Family Affair

German supplier encourages high-tech research, training and a family atmosphere at its Southern US facility

It happened nearly 100 years ago.

That is when August Pausch, a technician, and Hans Rausch, a businessman, in 1920 founded a small manufacturing firm in Germany to make fuse inserts for electrical circuits.

Photo credit: RAPA

The Rausch & Pausch Co., grew, and with the growth came changes to its product line. In the 1950s, the company started manufacturing relays for washing machines and television sets. A decade later in the late 1960s, Rausch & Pausch began developing and producing magnetic valves for oil-firing devices.

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Then in the 1980s, the company entered the automotive manufacturing industry, developing and manufacturing valves for opening convertible tops on Daimler vehicles.

The family-owned company, Rausch & Pausch GmbH (RAPA), headquartered in Upper Franconian Selb, Germany, has since evolved into a global enterprise with more than 1,000 employees worldwide, manufacturing multifunctional valves for the automotive and medical industries.

But five years ago, in 2014, RAPA launched a new chapter in its history, when it opened a production facility and headquarters, RAPA L.P., in Auburn, Alabama.

The Auburn plant was RAPA’s first plant outside of Germany. The company invested $18 million in capital toward the construction.

Kelly Nelson, president and CEO of RAPA’s Auburn headquarters, says several factors influenced the decision to open a plant in the United States.

Kelly Nelson, president/CEO of RAPA. Photo credit: RAPA

“We were growing,” says Nelson, “and there’s a motto in the automotive industry that says, ‘In the region, for the region,’ which means you manufacture within that region for that region. As a bigger footprint of many of our suppliers [came] into the NAFTA region, we were challenged in 2010 in Germany to come up with a strategy to support that thought process.”

After visiting more than 30 different sites, RAPA settled on Auburn, a city of close to 64,000 people and home to Auburn University.

He says the company picked Auburn for its small-town atmosphere, which is similar to Selb, Germany. Moreover, Auburn’s close proximity to the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport — just over an hour and a half drive — was another plus.

“There was also a good relationship between the city’s industrial development board and the College of Engineering at Auburn University,” Nelson says.

High-Tech Valves

RAPA is a Tier 1 supplier that manufactures valves instrumental for functions such as chassis control and torque vectoring. It also produces valves and valve blocks for convertible top control. Company clients have included giants in the automotive industry, such as BMW, Continental, Daimler, Jaguar, Audi, Porsche, Volkswagen, Land Rover and Tesla.

Meanwhile, at the Auburn Technology Park West location, RAPA L.P., is supplying clients like Chrysler and the German transmission manufacturer ZF. One hundred twenty associates work at the highly-automated Auburn plant which Nelson says produces approximately 4 million units annually operating four assembly lines, two in powertrain and two others in suspension technology.

Specifically, he says the Auburn plant makes valve technologies for the transmissions that Chrysler manufactures in Kokomo, Indiana.

In particular, RAPA L.P., manufactures a stop-start device called a Hydraulic Impulse Storage (HIS) valve, used in stop-start vehicles that shut off when drivers come to a stop and revs up again when they stop braking. The idea behind start-stop vehicles is to limit idling and thereby reduce fuel consumption.

The Hydraulic Impulse Storage valve made by RAPA becomes part of the transmission for Chrysler vehicles. Photo credit: RAPA

“When you take your foot off the brake, our unit injects just enough transmission fluid into the system to basically jolt it back into action in the microseconds that it takes the engine to come back online and then take over the full power of that transmission,” he says.

Nelson says RAPA strives to stay on top of what is happing technologically in the automotive industry, anticipate customers’ future needs and help them resolve problems along the way.

“We have a strategic roadmap that the leadership teams both in Germany and United States get together twice a year and review to make sure that we know where the industry is going and that we have a footprint in emerging technologies in this industry,” Nelson says.

One of RAPA’s major goals is to challenge itself to come up with solutions to problems customers cannot solve.

“If we can take a few things off their plate and solve some problems for our customers,” says Nelson, “they’ll continue to come back to us to help solve those topics. So we’re providing solutions based upon emerging technologies taking place that are our market.”

In fact, RAPA L.P., has its own research and development department that is working on several projects in partnership with suppliers on topics ranging from autonomous vehicles to noise reduction, he says.

“One thing that’s very important for our emerging customers will be in the area of noise,” says Nelson. “As we move toward electrification, it’s important that our valves are quiet because you don’t have the background noise of the engine in an electrified vehicle. So noise has become a primary focus.”

Training Matters

Nelson says RAPA L.P., is a place of constant training as well as internal auditing of their production processes to keep their PPMs low.

Besides that, he says his approach to training also includes having new associates to meet with him every 30 days during their first 90 days of employment to discuss how they can be successful within the organization.

“We talk about safety,” he says. “We talk about the quality of our products and who it goes to, and what our expectations are around our quality systems. Then we talk about our production system, and the ways that we control our production. We want every employee to understand that their fingerprint is on what we call our ‘value stream.’ Our value stream is how we manufacture, and the only way we get paid is to manufacture products that are better than our competition.”

Additionally, Nelson says RAPA has a culture of continuous improvement throughout the company.

“One hundred percent of our employees will participate in continuous improvement activities every year,” says Nelson, “and we use our employees not as operators per se, but as process experts so that they, having worked there for so long, are able to bring information back to our engineering department or information back to our production department or whatever it may be … And they have a specific capability to change or improve the process based on their feedback.”

A Family Environment

The Pausch family has operated RAPA for four generations, with family members on the board and Roman Pausch as the current managing director.

And although RAPA is a global company, Nelson says RAPA’s efforts to maintain a “family mindset,” has contributed to the company’s survival over the decades.

For instance, he says that when he is not traveling on business, he walks the factory floor at RAPA L.P., three or more times a day just to stay in touch with the employees.

RAPA’s first plant outside of Germany is in Auburn, Alabama. Photo credit: RAPA

“I think it’s important to go around and talk to my employees,” says Nelson, “and not about work 100 percent of the time. In fact, many times it’s about them. With 120 folks here, it’s easy to know everybody, and it’s easy to talk to everybody. … And they need to know that they can approach you with anything. So we’ve been successful in building an open, communicative, and, I think, a family environment.”

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