Shaping the wheels of the world

Training and teamwork are the keys to success at Trelleborg’s manufacturing facility in Latvia.

The Trelleborg Wheel Systems manufacturing facility in Liepāja, Latvia, is about to be responsible for all global production of rims as Trelleborg concentrates all its rims production in one facility.

Site manager Liene Giertmane-Done’s team will make rims from three inches to 54 inches in diameter, used for everything from forklifts and farm equipment to huge harvesting machines for forestry. The Liepāja facility will expand its floor space by 73 percent and will fill its new building with equipment and a painting facility to become a Center of Excellence for wheels and rims production. 

For four years, Giertmane-Done has managed the production of rims in sizes from three inches to 20 inches, and mounting of tires made by Trelleborg in Sri Lanka onto most of them as needed by customers. The wheels, often custom-made, go to international brands of agricultural and industrial original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

With her education at the Banking Institution of Higher Education, a master’s degree in financial management and prior experience at Trelleborg in finance, she didn’t come to Liepāja with academic engineering and manufacturing knowledge, but she gained a lot of on-the-job know-how.

“I spent three years as a finance manager and I wanted to see where the numbers come from,” she says. “I saw how they can be impacted by teamwork with operators. I tried operating machines, mounting tires and welding wheels. I love production because at the end of the day you can see what you have made and going home you may pass an agricultural vehicle with our wheels. 

Trelleborg put Giertmane-Done through the Manufacturing Excellence School that took her to several other Trelleborg operations and taught her a
number of skills, such as the SMED (single-minute exchange of die) method to reduce the set-up time between production runs. As Giertmane-Done says, the SMED training she passed on to team leaders and employees helped the Liepāja plant reduce set-up time in 2018 to one hour for a production run for a different product on a line. In 2013 it was eight hours. This saved the facility some EUR 85,000 per year and also boosted workplace satisfaction, getting the product to customers faster.

Learning about other tools such as 5S – the Japanese system of sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain – along with Hoshin planning and other training, helped her team rethink the location of machines and free up some 1,000 square meters of space for additional new machines and operators, while improving efficiency.

“We replanned the process flow inside the existing work area and improved flow by 20 percent,” Giertmane-Done says. “Operators feel more responsibility. They helped redesign the workspace and they now work the way they want to. The shop floor is where the expertise is formed. My wish is not to work harder but make the work easier, to work smarter.” Many employees of the Liepāja facility have also been sent for training and experience at other Trelleborg facilities, learning manufacturing processes but also building up communication skills in other languages.

Giertmane-Done plans to staff the Liepāja facility with two or even three shifts when needed. “We are not just looking for employees, we are looking for the best, those who want to work in a changing environment and be flexible,” she says. “We go to universities and technical schools and invite students to visit here to see our working environment.” 

In a country that has seen considerable labor emigration to other European countries, Giertmane-Done says she now sees people coming back to work at the Trelleborg facility in Liepāja, including two roll-forming machine operators who returned from the U.K. and Ireland after working there for 10 years. 

Asked why people are drawn to Trelleborg in Latvia, Giertmane-Done points to the facility’s training system and compensation and benefits program. Teamwork in a constant effort to make the work smarter and easier is also a factor. Giertmane-Done describes her goal this way: “I want people to come to work with a smile and would like to have them go home with a smile for their families as well. We are not just hard working. We look every day to raise the bar and make the workplace a place where it is easier to work.”


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