Jan Brázda - Plant Manager Krupka, Czech Republic

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Jan BRAZDA, Knauf Insulation Czech Republic, Krupka

Jan has been the manager of our Krupka plant in the Czech Republic since 2005 when the site was an empty 25-hectare plot. Krupka was the first green field Glass Mineral Wool project for the Knauf family and the quickest ever plant to be built, so far, with the shortest payback.

How have we overcome the challenges of 2020? By trying our best to use our mental strength and sense of humour in a situation that was being smashed by horrifying COVID-19 news. And not allowing fear to join our teams.
Jan Brázda, Plant Manager Krupka, Czech Republic

What were you doing before Knauf Insulation?

Immediately prior to Knauf Insulation, I was research and development manager of Sklostroj Company from 2003. Sklostroj was delivering turnkey glass container plant projects — typically in Russia and CIS states — and manufacturing machines and line equipment.

In which year did you start working for Knauf Insulation?

May 3, 2005, in an empty rental office in Teplice.

When did you become plant manager?

May 3, 2005, with an empty 25-hectare plot in an industrial park in Krupka.

What have been the greatest challenges of 2020?

To continue delivering great health and safety performance with no Lost Time Accidents long term. Preventive replacements of our forming chains to secure safety standards and a high OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) index; automation projects, model-based control and digitalisation of our environment — all in a capex-restricted period during a hard time to get resources. COVID-19 measures, of course, communication and leadership to ensure no single customer or employee is lost and the plant stays a safe place to work. Last, but not least, accomplishing a certified audit of our integrated management system (ISO 9001, 14001, 45001, 50001) by TÜV NORD fully in compliance.

How did your plant overcome the challenges of 2020?

By providing strong argumentation to senior management why to invest money in Krupka plant again. By working hard but smart, using team spirit, knowledge and experience, energy and a will for Continuous Improvement. By keeping an optimistic mind-set and humour regardless of difficulties. By frequent communication and feedback on changes, by leadership examples based on alignment of activities with objectives (meaningful purpose) and leaders’ personal integrity. Trying our best to use our mental strength and sense of humour in a situation that was being smashed by horrifying COVID-19 news. And not allowing fear to join our teams.

Are there important learnings you would like to share with colleagues?

Bad times and pain make teams stronger and prove character. This is a great opportunity to learn how good our people are. What a gift, going through difficult times.

How has your plant environment been shaped by post-COVID safety requirements?

There have been physical changes such as sneezing barriers, a limited numbers of chairs in rooms, touch-free design for some equipment, opened windows and air-conditioning units on 24/7. There is the smell of disinfection everywhere, a lot of markings and visual management. Key, however, is a kind of reinvention that health — both mental and physical — is a core value indeed. It is a very fragile aspect of our life. The situation has brought increased awareness about how sensitive a lean organisation can be. We have just few people with specific skill-sets to operate our processes and equipment. If just two to three are gone, the plant is at stake. The situation has also underlined the importance of a business risk review.

What key measures were introduced to keep your team As Safe As Home?  

It is a puzzle of hard and soft aspects and changes, following group standards — As Safe As Home and DASH (distancing, air circulation, surface cleanliness and hygiene) — as well as Czech regulations. Key was a proactive approach by our plant people in all areas in the early phase of the pandemic. There was not enough PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and not enough experience or understanding of what was going on.

We made our own masks, implemented arrangements and changed behaviour to prevent infection. We used our common sense and creativity and benefited from people’s mental maturity to deliver respect and a cooperative, supportive mind-set.

What is your ambition for the site?

Accomplishing plant Vision 2025, which was formulated by plant staff in 2013-2014 and provides 260 individual dreams and wishes. We’ve been fulfilling this vision systematically. Want KPIs? Zero TRIR (total recordable incident rate), high OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness), plant specific energy consumption at 95% of the current base line, zero quality complaints with a delighted pool of customers. Zero tonnes of waste to landfill, fully digitalised processes with operators only monitoring product change-overs and a fully utilised plant capacity. Competent and motivated people, enjoying a healthy, feel-good plant environment. Cost leadership and quality standard give us our key long-term competitive advantage and are the source of headaches for our competitors. Unrealistic ambitions? Well, we’ve been working this way for more than 14 years and turning our dreams in reality.

What have been your proudest career achievements?

In ‘hard’ aspects my assignment by company management to lead a team of auditors to identify best company practice, designs and specifications. Hundreds of aspects were checked and benchmarked within Knauf Insulation plants in 2009 in just six months — both in the US and EU. We learn so much by sharing the best from each other! In ‘soft’ aspects, a remarkable personal development by a colleague of mine, conveying just trust, confidence, with a little support. Amazing development within past three years.

Can you provide examples of how Continuous Improvement has transformed your plant?

Observing daily small groups of people carrying level 0 Continuous Improvement (CI) audit at the respective functional location; roll-up machine operator and his colleague engaged in roll-up maintenance. Talking to each other, sharing ideas, having one common objective per their machine and respective process step: keeping agreed standards and safety in place, thinking how to improve performance and being aware of common benefit – better results with less effort. Such a work culture was rare to see before educating people in CI and Total Productive Maintenance principles.

Which examples showcase the teamwork at your plant?

Hooding machine project — a great improvement of machine reliability and process efficiency. Two simple KPIs but well aligned with our site master business plan, improving cost, service reliability and helping the environment. Engaging supplier by identifying root causes of wasted packaging film. Utilising local knowledge by film supplier. Cost and environment awareness of machine manufacturer operators, what it means. Winning the first CI pilot location team celebrating results by enjoying a driving experience with Lamborghini.

What successes would you like to highlight in connection with safety?

A bagging machine operator Lost Time Accident — broken thumb from sliding reel of film during film handling/replacement — triggering Root Cause Analysis (RCA). Outcomes from the RCA, triggering project and delivering a common platform for bagging machines with quick and safe film replacement, film alignment and printing machine setting at the same level, eliminating excessive use of lifting devices, ground transportation and using stairs up and down bagger after bagger. A bold signal showing how management is committed to delivering a safer environment.

How does your plant contribute to the community?

The plant is providing 130 well paid jobs directly. It also provides a business opportunity to our suppliers (energy, raw material, services) worth €43 million a year with a focus on local/regional suppliers (80% of invoiced value), and, boosting secondary employment and taxes in our region. We have been donating insulation, money and insulation expertise to the local community, non-government organisations, schools and homes for the elderly — year after year. Every year, our plant volunteers are delivering support to community projects. And last, but not least, we operate our plant beyond Integrated Pollution Prevention Control (IPPC) permit limits and requirements to minimise the impact on the environment and making relationships between the plant and our neighbours, smooth.

What recent sustainability successes have been important to the plant in terms of waste management, energy savings or emission reductions?

First, recycling our waste from wash water. No more waste to landfill. The waste became a valuable secondary raw material.

The plant also initiated a major water saving project?

Yes. Another highly sustainable project was the replacement of high quality city water used by the plant with well water, using the rich sources of underground water from a deep drill to our Glass Mineral Wool process. When a public distribution pipe was broken last year during construction activities in Krupka industrial park, all businesses stopped activity for four hours, except at our plant.

What messages would you have for neighbours who are concerned about the environmental impact of your plant?

We are living in the same area as you. We are a responsible manufacturer and a great neighbour. You might dislike our plant from a visual point of view, but you can trust us. Our plant is safe. Granted by plant staff. We deserve your trust. We are a socially responsible company in a broader sense.