Behind the scenes: how KIRCHHOFF Automotive has adopted innovative solutions in the pursuit of excellence 

Ever since the advent of cars, KIRCHHOFF Automotive Ltd has been at the forefront of developing, producing, and supplying metal parts, including hybrid structures, for the automotive industry. Starting off as a manufacturer of individual parts, the company has since grown into an internationally recognized development supplier of components and body-in-white structures. By providing vehicles worldwide with the unparalleled stability and safety it is known for, KIRCHHOFF Automotive empowers its customers in the automotive industry to enhance their competitive edge. Leveraging its streamlined, medium-sized company structure and international presence, KIRCHHOFF Automotive delivers crucial cost and logistical advantages, all aimed at driving market success and preserving its innovation and profitability. Missy Smith, Plant Manager, Head of Tecumseh, provides a brief overview of the company. 

Kirchoff staff standing outside factory
Some of the Kirchhoff team on International Women’s Day

“Established in 1785, KIRCHHOFF Automotive is a family-owned business, based in Germany. Originally, the company operated a needle factory. Fast forward a century, and in 1894 the company made its first steps into the automotive industry with a press shop. In 1984, KIRCHHOFF Automotive began manufacturing car parts and nine years later, the company expanded and started its journey into worldwide growth. Today, KIRCHHOFF Automotive operates 27 plants spread across 11 countries and three continents,” she begins. 

Focusing on KIRCHHOFF Automotive’s activities in the US, Missy reveals the company’s largest plant in the country is in Tecumseh, Michigan. “It is the biggest out of the ten manufacturing plants we operate in North America. Historically, the Tecumseh plant has been in the business of metal stampings and welded assemblies for over 36 years. Approximately 14 years ago, it became part of KIRCHHOFF Automotive. With the company acting as a Tier 1 and 2 supplier, the plant is being used to make underbody structures and cross car beams for multiple platforms. In addition to stampings, some of Tecumseh’s other core competencies are resistance, MIG (Metal Inert Gas) and laser welding, CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) bending, and structural adhesive applications. Moreover, Tecumseh is one of four North American plants that produces stampings, with over 400 stamping dies in the rotation schedule. The stampings produced in Tecumseh are not only used for our internal welding and assembly lines, but also for that of our sister plants which are in Lansing, Michigan, Waverly, Ohio, Dallas, Texas and Aurora, Canada. Each of these plants then proceed with their own welding and assembly prior to sending the final products to our customers,” she details. 

Missy discusses the automation, machines and processes in which KIRCHHOFF Automotive has invested to streamline its manufacturing operations. “Our welding and assembly equipment is extensively automated and features multiple error proofing devices that help us ensure we can efficiently deliver high-quality products. With over 150 robots, our Tecumseh plant is empowered to provide automated welding, part handling and adhesive and fastener applications. As part of our automation process, we utilize multiple sensors, cameras, and vision systems to ensure all the components and processes have been successfully completed before the final product is released. This rigorous quality control plays an important part in ensuring customer satisfaction and continued growth. Since 2019, KIRCHHOFF Automotive has also invested in six new stamping presses in Tecumseh to replace some of our older models, which are now over 36 years old. These new presses, ranging from 450-to-1600 tons, feature advanced transfer, progressive, and blanking capabilities. This investment reflects our commitment to developing and improving the technologies used in our manufacturing facilities. Additionally, KIRCHHOFF Automotive has invested in the training of our manufacturing employees to provide them with the necessary knowledge and skills to operate these new presses. Part of that investment entailed sending out our employees to KIRCHHOFF Automotive plants in Europe and other locations to share their knowledge and expertise. This sizeable investment is a small price to pay for the future of our business,” she adds. 

Passionate about training younger people and fostering a positive work environment, Missy explains why she cares and how she supports KIRCHHOFF Automotive employees. “As a woman in the industry, I am very keen on developing young people’s skills – irrespective of their gender identity –as they are the future of the company. It is particularly rewarding to spend time with a young individual who has the drive and dedication to excel, but just needs some guidance and training to progress into the next level. Witnessing their growth truly is the best part of my job and makes me very proud of the KIRCHHOFFF Automotive team and its progress. Our company culture revolves around running the business with honesty, trust, and respect. As our owners are in Germany, we may only get to see them a couple of times a year. Nonetheless, when we do, they make us feel very important and actively listen to what the plant personnel has to say. This positive relationship drives the plant management team to continue pushing for excellence,” she says. 

Looking at the year ahead, Missy reflects on what her aspirations are for KIRCHHOFF Automotive’s Tecumseh plant. “2024 will be all about empowering our team by enhancing their knowledge even further. Furthermore, as we have continued to improve our customer and supplier relationships, we expect to witness significant growth in the near future. I believe this level of growth and continued success will only be achievable through our very knowledgeable team,” she ends. 

By focusing on developing talent and embracing technology, KIRCHHOFF Automotive is well-positioned to continue making waves in the industry for years to come.