Jost: Unlocking Innovation

Visiting the Jost head office is somewhat of a humble experience. Although it is located a mere stone’s throw away from Europe’s most important transport hub, Frankfurt, it has a certain down-to-earth feel to it. One reason is that the 36,000–people city of Neu-Isenburg is nothing like the metropolis nearby; it is green, quiet, and less congested. More importantly, though, it is because Jost does not make a big fuss about itself. The head office is still attached to the manufacturing plant, providing a hands-on feel that you may not expect of a global enterprise. Management is close to production, and the smell of steel is still in the air when entering the building.

According to CEO, Lars Brorsen, that low-key approach is exactly what the Jost brand is all about. It is modern, efficient, and dynamic, but also low-key, almost a little conservative. “By continually improving a tried and tested product range, we has proven that some of the most lucrative innovations are essentially conservative,” he says. “The nature of our market is one of continuous development rather than big leaps – even new sensible developments take years to gain acceptance. Therefore we don’t jump from one hot item to the next but try to be a consistent, stable organisation which continually tries to do things better than yesterday.”

It is because of that philosophy that Brorsen would not exchange the Neu-Isenburg facility for a chic high-rise office in downtown Frankfurt. Known as a man who is as adept at looking backward as forward, he is all about establishing a healthy balance between the proven and the new – and the Neu-Isenburg plant has proven its value time and time again.

But just because Brorsen does not like rushing headlong into the future does not mean that he is hesitant on pushing the Jost brand to the next level. In fact, he is has already peeked into the future of the business.

“We’re at an exciting stage of our development,” says Jost CEO, Lars Brorsen, recalling the 2008 slump to put the current Eurozone crisis into perspective. “Since 2008 we have re-learned how to deal with economic uncertainty, which is all about finding the right balance between being able to supply your customers when needed and not having too much cost and inventory when demand goes down. We have a lean organisation now, and we have learned to react to changing market demands. Such flexibility is an increasingly important component of our way of doing business in the future.” 

By 2020, the Jost Group will have doubled in both size and turnover, according to Brorsen, and the foundation of that ambitious plan is currently being laid in Neu-Isenburg, at the very centre of Jost’s global network.

The plant is equipped all the latest in technology to ensure the continuous improvement of Jost’s portfolio, which, as Brorsen has it, comprises everything that has to do with the connection between a truck and a trailer. It’s not the low-light, high-decibel factory floor one would expect of a manufacturing company, but more of a clean room at a semiconductor plant.

It is here where the idea to KKS was born, an automatic coupling system including the JSK 42 fifth wheel coupling and the Modul range of telescopic landing gear. Combined under the KKS label, they allow for an automated coupling process where the locking position is constantly controlled from inside the truck. “All system components are electronically actuated,” says Brorsen. “It’s a milestone for the fleet sector if you think about safety.”

In Neu-Isenburg, Jost is also producing the SKS sensor coupling system, where three sensors constantly monitor the status of the fifth wheel and the locking position during the coupling process. “The production of these products is a highly specialized process,” says Brorsen. “We need to reduce the amount of contamination and ensure all electronic components are treated correctly.”

Nearby, the fifth wheel assembly is working nonstop according to the latest lean production standards, and if the smell and sound of the modern electro coating machinery were not in the air, it could be mistaken for an automotive production line. In fact, the high-performance e-coating system (KTL) can guarantee optimal corrosion protection just like in car manufacturing; hence it is no surprise high-grade OEM labels are omnipresent in the production hall.

According to Lars Brorsen, the neat seat-up is not just an expression of German precision, but of Jost’s commitment to the product itself. “I truly believe that it all comes down to the lifecycle cost of a product, even though our clientele’s requirements differ widely. We know very well that lasting quality, low weight, minimum downtime – including scheduled maintenance – and residual value are common indicators of a good product, so that’s what we’re trying to achieve.”

However, the rapid increase of raw material prices and recent fluctuations in demand have put a certain strain on manufacturing companies like Jost and created a demand for a global long-term sourcing strategy.

“We are happy that we expanded our capacity in the markets that we have grown into very early on, while also developing solid supplier relationships in these markets. This ‘balancing effect’ has helped us in being able to react extremely quickly and flexibly to changes in demands in individual markets.

To also cope with this situation financially, we are in a process of restructuring our long-term supply agreements to reflect the new reality.”

Despite utilising economies of scale on a global level, production and product development at Jost are very market specific. “Local specifications are very important for the acceptance of our products. We pursue a worldwide strategy defining how products are developed and adapted to specific requirements in a modular way to meet specific demands in a fast and cost-efficient manner. We service a conservative market and believe that regional differences may only disappear slowly.”

According to Brorsen, this guarantees close customer contact, short distances and, most importantly, a suitable range of products at market-appropriate prices, as he has it. In Neu-Isenburg, Jost is focusing on the production of fifth wheel couplings, sensor systems and lubrication solutions for the European market.

To ensure just-in-time delivery Europe-wide, Jost’s integrated GLC (Global Logistics Center) is in charge of all deliveries worldwide.

Under the code name Jost 2020, the Jost management has now given out a global strategy to double the company’s worldwide sales by 2020. In Europe, where the company has already achieved a solid 80 per cent share* in the fifth wheel market, the strategy will focus on establishing Jost as a one-stop-shop for the fleet and OEM sector, backed by renowned subsidiaries, Tridec and Rockinger.

“It is an ambitious target, but we are 95 per cent on track,” says Brorsen, who recently invited the company’s global management to Neu-Isenburg to develop a product road map and define a midterm goal for 2015 that will take into account current developments such as the protracting Eurozone debt crisis.

“In general, I think we are well prepared to deal with every scenario. We were able to meet high demand in 2007/2008, and we managed to cope with the slump in 2009. Ever since, we have expanded our capacity both in China and in India and also increased the output of our German factory here in Neu-Isenburg. Thanks to our integrated design and manufacturing philosophy, we will always be able to deliver.”

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