For the treatment of corona patients, clinics and medical practices lack equipment. Volkswagen is donating respiratory masks and other materials worth 40 million euros. A team of experts has organized the first delivery of 400,000 protective masks from China. We present four people behind the operation.
Do you think you need the ventilator? Tomas Borm has to answer such questions in the shortest possible time; often he has less than two hours to decide. As part of the Volkswagen healthcare team, the 53-year-old coordinates the delivery of medical equipment from China to Germany. Speed is crucial. “It’s incredibly meaningful work,” he says.
Borm is not an expert in respiratory equipment – he is more concerned with ensuring that everyone involved in this crucial project works together smoothly. “Until recently, I didn’t have anything to do with hospital equipment or protective masks. That’s why I pass on specialist medical questions to experts in the Ministry of Health or at the Hannover Medical School,” he says. If a ventilator is suitable, procurement immediately enters into the contractual discussions. Logistics arranges the delivery to Germany. “This is a great, fast and very trusting cooperation,” says Borm
“This is a great, fast and very trusting cooperation.”
Even when the freight is in the air, it’s all about speed. Even before landing in Frankfurt, Borm maintains contact with Volkswagen’s customs experts so that the delivery can be loaded onto the truck to Lower Saxony immediately. This is where the specially rented central warehouse is located, from which the equipment is forwarded. Borm is in daily contact with the crisis teams of the federal and state governments. Public authorities take over the distribution. Further transports will follow. “Our fight against corona is like a long-distance endurance race.” When the corona project began, he was actually preparing for the Hamburg Marathon.
Approval within hours
“It’s an absolute sellers’ market. You have to be resourceful and incredibly fast,” says buyer Jens-Michael Potthast (40). Every morning at six o’clock he sits in his small home office in Hanover in front of his computer to get up to speed. At seven o’clock the first online conference with colleagues from Beijing begins. “Without good contacts on site, we would achieve little. That’s why it’s extremely important that the procurers in Germany and China have a short line of communication to one another,” he says. A practical example: Not every offer is serious. “Our colleagues in Beijing have many years of experience and are often better able to judge how reliable a supplier is.”
Even with good offers, it often still requires knowledge of the country and language for a successful conclusion. “Not every company is prepared to conclude a sales contract in English. In such cases, the procurement department in Beijing ensures that the documents are quickly available in Chinese,” explains Potthast. The current working mode has nothing to do with the usual procurement processes: “If a good opportunity presents itself, we obtain approval within a few hours. We often close the deal on the same day,” says Potthast. Without a powerful team in Wolfsburg of more than ten procurers, this would not be possible.
“New challenges every day”
Sebastian Funk probably has the most exciting weeks of his life behind him. In mid-March, the logistics employee, who currently lives in Beijing, not only became a father for the first time. He is also responsible for ensuring that aid supplies arrive in Germany from China. As recently as February, he had coordinated a similar transport in the other direction: From Germany, Mexico and the USA, Volkswagen supplied respiratory masks to China, which at the time was hardest hit by the outbreak of the corona virus. Since then, the situation has changed. “The first thing we looked at: What stock of masks do we still have that we can immediately transport back to Germany,” reports Funk.
It quickly became clear that the existing masks from the warehouse would be far from sufficient to achieve the required number of units. Additional equipment from Chinese manufacturers must be added. “This was done in close cooperation: Procurement ordered the goods and more or less at the same time logistics started preparing the export documents,” reports Funk. “Every day new requirement were added.” The 37-year-old from Oschatz in Saxony has been working as Head of Logistics Planning at Volkswagen in China for a year. His start could not have been more turbulent.
While Funk still coordinates the organization of important documents from his home office, Group Logistics from Wolfsburg is already booking the necessary freight capacities in two aircraft. After only half a week of preparation, the transport begins – usually twice the time is required.
“Three shipments per week”
“We handled the transport with good teamwork. If anyone hadn’t pulled along, we would have failed,” explains Jian Zhou (43), Head of Logistics at Volkswagen Group China. Actually, a delivery follows standardized procedures in a fixed sequence, explains Zhou: “This time we did a lot of things in parallel.”
While his team sifts through the stock of masks or directs incoming deliveries to the airport, Zhou works with other departments to eliminate one problem after another. Whether it’s procurement, healthcare, or logistics in Beijing or Wolfsburg, everyone has to do their part to make it work. “It was like a race with different starting points. We had to coordinate with each other constantly along the way,” says Zhou. The authorities also helped with flexibility by postponing the closing time to wait for important documents.
All this happened in a tense situation. “Ever since the corona crisis outbreak began, two months ago, we have been working under constant pressure in logistics,” says Zhou. First of all, we had to maintain the supply chain in China. As the virus spreads in Europe, imports become a particular problem. “Things are very hectic right now.” In contrast to Europe, where many production facilities have come to a standstill, the automotive industry in China is already slowly returning to normality – and the demand for supplies is rising again accordingly.
Zhouse’s schedule is well filled for the coming weeks: Once the respirators have been delivered, further shipments are to follow – including gloves, disinfectants, clinical thermometers, protective goggles and protective suits. Zhou and his team would not be good logistics operators if they did not also develop a standard solution for this. Zhou: “Our goal is three shipments per week.”