In the quiet town of Homer, Mich., international brake maker Brembo S.p.A. is roaring ahead in North America.
The company has determined that the North American market will be the its largest by the end of this year, and, as such, has been pouring $115 million into its largest U.S. facility – a 440,000-square-foot plant 100 miles west of Detroit that manufactures brake, disc, caliper and corner modules.
“This expanded and modernized production facility represents a new foundation for Brembo in North America, enabling us to increase our presence in the U.S. market,” Alberto Bombassei, Brembo S.p.A. chairman, said during the grand reopening of the plant in late May.
The plant, of which Brembo took control in 2007 when it acquired the brakes discs division of wheel maker Hayes-Lemmerz, manufactured 10 million discs and 300,000 calipers and corner modules in 2013, and is expected to produce 12.5 million discs and 400,000 calipers and modules in 2014.
And the man steering that U.S. growth?
Daniel Sandberg, president and CEO of Brembo North America, who was never a “car guy” until he started working for Hayes-Lemmerz 20 years ago.
“Growth is something that’s been a challenge for all of us,” Sandberg said.
Since 2007, the plant has undergone three expansions and doubled in size, hiring 350 new workers. It now handles 12 million parts, as opposed to 4 million parts, and is fully automated.
“The logistics, the organizational skills, getting enough people and getting enough skilled people, are challenges,” Sandberg said.
The Continuous Improvement Race
But what’s made it all work is the flat organizational system and a shared dedication to continuous improvement.
“My management style is to not have a lot of layers. I think by not having a lot of layers you improve communication,” Sandberg said.
“We have a very open culture where we want to get input from all levels of the organization. I would hope that people here when they come to work, they go home thinking that they made a difference.”
Continuous improvement ideas come from engineers, workers on the plant floor and even customers.
“To say that we have a suggestion box, this company is a suggestion box. That’s how we get better,” Sandberg said.
To engage employees, Sandberg tries to play on the inherent excitement associated with the racing world in which Brembo brakes are used because that is what steers a lot of workers toward a career at the plant.
“There’s nothing more fun than driving a great car. We hope we translate that into the work environment,” Sandberg said.
Brembo’s growth has not only been fueled by the strength of the U.S.-based like Ford and General Motors that use its brakes, but also by the growth of the independent racer culture.
“The weekend racer now can become a semi pro racer…There are four or five guys out in the plant I can tell you about who race Brembo on the weekends and they come to work at Brembo during the week,” Sandberg said.
“I wasn’t into racing until really I came to Brembo, but by necessity of my job I spend time at races and things like that. You know what? It’s a different type of environment, but it’s exciting.”