Focus on continuous improvement guides Engel through supply chain and labor challenges

Aug. 21, 2023
Injection molding machine maker's take on lean – called the Engel Process Optimization System (EPOS) – has helped reduce waste, improve communication.

By Karen Hanna

A yearslong mission to optimize its processes, build leaders and empower employees fortified injection molding technologies maker Engel to overcome recent challenges, according to the manager of the company’s lean initiatives. The approach has leveraged the know-how of employees to achieve continuous improvement.

Begun in 2013, the Engel Process Optimization System (EPOS) takes aim at the same enemy as the lean initiatives launched by other manufacturers including blow molders, thermoformers and plastic fabricators — waste. 

“Methods and standards are an important part of EPOS. However, the mindset of the people is fundamental,” Engel Group CEO Stefan Engleder said. “EPOS means change; therefore, developing a mindset of openness and a positive failure culture is important. Then, EPOS will lead to success."

The commitment to improvement has resulted in benefits that go beyond cutting waste, according to Florian Gruber, lean manager at the company’s Schwertberg, Austria, headquarters.

“If we had not started with EPOS and continuously improved it, we certainly would not have been able to cope with the rising amount of work due to order increases or later because of labor shortages,” Gruber said.

EPOS began with three goals, he said:

  • Empowering employees and taking advantage of their insight into day-to-day activities
  • Having leaders set targets, measure KPIs and use lean methods 
  • Striving toward continuous process optimization that would eliminate waste, increase efficiency and improve customer satisfaction

With a cultural shift toward greater teamwork, employee participation and input, Engel has logged shorter lead times, less need for inventory and lower costs, giving it agility to deal with challenges, such as surges in orders and the tight labor market, Gruber said. The company now can more quickly make modifications and roll out new products.

With the implementation of EPOS, Engel has handled fewer customer complaints and product returns, as product quality has gone up, Gruber said.

But it wasn’t just the numbers that improved.

So, too, did communication and transparency, said Gruber, who acknowledged that the new approach also provoked some resistance.

“Employees were actively involved in the continuous improvement process. Lean management promotes teamwork, training and empowerment,” he said.

Teamwork — along with respect for every individual in a company — is a hallmark of a lean manufacturing mindset, say advocates and practitioners.

After all, getting better takes the brain power of everyone, said David Rizzardo, associate director of the Maryland World Class Consortia Ltd. and author of the book, “Lean – Let’s Get It Right!” 

As he reminds readers in his book, “Lean, and business in general, is a team sport, so employ, grow, promote, and support team players, and provide the structure and systems that support the team approach.”

The approach has sparked cultural change at Engel, Gruber said.

To tap into employees’ ideas, Engel canceled nonproductive meetings and implemented a system Gruber described as “structured idea collection and implementation processes.”

With more opportunities for development and greater expectation to participate, employees

have expanded their skills and can take on more challenging duties, he said.

Gruber said Engel has enjoyed greater efficiency.

“We now need fewer resources to do the same amount of work,” he said. “As a result, staffing bottlenecks are mitigated and existing labor shortages are not affecting our output. In summary, EPOS set free new potentials and capacities.”

Karen Hanna, senior staff reporter 

[email protected] 


Engel Machinery Inc., York, Pa., 717-764-6818, 

The Maryland World Class Consortia Ltd., Joppa, Md., 

About the Author

Karen Hanna | Senior Staff Reporter

Senior Staff Reporter Karen Hanna covers injection molding, molds and tooling, processors, workforce and other topics, and writes features including In Other Words and Problem Solved for Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing, Plastics Recycling and The Journal of Blow Molding. She has more than 15 years of experience in daily and magazine journalism.