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2023 Q2 Newsletter Interview Torsten Kuehnel, Siemens


One on One: Discussion with a Global Industry Champion: Siemens Large Drives Applications Manufacturing Hub

Each quarter we sit down with Industry Executives and Thought Leaders to discuss the trends, challenges, and best practices that are transforming their businesses. Thank you for participating in the Altix Industry Champions interview.

Today, we are with Torsten Kuehnel, Director of Operations at Siemens 

Torsten, could you please introduce yourself and your company?

About me: For the past 25 years, I’ve had the pleasure of working in all 6 processes of the SCOR (Supply Chain Operations Reference) model – Plan, Source, Make, Deliver, Return and Enable. For the last 18 months I’ve had the opportunity to apply this background as the Director of Operations in our Norwood factory.  I have always valued putting people, purpose, and passion into the center of my actions, and it’s been exciting to continue fostering those values as the Norwood family readies themselves for the future.

My career path started after I finished my studies in Scotland and Germany.  I first graduated with an economics degree, followed by my electrical engineering degree in 2000, and later earned a postgraduate degree back in Germany. School was good, however I found myself enjoying direct immersion in the industry far better. I entered the industry by joining first a mid-sized company, and later came to Siemens. Working at Siemens didn’t require me to change companies since I was able to apply my expertise in various areas of the business including large drives and motors, gearboxes, motion control, spindles and traction. Now I am glad to be back working with Siemens Large Drives, where my career started over two decades ago.

Speaking of career path, what advice would you give to a young person trying to navigate their career planning within an industrial giant like Siemens

Great question! We are currently working on inaugurating multiple leadership training programs for college graduates here at the Norwood facility. These are rotational programs Siemens offers across the globe giving graduates the opportunity to explore different departments like engineering, manufacturing, service, finance, etc. and we will be relaunching that program here in the US.  In my opinion, these training programs are some of the best gifts companies can offer to recent graduates as it’s the missing link to a proper career path. Siemens does a wonderful job with this program, which also helped me! If you are open to personal and professional growth, training, education and even international exposure, the sky is the limit for young people joining our company!

Can you tell us about Siemens and Siemens Large Drives, your core products and market, and perhaps tell us about the history of your company as you celebrate a big milestone this year?

 Siemens Large Drives is one of many Siemens businesses. As a global motors and drives supplier, we are one entity which consists of 14,000 employees, 16 factories across the globe with about $3 billion in annual revenue. We develop, manufacture, and sell drives and motors. Siemens offers a spectrum of motors from small fractional horsepower motors to large motors. Every day at Siemens Norwood, we bring to life high quality products and services to customers around the world. Since 1898, every motor we create is crafted to provide maximum value for our customers’ specific needs – even for the toughest applications. The Norwood factory has two sister locations in the US, where they manufacture medium voltage drives (New Kensington, PA) and service motors (Kansas City, MO).  In addition, Siemens Large Drives has a global presence throughout South America, Europe, and Asia.

Tell us about the Norwood Factory and its history.

It all started in the mid-1880s when George F. Card established various businesses here in the region. He partnered with George Bullock who eventually took over in 1897. Bullock erected our marvelous brick building in 1898 and since then various products for different industries have been produced out of this factory. In 1904, Allis-Chalmers leased the Bullock Electric & Mfg. Co and eventually took over the business completely. Fast forward to 1978, when Siemens AG and Allis – Chalmers joined forces under the name Siemens-Allis to provide standard electrical equipment for utilities and general industry. In 1985, Siemens took over completely and formed Siemens Energy & Automation, Inc.

As we move forward to the future, we are excited to being a part of a new, leading motors and large drives company that will be called Innomotics. Under this name, Siemens is combining its business activities in the areas of low- to high voltage motors, geared motors, medium-voltage drives and motor spindles. The portfolio includes an innovative solutions and digitalization portfolio and a broad range of service offerings. Motors and electrical drive systems are Innomotics’ business and passion. The name Innomotics combines the promise of innovative power with the experience and reliability of 150 years in motor manufacturing.

This move will require a lot of preparation, but our rich history in this plant will support this change and the Norwood family looks forward to this transition.

 Why did the founders choose Cincinnati and Norwood? Was that location choice linked to skills, technology, or education? 

I like this question because it loops back to the heritage of this city.  Lots of Europeans settled here and helped America achieve the next level of industrialization.  The late 1800s to early 1900 were about electrification and the railway from Cincinnati, OH to Covington, KY required electric motors which raised the need for our products! Entrepreneurs like Mr. Allis and Mr. Bullock recognized an opportunity which this entire business was developed upon.  And 70 years later, Siemens took that business over. Lots of products are developed out of this facility which has a lot of rich history.  

Our Norwood factory is celebrating 125 years of operation and has participated in all four industrial revolutions with aspects of each revolution still present in the factory today.  We have relics from the first industrial revolution in the form of a huge boiler tank, where steam was created and converted to electricity through the use of generators.   The second and especially the third industrial revolution were about automation and our products have helped to transform and speed up the industry. And more recently, with the addition of condition monitoring, we have entered the 4th industrial revolution.  The philosophy going forward is that we are creating reliable motion for our digital world.  Motors and drives run ships, trains, pipelines … none of these could be imagined without a physical drive system and reliable motion in the digital world we are living in.

How do you ensure that your people, products, and processes remain competitive while creating future solutions?

There is a constant drive and willingness of our employees – as well as plenty of market demands to create new solutions and products.  We continue to target various markets in the oil & gas, renewables, process, chemical, metal, mining, and water industries.

How have we continuously reinvented ourselves over the decades? By setting goals and challenging targets for the business and our people, while also being challenged by the market, our customers, and our suppliers.  It is all these elements that need to be developed together.  So, how do we get to the next level? Continuous improvement, curiosity, benchmarking, and Siemens’ developed productions systems help drive productivity and innovation.  In the end it’s about people, processes, and markets. 

How do you ensure continuous improvement as a company?

Simple – by giving people the opportunity to grow.  We make it a priority to foster a learning environment, smart targets, and culture of feedback between our employees, customers, and suppliers.  As a company, we support this fourth industrial revolution and we help people to learn, grow, and improve their technical and soft skills so we are all best prepared for the future.  For us, it is not just about checking a box- it is about how we take our employees along this lifelong journey of learning and encourage everyone to embrace that journey.

We combine different approaches on a global level. Let’s take the German apprenticeship model for example – like most programs, it has its advantages and some drawbacks. We try to create a custom model which fits our local market needs by simultaneously improving both our process and employees. While the German model takes over 3 years to educate apprentices, we adjusted it here in the US by working with the University of Cincinnati and high schools for a fast-tracked education of about 12 to 18 months to become a lath operator, grinder, or assembler. In addition, our leadership programs offer employees the possibility to reach the next level of management or to improve as a key individual contributor.  What we have always been good at is exploring and focusing on people’s strengths, not just addressing their weaknesses. By combining different aspects of several development and education models globally, we ensure the best fit for local markets while also being able to share a dynamic workforce across the world. Having a global factory network helps us to stay both locally and internationally successful.

How are you celebrating the 125th anniversary of your facility and Norwood family?

Celebrating this milestone is not only about looking at the last 125 years – it’s about looking ahead to the next 125 years as well while celebrating our successes. We have many exciting things in the pipeline for the upcoming weeks, months, and decades. As we look ahead and identify which rising markets we are trying to succeed in and potential adjustments our employees can expect, we need to especially focus on the next several years. We realize that 87% of our jobs in the next 15 years are not even known yet. The sooner we understand the future, the sooner we can develop products and skills to remain competitive.

You have made some considerable upgrades recently and received an award – please tell us a little more about the upgrades – what, why, etc.

Yes! Recently, we upgraded one of our mid-frame products.  We were able to increase efficiency, output, and more importantly to our customers, we reduced the footprint of our motors by introducing a new 680/800 frame platform (motor shaft height 17 to 20 inches). One of the largest highlights is that it enables customers to run it on a VFD (variable frequency drive) and the flexible shaft design.

The industry is acknowledging our innovation and we are proud of that. Our recent innovations also include high-speed motors (up to 12,000rpm) which will replace some turbine applications in the market.  However, we recognize that it takes time for the industry to adopt some of these trends and to see the value in this innovation.  We are pioneering many fields and our customers love working with us due to our technical expertise and open way of solving their specific motor and drive challenges.

We have also made some significant improvements to reduce lead time and we are one of the quickest to deliver highly customized motors while also ensuring a high-quality product. We simply do not compromise at any moment when it comes down to safety and quality.

Can we switch gears and talk about the Union?

Sure! If I had to summarize it in one word, working with the union is about collaboration! It’s about opportunities we can identify together! It’s about communicating at eye level.  Of course, it is not always perfect; it is like in a marriage: if you have a collaborative approach, you can remove roadblocks.  We have a very professional union leadership and counsel.  Our union is about helping people, and caring how we can build the factory here for the next generation. – By the way, we have fourth generation families working at our factory.  One of our employees’ great-grandfather worked in this factory in the early 1930s, so almost 100 years ago! And throughout the years, our company and the union have developed our Norwood family which prides itself on its continuity. At the same time, it’s about safety in the workplace.  Together with the union, Siemens developed the STAR BRIDGE program which allows employees to not only to praise each other but more importantly create a system of continuous improvement, recognition, and growth. Working with the union helped us look at both sides of the coin. As you know, the European approach to unions is different from the US. Combining both systems in a collaborative approach can help build positive relationships that help the company and the people!          

Corporate Culture is important, and I imagine yours is quite engrained after 125 years. Has working with a union affected your company culture in any way?

Great question! It’s all about nurturing our culture! It’s not about offensive or defensive bargaining. It is about collaborative bargaining to help get us to a win-win outcome.  It’s about how we can drive the business together and ensure the next 125 years are secured.

We have moved over the years from an MTS (make-to-stock) model towards an ETO (engineer-to-order) business. This entails us employing both tribal and documented knowledge while also leveraging our corporate knowledge and resources. While it is probably easier to implement digitalization, artificial intelligence, robotics, and cobots within an MTS environment, our union supports us with their ideas and passion for the business to help lead us all into this fourth industrial revolution. We are all walking this journey of development together, alongside one another. One of our top topics right now is how we can link our two major buildings with outdoor AGV’s (automated guided vehicles).

We are educating union employees on various job assignments and support them with cross-qualifications, and this is offered to both hourly and salary type positions such as quality inspectors. It is common for people to move from hourly to salaried positions, and we make it a priority to support employees who wish to do this – our plant manager, for example, worked his way up from being an hourly employee and now heads production, traffic & transport, scheduling, and manufacturing engineering. We’re proud of the relationship we have with our union that helps us reach productivity and safety goals while also putting employees’ goals at the forefront.  

Let’s talk about leadership, people, and corporate culture. With all these transformation efforts toward automation and robots/cobots, how do you manage the human dimension and deal with fear?

We engage our management team and proactively approach these topics while also investigating new potential implementations with the “5 Why” approach to find the root cause of fear and apprehension. We also focus on a diverse, equal, and inclusive workforce for both shop and office, and provide clear direction, consistency, and skilled leadership that leads rather than managing. Consistency often helps to alleviate anxiety associated with new technology adoption, and success proves your direction and demonstrates your values are authentic.  We take generation talks very seriously and have worked on implementing some cultural changes over the last few months to support them. To get there, we have scheduled a weekly meeting-free Tuesday afternoon, as well as a German concept of a “Stammtisch” where we gather once a month in a relaxed atmosphere and just chat between offices and shop. We also have regular Open-Door Dialogues (formerly townhall meetings) for all employees combined with an open-door policy for the entire staff at our facility.

In this current labor market and “struggle to find talent”, how do you innovate to differentiate yourself and Siemens to keep attracting and retaining good talent? Is working from home an option for your company?

To be blunt with you, we have not found that balance quite yet.  We are continuously adapting to stay competitive as we prepare for the future working environment.   As mentioned earlier, many future jobs even are not yet known. We are always trying to get closer and more accurate though. Regarding working from home, it’s unfortunately not currently possible for us to bring our large 3ton up to 35ton motors to the garages of our engineers or hourly employees. We are, however, certainly trying to rely on digitalization to create a global network of competence and we are undergoing a lot of changes which are truly exciting! It will take a bit more time to bring it all together however, but we see great future promise as we move in that direction.

Over the last few years, we have made a lot of changes to the attractiveness of our facility and have worked to improve energy efficiency for a better, more attractive work environment. There will be many more changes in the next 20 years as we continue to bring in more automation, robots, and collaborative cobots, which will enable us to improve the precision of our products and help us to develop the next generation of electric motors. It is not at all about eliminating people, but about how we can get to the next level of reliability and efficiency so we can continue to power America.  Of course, I also need to add that Cincinnati is such a reliable place to work in and greatly situated to help us to prepare for the future. It’s a very business and family friendly area and we are proud to be part of the Norwood community.

Torsten, I like to say “History meets Future, and that Future is Now”. It’s clear that your company can’t stop innovating – so what’s the next big thing on your agenda?

About half of the manufacturing time of an electric motor is the stator winding itself. We are currently investigating how we can streamline processes, cost out materials, and make the product overall more reliable and efficient, without cutting short in any kind and fashion on safety and quality.

Of course, it’s also about future industries and markets for us. We are breaking into the new markets such as carbon capture projects, renewable natural gases and others while simultaneously strongly supporting our existing businesses. Transition, transformation, and trendsetting drove our business over the last 125 years and will continue to drive it also into the future.

Further it’s about how we can encourage our employees to walk that walk with us together. We are proud of our people and their skills, passion, and engagement. For us, it is truly about our Norwood family.

So, is your hardware getting smarter?

That is a trend for sure! We have accessories that perform condition monitoring of our motors.  Early sensor-based indicators provide feedback when motors need maintenance. We can also see how a customer is running their motor and can provide helpful advice using their data. This is continuously developing technology, and since we are developing these products over time, we are designing motors that are increasingly more reliable and smarter every day.

OK – now I’d like to transition to some more personal questions” As a leader you are challenged in many ways – how do you personally find your balance and you’re your energy level high with a positive, forward-thinking mindset, even when you are under pressure?

What helps me is getting feedback from customers, suppliers, and employees. They all help me to reflect, grow, and redirect myself. I also enjoy taking road trips to visit and develop our customers and suppliers while listening to audio books, doing 1:1’s, or reflecting on decisions and upcoming business needs. This is real quality time for the business and me. I like to stay active (I get my steps in the plant, since we have over 500,000sqft of manufacturing space), and I enjoy spending time with my family who love Ohio very much.

So, what tends to steal your time?

I’d have to say not having the right people on the bus.  I am very much focused on having the right people in the organization, developing their strengths, keeping them accountable, and making sure they are assigned to the right jobs to match their strengths. We are a very lean organization, and we simply can’t afford not to have the right people on board. This is another reason why we place so much value on hearing employees’ triumphs and concerns and maintaining our open-door policy – to make sure that our talent pool stays happy and thriving.

Thank you again Torsten, for being with us today and allowing for this Champions Interview! We are excited and honored to feature you and Siemens in the Altix Access Newsletter and Industry Champion Interview!

ABOUT SIEMENS: Siemens is a technology group that is active in nearly all countries of the world, focusing on the areas of automation and digitalization in the process and manufacturing industries, intelligent infrastructure for buildings and distributed energy systems, smart mobility solutions for rail transport, and medical technology and digital healthcare services.  Siemens comprises Siemens Aktiengesellschaft (Siemens AG), a stock corporation under the Federal laws of Germany, as the parent company, and its subsidiaries. The company is incorporated in Germany, with corporate headquarters situated in Munich. As of September 30, 2022, Siemens had around 311,000 employees. – The Norwood, OH factory is part of Siemens Motors & Drives, which soon will become Innomotics, a motors, electric drives and drive solutions business.