Wind of change 

staufen magazine 2023/2024 | No. 6 | ZIEHL-ABEGG SE | Operational Excellence

Regardless of whether it is heat pumps or data centers – the worldwide demand for efficient fans means that ZIEHL-ABEGG has full order books. In order to be able to continue to meet the steadily increasing demand in the future, the company has now prescribed itself a “fresh air cure”, a number of changes in terms of efficiency and leadership. 

The royal blue workshops with the striking tower right next to the highway 6 near Kupferzell immediately catch every driver’s eye. They belong to ZIEHL-ABEGG, one of the world’s leading experts for ventilation, control and drive technology. In the industrial estate near the 6,000 inhabitants community in the north-eastern state of Baden-Württemberg, there is the high-tech production site of the company, which Emil Ziehl founded in Berlin in 1910 and whose inventions more than 100 years ago laid the foundations for the ultra-modern EC Motors that are manufactured and built into fans every day. 

Joachim Ley’s office is also located in the factory hall. For the ZIEHL-ABEGG COO, who coordinates all of the company’s production plants worldwide, it’s only a short walk down the stairs to be directly on the shop floor. As on every morning, plant manager Ralf Alers and his managers stand in front of a large Shop Floor Management board to have the managers report on the current status. In addition to the classic key figures such as sick leave and adherence to schedules, today it is also a matter of organizing short-term storage capacities in the plant so that a logistics backlog due to public holidays does not affect production. A solution is quickly found and implemented immediately after the meeting. 

In order to be able to keep the processes just as quick and uncomplicated, Ley and Alers started a lean transformation together with Staufen AG in the Kupferzell plant in 2021. Joachim Ley defines the goal as follows: “By increasing efficiency and Shop Floor Management, we want to increase delivery reliability and shorten throughput times in order to be able to supply our customers in the best possible way at all times.” 

From the left: Joachim Ley, COO / Member of the Executive Board, ZIEHL-ABEGG SE and Ralf Alers, Werkleiter, ZIEHL-ABEGG SE

From Kupferzell into the world: The EC factory as a pilot for efficient value creation 

The advancing digitization and the associated ventilation of more and more data centers have caused the demand for modern and energy-saving fans to skyrocket, as has the heat pump boom. “With our products we have our finger on the pulse of the times. That’s why we’re constantly growing and expanding our capacities,” says COO Ley. As the location with the largest share of the company’s added value, Kupferzell was therefore selected as a pilot for efficient added value. After a potential analysis, ZIEHLABEGG started with a flagship project in rotor production. “We looked at the paths.

The workstations and containers were redesigned, so we were able to significantly increase the efficiency of the rotors very quickly,” reports Plant Manager Alers.

Staufen partner Dr. Werner Laub: “Particularly in successful companies like ZIEHL-ABEGG, the employees must quickly realize what improvements can also be achieved for each individual with such a change. Sub-projects must therefore always be dimensioned in such a way that they can be successful quickly. Because then process and leadership excellence almost automatically becomes part of the daily routine.” ZIEHL-ABEGG COO Ley adds: “We never had a crisis with the corresponding level of suffering. However, since we still saw the need to change, we couldn’t do without intensive convincing why the path from good to excellent is worth it.” Hereby ZIEHL-ABEGG was supported by Staufen consultants based on experience from similar projects. Joachim Ley: “Through their practical experience, they have already experienced all the ups and downs of such a transformation, and as well-trained coaches, they challenge us, but they don’t overtax the team.” 

With our products we have our finger on the pulse of the times. That’s why we’re constantly growing and expanding our capacities.

Joachim Ley
COO / Member of the Executive Board, ZIEHL-ABEGG SE

From the left: Ralf Alers, Werkleiter, ZIEHL-ABEGG SE and Joachim Ley, COO / Member of the Executive Board, ZIEHL-ABEGG SE

New US plant: The largest single investment in the company’s history 

In the meantime, the transformation at ZIEHL-ABEGG has gained speed. “The team understood that we were progressing. The many small organizational things at the beginning have been dealt with, leaving more time for the operational side,” says plant manager Ralf Alers. After the assembly, other areas of the plant are to be included even more intensively in the conversion. 

Due to international demand, ZIEHL-ABEGG has also started to set up new production sites. The company is building a new plant in Poland for 50 million euros. “Megatrends such as climate change require a significant increase in our capacities,” says ZIEHL-ABEGG COO Ley. 300 to 400 jobs are planned at the plant in Łódź. In addition to bionically optimized fans for heat pumps, smaller fans for living space ventilation and refrigeration technology are also to be manufactured here. 

ZIEHL-ABEGG wants to massively expand its location in the USA and is investing 100 million euros in a new plant and an administration building in North Carolina – the largest single investment in the company’s history. The new factory is being built around 20 kilometers from the previous location. “The aim of the investment is to be able to better serve the sharply increased demand in North America,” explains Ley. The North Carolina location will be responsible for the markets in the USA, Mexico and Canada: “This will enable us to shorten delivery times, increase our responsiveness and, in the interests of sustainability, also reduce our carbon footprint.” 

A lighthouse in royal blue 

Joachim Ley continues: “Our medium-term goal is to extend the change process to all plants worldwide.” Since the company already has 15 production sites on different continents and is building more, the transformation of ZIEHL-ABEGG will continue for a few more years. In order to ensure a uniform level, employees from Germany should in future become multipliers for lean processes and excellent management in the plants abroad. All plant managers should exchange information on a regular basis. The change project in Kupferzell should also serve as a blueprint for the company to find and train suitable employees abroad. “Like this, we want to ensure that customers all over the world have the experience ‘Made by ZIEHL-ABEGG’,” says Joachim Ley. For Staufen board member Markus Riegger, ZIEHLABEGG is a prime example of how the current hot topics can be consistently and successfully promoted worldwide from the location Germany: “Normally, lighthouses often have red and white stripes, but here in Kupferzell, they shine in royal blue – namely not only for drivers on the highway 6.” 

ZAvblue motor running
Fan for ventilation with high pressure

The company

ZIEHL-ABEGG is a specialist in ventilation, control and drive technology from Baden-Württemberg. The company’s headquarters are in Künzelsau. The manufacturer employs 2,800 people in Germany and 5,100 worldwide. In 2022, the company had sales of 873 million euros, 88 percent of which came from the ventilation technology (fans) division. 


million EUR turnover  


production sites



Involved persons

Joachim Ley

COO / Member of the Executive Board


Ralf Alers



Portrait Werner Laub

Werner Laub



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