Breathing masks from the 3D printer – companies are converting their production

Dusseldorf They are usually easy to manufacture, the cost of materials is low – and yet it is currently impossible for many hospitals and medical practices to get them: face shields and face masks have developed into permanently sold-out box office hits worldwide during the corona crisis.

The World Health Organization warned in February of the imminent shortage of medical protective equipment. The warning has become a reality in recent weeks. More and more companies now want to help alleviate the scarcity and switch their production to scarce medical goods.

3D printers play a crucial role across all industries. Because with the devices, customized products can be easily and inexpensively manufactured without modifications. That is why they are used by steel manufacturers like Thyssen-Krupp and Georgsmarienhütte, but also from car manufacturers such as VW or dental laboratories and design offices used for a wide variety of applications – and increasingly converted into emergency production facilities during the crisis.

“Many users are very creative with additive manufacturing at the moment,” observes Stefan Hollaender, Managing Director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at the US printer manufacturer Formlabs. His company has launched an initiative to deal with the corona crisis, which now includes 5000 devices from Formlabs customers from various industries.

“There are inquiries from companies that want to provide their freed-up printing capacities – and inquiries from hospitals and medical facilities that quickly need certain products for which the traditional manufacturing capacities are currently exhausted,” Hollaender explains the principle. Additive manufacturing shows its greatest strength during the corona crisis: flexibility.

Masks are printed based on a template

Because it only takes a digital model to produce a part with a 3D printer, industrial groups can change from a material manufacturer to a manufacturer of facial sights within minutes. For example, the steel cooker Georgsmarienhütte: On its own initiative, the company already started a few days ago to manufacture mounts for facial visors on 3D printers, which are usually used for mold making in the foundry industry.

“In the current situation, however, the printers are underutilized,” the company said on request. Last week, the Georgsmarienhütte delivered the first 50 visors to two care facilities in the region.

The design is kept as simple as possible: A plastic frame is printed based on a template that can be found hundreds of times on the Internet. The construction looks like a headband to which a plastic film can be attached like a document cover. This is intended to protect the face of the caregiver from flying viruses and thus reduce the risk of infection.

The steel manufacturer Thyssen-Krupp also produces similar visors. The Chemnitz site, which belongs to the automotive supply division of the Ruhr group, has developed its own design that also contains the Thyssen-Krupp logo. In Chemnitz, the group can print seven brackets a day, and another 40 a week are produced on the company’s 3D printers in Hagen.

Creative misuse

While the use in this country is usually limited to simple, medically harmless protective equipment, other manufacturers in other European countries are breaking new ground. When urgently needed ventilator spare parts ran out in an Italian hospital in the particularly affected Lombardy a few weeks ago, a local 3D printing company called Isinnova stepped in – and simply printed the spare parts on their own devices within a few hours.

In collaboration with another facility, the same company also developed a device that can be used to convert diving masks into emergency respirators in a few seconds, which is also used in Italy. The sporting goods retailer Decathlon took part in the development – and provided design plans and dimensions of its diving masks for misuse.

“With many products, such as diving masks, there is the possibility of using them with minor changes for other purposes – such as masks for ventilators,” observes Stefan Hollaender from Formlabs. On a special Homepage the company provides many 3D plans. If you want to help, you just have to download it – and you are immediately available as a supplier of protective equipment.

Even though hardly any company is currently thinking of investing in a new printer, Hollaender expects that the crisis will have a positive long-term effect on 3D printing. “The pioneering spirit is currently very big,” says the manager. That will change the way companies think in the long term.

In addition, “Companies are thinking about how they can make their supply chains more resilient.” Because of their flexible application options, additive manufacturing is a means of choice for many companies if suppliers should fail. “I am currently experiencing this frequently in discussions with customers – even if investments in many industries are currently being postponed due to the pandemic.”

More: The South Hessian automotive supplier Sauer has also changed its production – and is now producing protective glasses instead of plastic parts for luxury cars using 3D printing.


Car makers are becoming even more dependent on China

Nobody can yet estimate the damage caused by the corona crisis. The VW group is already calling for purchase premiums for new cars, flanked by unions and those prime ministers who are concerned about the well-being of the key industry in their country. Those who are in short-time work and fear for their job will probably not buy a car for the time being.

The loss of production and sales weighs heavily. Now the corporations face a second problem. There are billions of leasing and loan contracts on the balance sheets of the German auto industry, which come under pressure as the crisis grows. Daimler alone had to spend 400 million euros in risk provisioning for the possibly bursting financing this quarter. If things go badly, then we see the tip of an iceberg here.

Almost every second car that automakers sell is financed, mostly by the company’s own banks. This makes the auto industry a key component of the global debt economy, especially in the United States. Nowhere else is more pumped up than in the country of seemingly unlimited credit options.

Americans don’t save on a car, they sign a lease that is paid at the end of the month from current income. Unlike in Europe, manufacturers generally also assume the residual value risk if the car is resold at the end of the lease term.

In the past ten years, thanks to low interest rates, this has been good business. The car companies financed a car for the consumer and enjoyed a well-calculated cash flow each month. For many customers, a small car became an SUV. So not only ford, Toyota and GM increased their sales but also Daimler, BMW and the VW group.

Faster crash than in the financial crisis

At the end of 2019, the credit volume for car purchases rose to $ 1.3 trillion, which is the same as before the financial crisis in 2008. But as long as the labor market worked and borrowers and lessees were able to stutter their rates, things turned this wheel faster and faster. This is now over for many people. Since the outbreak of the corona crisis, 26 million Americans have registered as unemployed – a faster and deeper crash than in the financial crisis a decade ago.

If these people don’t find work again soon, the auto industry will be hit twice. In addition to the broken credit agreements, the automakers then remain on the used cars, which their customers are placing in ever increasing numbers on the yard. At BMW, the memories of the last burst bubble are still painful. In the financial crisis, the group had to write down around two billion euros on loan defaults and lease returns on the US market. How carefully the corporations calculated this time is open.

While the credit-financed US market threatens to collapse like a house of cards, China shines all the brighter. The giant empire has replaced the USA as the world’s largest sales market in the past ten years. The fact that the corona crisis is over for the time being in the Far East is making some car managers sleep better. The Chinese market has already almost reached the old level again. And unlike most Americans, the Chinese largely pay for their cars in cash.

If the credit bubble bursts in the United States, the market there will remain on the ground for a long time. This does not apply to China. In the shutdown of the past few weeks, the German auto industry has continued to run its component factories in Germany in order to supply parts to the factories in China. When VW, Daimler and BMW build cars again in their German factories, some of them go straight to the Far East.

And the US factories of the Germans are also supposed to start producing again because the mass of the off-road vehicles built there is shipped straight to Shanghai and Beijing.

Crises shift forces. Even before Corona, business in China was very lucrative for the auto industry, also because foreign automakers are increasingly relieved of the obligation to work in joint ventures with a Chinese partner.

With BMW, the majority takeover has already been approved for the first car company. Daimler and the VW group want to follow suit today rather than tomorrow and increase their production in the Far East. That will now accelerate. The industry will mainly collect car keys on the US market in the coming months, but cash in China.

More: Daimler suffers a sharp drop in profits due to the corona crisis.


“We can get the economy going with a clear conscience”

The topic of the Corona crisis was on the agenda as four weeks ago. Politicians such as the Rhineland-Palatinate Prime Minister Malu Dreyer and the Green MP Cem Özdemir also took part in the new round. Another guest was Hendrik Streeck, the Bonn virologist, who became known nationwide through the controversial Heinsberg study.

In such a round, the VW CEO is of course the representative of the economy. Herbert Diess is to be representative of many other German companies, explaining how Volkswagen is dealing with the corona pandemic and how the group is trying to get out of the associated economic crisis.

This gladly takes on this role. “We can get the economy going again with a clear conscience,” he says, ultimately referring to his company’s own efforts. Volkswagen is currently starting to restart production in its German plants. It was Zwickau’s turn on Thursday, followed by the main plant in Wolfsburg, Emden and Hanover the following week.

Volkswagen had “very well” prepared for the restart in the past five weeks of the production stop. The manufacturing processes have been changed so that VW employees do not have to fear a corona virus infection.

Hygiene concept for VW locations

Wherever things get narrower and where there is less work to be done, additional masks are used. There is also a comprehensive hygiene concept for the VW locations. The car dealership was also prepared for the virus – the vehicles could in future be handed over without personal contact.

This speaks of the fact that Volkswagen would have continued production breaks for two, three or four weeks. But Volkswagen incurs two billion euros in fixed costs every week. Therefore it is of course also clear that such a forced break cannot last indefinitely, Diess said.

As always with such appearances in recent months, the VW boss brings China into play. There it was possible to control the corona virus and at the same time to restart the economy. “China shows us that both are possible,” he emphasizes. The People’s Republic is extremely important for the Wolfsburg group. VW sells about 40 percent of its cars there and earns billions.

Even if the corona restrictions of the past few weeks have cost Volkswagen a lot of money, the CEO expressly commits to political decisions. “We can be proud of what we have achieved as a state and society,” said Diess.

“We made our contributions”

The German health system had withstood the stresses of the corona virus and the dramatic developments like in Italy or Spain had not occurred. The Federal Republic coped well with the crisis.

Moderator Maybritt Illner once critically asks whether Volkswagen might not be asking too much from the state if the company makes use of the short-time work scheme for 80,000 employees and now demands a purchase premium to boost car demand. Various board members of the group had discussed such a bonus several times in the past few days.

But Herbert Diess disagrees. Volkswagen actively provided help in the acute crisis situation and donated medical equipment for around 40 million euros. Seven million protective masks were also handed over. “We made our contributions,” emphasizes the VW boss. The Spanish Volkswagen subsidiary Seat even produces ventilators.

The receipt of the short-time work allowance is also completely okay. “These are contributions that we made ourselves,” says Diess. In the past ten years that was four billion euros, currently Volkswagen transfers 500 million euros annually. In March, Volkswagen received around 40 million euros in short-time work benefits.

In addition, Volkswagen behaves as a social enterprise and increases the short-time work allowance from its own resources to 100 percent. The VW employees did not suffer any financial losses.

Overall, however, Hebert Diess has relatively little say in Maybritt Illner. Politicians and scientists dominate the group. There is another argument about the Heinsberg study, the discussion about education and schools is given a lot of space. Time and again the roundtable revolves around the question of whether Germany is withdrawing the restrictions on public life too early and whether this threatens further waves of infection.

Herbert Diess only speaks briefly at the end of the program. Maybritt Illner wants to know how he feels about the obligation to wear a mask. The VW boss quickly pulls out his personal copy and holds it up: “We need five million of them in our plants every week.”

More: VW board: “A funding model could be based on CO2 emissions”.


Dax current: Dax is giving way significantly – cyclical stocks come under pressure

The release of new data illustrates the extent of the corona crisis. The savings rate is increasing and consumption is likely to shrink significantly. .

“The largest mass comparison in our country’s history”

Dusseldorf Volkswagen has extended the deadline for accepting the diesel comparison concluded with the consumer center VZBV from April 20 to April 30. 200,000 comparisons have already been made, and another 21,000 are in progress.

With around 262,000 eligible customers, the acceptance rate has so far been around 85 percent. It is already clear that a sum of around 620 million euros will be paid to those entitled to compare. The individual amounts between 1350 and 6250 euros will be transferred from May 5. A total of 830 million euros are available. Volkswagen is thus solving a large part of the diesel dispute with German customers.

VZBV boss Klaus Müller considers the negotiated compensation amounts to be fair. Nevertheless, in an interview with the Handelsblatt he harshly criticizes VW. The carmaker was responsible for the largest economic fraud in German history. “For more than four years, the diesel scandal came to a head without the company being accommodating,” says Müller. The Ministry of Transport also did not fight for consumers.

His association is also examining new model lawsuits against other manufacturers. When asked about the many thousands of diesel lawsuits against Daimler Müller said: “We are aware that Volkswagen is not the only company that has manipulated diesel.” The VZBV takes a very close look at a lot of issues and examines how best to enforce the rights.

He still sees a need for improvement in the model declaratory action. The lawsuit is constructed incorrectly, says Müller, otherwise many more people could have benefited. “So politics should now learn from our experience and reform the lawsuit.”

Read the full interview here:

Mr. Müller, the quota of VW customers who have joined the model declaratory action and now want to accept the comparison is very high. Did you expect that?
We had no concrete expectations. The model declaratory action is a completely new instrument. Therefore, there was no previous experience as the basis for estimates or projections. We were convinced that we had negotiated an acceptable offer for consumers. We feel that this is confirmed by the broad approval.

We are particularly pleased about this against the background of the many calls to doom that accompanied our process. How often have we heard that the model declaratory action is too complicated, difficult to understand, not very promising for consumers, a blunt sword and a comparison practically impossible. This supposedly blunt sword now leads to what is probably the largest mass comparison in the history of our country.

How do you rate the amount of compensation?
We would have preferred higher compensation amounts. But the average of 15 percent of the purchase price was the maximum that could be got out and is within the scope of what Volkswagen paid in other proceedings. We have always explicitly promoted the model declaratory action to consumers who do not want to go to court themselves. If we could now help many of them to find compensation that they find fair, then we are pleased.

How do you explain that so many injured consumers now accept a compromise?
Let’s not kid ourselves: one reason for the high willingness to compare is certainly that many consumers are fed up. They want to finally draw a line under the biggest economic fraud in German history. For more than four years, the diesel scandal came to a head without the company being accommodating. The Ministry of Transport did not fight for consumers either. This has created a lot of frustration and the corona crisis is certainly helping to make fast compensation attractive.

Only the model declaratory action has paved the way for this solution. Are you satisfied with this new consumer protection tool?
As a result, the model declaratory action brought a settlement offer for a quarter of a million consumers. It’s good. But many more people could have benefited if the lawsuit had been constructed differently. This is bad. That is why politics should now learn from our experience and reform the lawsuit.

Where do you see concrete need for reform?
In our view, for example, the complaint register is superfluous. The statute of limitations could be inhibited by filing a lawsuit for all those affected by the facts – without registration. If the verdict is positive, consumers can then report. In its current form, the register brings no added value for consumers. It is prone to errors, cumbersome and excludes anyone who has not reported in time. Also, that consumers have to complain in the second stage themselves, if there is no comparison, is bad and unnecessary. The court could make a binding decision on how to proceed, such as ordering an arbitration to be binding. Automated dunning procedures would also be conceivable.

So would it be necessary to link the model declaratory action with a performance claim?
There are certainly cases in which an enforceable decision by the court makes sense for each injured party. That is why the European Commission has already taken on the further development of class actions in the EU. Before the outbreak of the corona crisis, we expected the corresponding directive to be adopted by the end of the year.

In the normal way, it would have taken many years to come to a legal solution. Would that have been reasonable from a consumer perspective?
If it had been the only way, we would have taken it. Imposition or not. For consumers who are not covered by legal expenses insurance and who did not want to sue themselves or with a litigation lender, the long legal process would have been the only way to achieve anything. But that would not have been ideal. That is why we closed the comparison: So some consumers get money quickly and others who speculate on larger sums can file their own lawsuit if we put ours down. The limitation period is inhibited for them. So you benefit too.

Is the model declaratory action even suitable for a major loss such as VW?
Limited. In fact, it targets cases that are all the same, following the same pattern. For example, banks that charge five euros too much per month as an impermissible fee for each customer. There were very big differences in the VW case: in the purchase price, in the kilometers driven. There were also many questions that could not be resolved in the model declaratory action because they depend on questions that can only be answered individually. For example, the claim of foreign VW customers, claims from purchases after December 31, 2015. For this reason, unfortunately, they cannot benefit from our comparison.

Will the VZBV use the model declaratory action for comparable cases?
Wherever it is the best tool to defend and enforce consumer rights, we will use the lawsuit again. However, we want a quick reform. The model declaratory action must become easier and more consumer-friendly.

Even in the case Daimler now has many 1000 complaints from diesel drivers. Does VZBV consider filing a model declaratory action in this case too?
We take a close look at a lot of issues and examine how best to enforce rights. We are aware that Volkswagen is not the only company that has manipulated diesel.
Mr. Müller, thank you very much for the interview.

More: Auto industry is pushing for government purchase premium of several thousand euros.


VW makes comparison with 200,000 diesel holders

VW logo

The car maker pays diesel owners compensation in the millions.

(Photo: AFP)

Hamburg Volkswagen has agreed on compensation as part of the settlement negotiated with consumer protection groups with around 200,000 diesel owners. A total of around 620 million euros will be distributed to them, the Wolfsburg-based carmaker announced on Monday, the cut-off date for the acceptance of the comparison.

Another 21,000 cases would still be examined. The deadline was extended to April 30 to enable other persons entitled to compare to register and others to submit documents later.

“The high number of comparisons concluded today shows that the comparison offer was perceived by our customers as fair and that the way to the individual settlement conclusion worked well,” said VW board member Hiltrud Werner.

Volkswagen had negotiated a settlement with the consumer association VZBV at the end of February. According to this, the carmaker is providing compensation for a total of 262,000 eligible VW customers of 830 million euros.

From May 5, amounts between EUR 1,350 and EUR 6,250 will be transferred to the beneficiaries. In return, they must forego future lawsuits.

Originally, 470,000 people had registered for the model declaratory action. The final figure was lower in the comparison because the negotiations agreed to only consider diesel owners who bought their car before January 1, 2016.

Afterwards, according to Volkswagen, the buyers should have known that the diesel had been manipulated. The car maker had admitted four and a half years ago that it had a million times the exhaust gas values ​​of diesel cars with software.

More: Auto industry pushes for government purchase premium of several thousand euros.


VW board member Brandstätter proposes a subsidy for new cars.

Dusseldorf The automotive industry is beginning to be interested in its own history. A good ten years ago, the financial crisis had also put large auto companies in a difficult position. That is why the idea came up to help German manufacturers with a scrappage bonus. The state gave a premium of 2,500 euros when someone exchanged their old car for a new car. The industry was happy: in 2009 the number of new car registrations increased by more than 700,000 cars or 23 percent compared to the previous year.

Germany’s most important industry is facing similar problems today. Now triggered by the corona pandemic, the associated slump in demand and the production stops in the factories. Ralf Brandstätter, Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the brand Volkswagen, would like a similar funding program in the current situation. “That worked well in the past,” he told the Handelsblatt, recalling the experiences from the time of the financial crisis.

“In this situation, a premium should be broad and should include modern vehicles with an internal combustion engine. Funding for electric vehicles should continue, ”says Brandstätter. A new funding model could be based, for example, on the carbon dioxide emissions saved.

“We are going out of the crisis and into the green transformation,” says Brandstätter. Volkswagen definitely wants to adhere to the existing climate targets. “Climate protection remains a human task. The Corona pandemic does nothing to change that, ”Brandstätter is certain.

From an economic point of view, the promotion of the automotive industry can be justified. “Many benefit when the automotive industry starts again,” emphasizes the Volkswagen manager. His industry represents ten percent of Germany’s economic output. If car sales pick up again soon, this will create a good basis for a restart of the entire German economy.

Initial spark from Germany

Brandstätter is arguing that the German car population is comparatively old. Eight years ago, the average age of the 48 million vehicles was 8.5 years, now it is 9.6 years. Around 19 million cars have older registration standards such as Euro 4 and even worse. “We can start there,” says the COO of the Volkswagen brand. With a new funding program, an environmentally friendly renewal of the German fleet can be achieved.

The VW manager relies on German going it alone without special coordination with other European countries. In the current situation, Germany could trigger an “initial spark” to make up for the slump in demand for cars. Other European countries would soon follow with their own funding programs. Indeed, it was ten years ago: in France, Italy and Great Britain there was comparable aid from the state.

Volkswagen board member Brandstätter insists that a German funding program be launched comparatively quickly. In the coming week, car dealers in Germany will be allowed to reopen their businesses. Soon after, the municipal vehicle registration offices will probably also start operating. The sale and sale of cars could then take place under comparatively normal circumstances.

If the admissions offices are open, that would be the right time for Brandstätter, at which a funding program should also be available. “It would be good news if it went hand in hand,” he says. The VW manager does not name a specific point in time at which the state should step in. But if things are to go quickly, then such a program would probably have to be ready in May or June. “Together we have to manage this pandemic,” says the VW manager.

Volkswagen used the past weeks of the production stop to prepare the manufacturing conditions “for everyday work with the corona virus”. The processes in the factories were reorganized to minimize the risk of infection for VW employees. “At workplaces where the minimum distance cannot be maintained, there is, for example, a duty to protect the nose and mouth”, Brandstätter describes one of the changes.


Corporate management in corona times – this is how managers succeed

Dusseldorf Renowned management expert, consultant and bestselling author Fredmund Malik knows what the top executives are most concerned with these days. It is a question of “how do they start up the system – the economy and their own company – again,” said the professor of corporate management at the University of St. Gallen in an interview with the Handelsblatt. It was a huge challenge. “The pressure is enormous, it has never been so great. Nobody sleeps well anymore, everyone is busy day and night with the question of how to proceed. ”

The 75-year-old believes that government aid is the right instrument in the corona crisis and in view of the state-mandated stagnation of the economy. Even if that does not correspond to the market economy ideas. “The state must secure the financing of companies that are in need through no fault of their own,” Malik is convinced. However, the state must restrain itself as far as possible as an entrepreneur and act as a kind of silent partner. “The leadership must lie with the management.”

The consultant sees one of the greatest challenges in the increasing complexity, which would increase even further due to the corona crisis. “Many want to reduce complexity, make things easier,” says Malik. But that is increasingly the wrong reflex.

“Complexity is an important raw material in a world that is constantly changing unpredictably. Complexity is the source of intelligence, creativity, adaptability and flexibility. ”If you deal with complexity correctly, you can best react to the unexpected because you have more room to maneuver. “And in more and more cases, it’s simply impossible to reduce complexity.”

The most positive thing he has heard from a manager in the last few days is “the will and belief expressed with great thought: we can do it!” Many do not yet know how, but have the courage to admit exactly that.

Read the full interview here:

Professor Malik, what is the top concern of Germany’s top managers right now?
The question of how they start up the system – the economy and their own company. A country like Germany has about five percent of its population in terms of organizations; not only companies, but also administration, hospitals, schools. That is around four million organizations.

If only one percent, i.e. 40,000, of them is in a mutual exchange relationship, starting up is a huge challenge that we have never faced before. Maybe after World War II, but not in peacetime.

What is the hardest part?
The complexity. This has little to do with business administration, it goes beyond business administration. We are in a deep transformation and it is likely to be the largest in history. One of the driving forces is digitization. Because it leads to the networking of everything with everything, globally – and thus more and more complexity.

The two great coordinators of humanity become meaningless – namely space and time. You don’t have to travel to China to do business in China. It goes directly from here and at lightning speed – and the feedback is back here just as quickly.

But this is not a new phenomenon. We have been talking about digitization since the 1970s.
But not at the level and with the performance as today. We have to understand the corona crisis as part of this transformation, this change.

You have to explain that!
The “creative destruction” according to Joseph Schumpeter can best be illustrated with two “S” -shaped curves, one red and one green, which overlap. The colors have no political meaning. I take S-curves because nothing grows linear in nature, neither does the economy. The red S curve represents the old system. You can stretch it a bit beyond your time, but eventually it will collapse.

However, the new system, the green S-curve, is not so far that it could completely replace and replace the old system. We are in transition, many processes have not yet adapted. The corona virus is now forcing us to do this.

In what way?
Because of the physical distance that we all have to maintain, we are experiencing an unprecedented surge in decentralized work and in telecommunications. This will accelerate the transformation – and further increase the complexity. If you consider how many conversations are currently being held in video or telephone conferences, then this shows the high degree of complexity.

We have also been talking about complexity for a long time.
Yes, but not to the same extent as it is now in the crisis – and only a few top executives have been able to deal with it in sufficient detail so far. Many want to reduce complexity that make things easier. This is increasingly the wrong reflex, the opposite is correct. Complexity is an important raw material in a world that is constantly changing unpredictably. Complexity is the source of intelligence, creativity, adaptability and flexibility.

The right way to deal with the unpredictable is to deal with the complexity because you have more room for maneuver. And in more and more cases, it is simply impossible to reduce complexity. On the other hand, the solutions for highly complex challenges are often amazingly simple.

The corona crisis will accelerate the transformation – and further increase the complexity.

For example?
One can try to regulate a highly complex traffic intersection with a complicated and expensive traffic light solution. But you can also do it with a roundabout – elegant, effective and cheap, with a reduction in accident rates of up to 60 percent.

So the top managers are poorly equipped for this increasing complexity?
About half are struggling. Many confuse complexity with complexity, for example caused by increasing bureaucracy. There are of course many starting points for simplification, for dismantling. But that’s different.

What is the best way to deal with increasing complexity?
I like to use an example: Take a classical symphony by Beethoven. I can play Beethoven in two ways. First, one after the other: first the first violins, then the second and third violins, then the cellos, the flutes and finally the large wind instruments. Every note has been played at the end, every pause has been made – but it is not a symphony. But if we let all 160 musicians play together, it’s a symphony. Simultaneously instead of sequentially. And all that is needed is a conductor.

Let’s move from music to government aid. Some corporations like that Lufthansa are currently negotiating. What does that do with a strong and successful company and its management to date?
It will certainly be very difficult for management, like many other top managers in similar situations. The pressure is enormous, it has never been so great. Nobody sleeps well anymore, everyone is busy day and night with the question of how to proceed.

What do you think of the fact that companies have to be saved by the state? Is this the right tool in the crisis, or do you say: the state is never the better entrepreneur?
The state must secure the financing of companies that are in need through no fault of their own. At the moment we have no choice but that all organizations – including the state – support each other. Even if this does not correspond to our market economy ideas. As long as the situation does not deteriorate – some are already talking about possible second waves, for example in China – we can overcome the crisis.

Lufthansa aircraft

The group is negotiating state aid. “It will certainly be very difficult for management,” says consultant Malik.

(Photo: AP)

But the state must restrain itself as much as possible as an entrepreneur and act as a kind of silent partner. The leadership must lie with the management. But the state has to determine the rules for dealing with the disease and is faced with a lot of uncertainty. The complexity required for this is only gradually achieved – through “trial and error”.

The state is already indirectly intervening in other areas, with the government expecting companies to participate in the manufacture of protective masks and other tools to contain the crisis.
The protective mask is a relatively banal product, but it cannot be economically produced in this country due to the high wage costs. That would be far too expensive. After the crisis, such goods have to be weighed up, which will be regulated by the state again in future and thus produced here.

You won’t get any further with the rules of business administration. The necessary economies of scale cannot be realized in Europe. The state has to assess this soberly in terms of precautionary measures and then decide that protective masks will no longer be produced only in Asia in the future. And for this, government funds must also be made available.

Does this generally also apply to significantly more complex supply chains? It can be heard from the pharmaceutical industry that the manufacture of medicines is sometimes at risk because raw materials are only produced in China or India. In other words: have we exaggerated globalization?
You can see it like that. Indeed, all dependencies have to be re-evaluated and, depending on the sector, production may have to be relocated. But this cannot happen everywhere because the cost differences are huge. And with that, the competition there will set limits.

I live in Switzerland. Before the corona crisis, a different kind of stockpiling was carried out here. Many simple relief goods are already more readily available here, and against all business logic. This can now be seen as an example in other countries.

Are you indirectly advocating a stronger state? The national airline Swiss did not prevent this from ending its independence years ago. It seemed that Swiss was better off under the Lufthansa roof.
At that time, this decision was made out of necessity to avoid the breakdown. The end of the independent Swiss was actually very difficult for the whole country at the time. That hurt. The heart of the nation bled. But the rescue was only possible at the very high price of a takeover by Lufthansa. After all, it has worked quite well under the Lufthansa group roof.

The fear of takeovers is likely to plague many CEOs again since stock prices plummeted across the board in the corona crisis. What do you advise?
That is a very big challenge and also a threat. The respective CFO is now required. If the worst comes to the worst, he must organize appropriate countermeasures.

The stock price needs to go up again, that’s the best protection. You also have to control this communicatively. The entry of a desired anchor investor can also be helpful. Above all, management must guarantee that the company functions as an organization.

The leadership must lie with the management. However, the state must determine the rules for dealing with the disease.

How do you keep a company going in such a crisis?
This is where cybernetics comes into play, the science of communication, self-regulation, self-regulation and self-organization – in one word: the science of functioning. The management in a company must communicate in such a way that everyone knows what the state of the company is so that they can respond correctly.

Feedback, the most well-known term in cybernetics, is very important here. We always have to send signals where we are. If you didn’t say “yes” over and over again in this interview, nodded in agreement or looked in doubt, I wouldn’t know how the conversation is going. This feedback system works well in an area that most people know.

In air traffic. If the tower pilot instructs the captain in the cockpit to climb from 3,000 to 4,000 meters, what does the pilot do?

Soar to an altitude of 4000 meters?
Most of the managers I ask say the same. No, the pilot first makes sure that he has understood it correctly. He gives a confirmation of the message by repeating it. He says: “New flight altitude 4000 meters, over.” He even says when he’s finished speaking. So what does the pilot do in the tower? He confirms the confirmation. Only then does the pilot climb to an altitude of 4,000 meters, and when he is there, he reports it. And the tower pilot confirms that he has understood it. So we have a double closure of the feedback cycle.

And what do you mean by cybernetics?
It is one of several core elements of cybernetic functioning. There is no functioning without functional feedback. This feedback system works across all countries and airports. In all seasons, in all weather conditions, day and night. And there are almost no accidents with 150,000 to 200,000 flights a day in normal times.

Thanks to digitalization, more and more factories are working, as are driver assistance systems in cars and surgery stations in clinics. In management, on the other hand, it only works in about a third of the companies.

Why does it only work for a fraction?
It is partly because it is not taught systematically. Management training is still too firmly anchored in business administration. And as long as you can look each other in the eye, it works. The feedback comes automatically because I can read the facial expressions.

But if we have to communicate at a distance worldwide and now in this crisis, then feedback is becoming increasingly important for a functioning understanding. The crisis will help here.

Speaking of communication: is it right to be ruthlessly honest, like Volkswagen-Chef Herbert Diess it was when he said on a TV talk show that VW burns two billion euros every week in the shutdown – or does that only stir up more uncertainty?
No, I think in this case the openness is right. The top executives of such a large group in particular have to say what challenges they face; name the dimensions of the problem, even in sums. There are countries like China, so we don’t know if the information is correct.

That is why it is also socially important that our managers create trust through transparency. The question is not whether you talk about it. The key is timing; and tonality – these are important elements of real leadership.

What was the most positive thing you’ve heard from a manager in the past few days?
The will and belief expressed with great thought: We can do it! We don’t yet know how, and we have the courage to admit that, but we can do it.

Professor Malik, thank you very much for the interview.

More: Home office, short-time work, layoffs – that’s how Corona changes the world of work


Car sales in the EU plunge 55 percent

Volkswagen plant

The bands are currently at a standstill because of the corona crisis.

(Photo: dpa)

Hamburg The car market in the European Union has shrunk by more than half due to the corona crisis. In March, around 567,000 vehicles had 55 percent fewer new cars on the roads than a year ago, as the manufacturers’ association ACEA announced on Friday in Brussels. Since the beginning of the year, demand for cars across the EU has shrunk by a quarter to just under 2.5 million vehicles.

The reason was the restrictions on public life to curb the virus pandemic, which brought auto trading to a standstill. The carmakers also stopped the tapes in mid-March to protect employees from infection.

The biggest drop in sales was minus 85 percent in Italy, followed by minus 72 percent in France and Spain with minus 69 percent. In Germany, new registrations fell by almost 38 percent.

All brands listed in the ACEA statistics posted a drop in sales. Among the German manufacturers, the VWCorporation slumped 46.2 percent. At BMW it was down 40.7 percent on the previous month Daimler by 39.4 percent. The French manufacturers PSA and Renault By contrast, slumps of more than 60 percent were accepted.

More: Volkswagen cuts its forecast for the current year.


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