active all over the globe as a full-service supplier for complex metal and hybrid structures in body-in-white, crash management systems, chassis applications and cross car beams.
The family-owned company was established in 1785 in Germany. Today it is a part of the KIRCHHOFF Group, consisting of the Automotive, KIRCHHOFF Ecotec, KIRCHHOFF Mobility, and WITTE Tools business units. KIRCHHOFF Automotive is the largest business unit, with 8,000 employees and about 27 production plants in 11 countries.
As a global player, we offer complex body components to our customers on the continents of Europe, Asia, and North America. Our global production network includes the core technologies of forming, CNC wing bending, joining, lightweight design, and surface treatment, ensuring uniform manufacturing and production standards around the world.
As early as the development phase for new vehicle models, we strive for close cooperation with automotive manufacturers. Our customers can thus take advantage of our expertise in automotive lightweight design. We develop structural parts for body-in-white; for example in hybrid designs, combinations of steel and aluminum, or metal and plastic, are used for this purpose.
By utilizing the advanced technology of partial press hardening, we are able to produce steel products with different strength ranges, therefore optimizing body components for weight and crash performance. Our focus is not only on the process and the machinery, but also most importantly on our employees.
Only by staying highly motivated, we can together with our customers reach set objectives and be successful in the long term.
2600 Bellingham Dr. #400
Troy, MI 48083