Posted by: Fonte Dei Marmi | October 5, 2009

Bette factory tour

Bette are located in Delbrück, Germany

Bette are located in Delbrück, Germany

On Monday 28th and Tuesday 29th of September 2009, Bette and our UK supplier were kind enough to invite Fonte Dei Marmi to Germany for a tour of the Bette factory. Before continuing with the details, we would very much like to thank everybody involved for the invitation, making the arrangements and the fabulous hospitality that we received during the trip.

Located in a heavily-wooded area just outside Delbrück, the Bette factory (situated on Heinrich-Bette Stasse, named for the founder of the Bette company), the serene surroundings mask a factory that is bustling with activity and containing some of the latest, most high tech machinery on the market today, all custom-built based upon Bette’s own designs and all there with the sole purpose of producing a vast number of very high quality steel products for the bathroom industry. Focusing mainly on bathtubs, with lines including shower trays and wash basins, the factory is the perfect blend of man and machine for a common goal, that centres around the world-renowned Germany ethos of efficiency and reliability.

Employing around 280 people on site, the friendly and relaxed nature gives the impression of how the company was first formed – with a family atmosphere amongst the noise and heat of modern day production mechanisms.

Rolf, our guide for the day and one of Bette’s directors, led us through a maze of production line equipment from raw steel sheets through enameling, colouring and finally quality control, packaging and the state-of-the-art distribution system. A mind of information, and always ready and willing to answer any questions that arose (of which there were many), Rolf quite rightly took great pride in the factory and the products produced.

The process of creating a bathtub is, on the face of it, a very simple one: a sheet of steel (2.4mm thick in this case, and impregnated with Titanium to a secret formula of Bette’s devising) is moulded using massive presses into shape before being enamel coated and shipped out to customers. However, that simplistic description belies the complexities involved throughout the process, and the many steps required to achieve the quality standards that Bette are rightly proud of. For obvious reasons given that this is a competitive market, many of the processes although visible to the untrained eye such as ours, are confidential so we are unable to go into great detail in this post. We asked many questions on the tour, and the answers given were complete and very detailed but not being from a manufacturing background it is unlikely that any of the answers supplied by the knowledgable Rolf were giving away the company secrets.

Moving from the storage area of raw steel sheets, we are led towards the first part of the process: the pressing. Pressing – as we soon found out – is not the most accurate description for the process that we witnessed. In contrast to their competitors who do press their steel, Bette differs by utilising a process called deep-drawing; essentially, slowly manipulating the cold steel into shape around a form, but without the need for a heated press. By the company’s own admission, this is a slower process than a hot press, but the results are a better formed bathtub that is less prone to tearing or stretching of the sheet metal. The fact that no heat is used in the process is a misnomer considering the sweltering temperatures around the machinery … this, we now know, is caused by the metal itself changing structure and the heat is the result of that change, not the cause of it.

Once pressed, the bathtubs find themselves hooked to a pulley system which will become their home and transport until they reach the other end of the factory.

Bathtubs on pulley system

Bathtubs on pulley system

Now dangling from the pulley system, not dissimilar to t-shirts on a washing line, the tubs move around the factory through various cleaning stages to remove excess oil that was using during the moulding, and on to the enameling system. All robotically controlled, the enameling system is a multi-part process designed to produce the flawless finish that is synonymous with Bette products. Between each layer, the thickness of which makes a human hair appear positively bloated, the products are dried through vast kilns before going back around to start the next coat and finally arriving and the end of the process as a gleaming white enameled object. At this point, there are some selected for special colouring – Bette produce products in a number of colours, yet about 95% of all items are still white. Still further down the track, and still hooked to their carriage system, every product off the line is inspected in a well-lit area by the most well-trained eyes in the factory. Each item is indeed checked by the human eye.

The enameling process

The enameling process

During our time around this station, we witnessed the quality assurance man mark with a pen Xs in various places of a single item – obviously, something has piqued his interested, and he rejected it. The product moved slightly further along enabling us to take a much closer look as to why this item had been rejected. Sadly, to no avail, even with the big, black X to show us. Using our best Anglo-German, and hand signals that would make a tictacs man at the racecourse jealous, we established that the enamel finish was not as good as it could be, and as best as we could make out was described as “rippled” (we think). Anyway, much prodding and stroking of the product later, we were still unable to tell exactly that there was a problem, and decided that the inspector knew best and to leave it at that. It does prove however that his attention to detail is second-to-none and something which other manufacturers of all products in every area of life would do well to learn from.

We finally made our way to the packaging and distribution section of the factory – an area we were told was approximately 10,000 sq. M. in size. Strangely, despite the copious amount of products trundling their way around on rails over head, there was a distinct lack of personnel. Very few people are required in this section as the computerized system knows exactly where to stack each product ready for delivery. The only personnel there were making up boxes of accessories that ship with the product, and those that needed those accessories were sent along a separate track to their waiting hands.

Bette ship their products to many countries around the world, although their biggest market is still very much the domestic one; Germany. They have a fleet of trucks that travel Europe and further afield on a daily basis to make sure that companies such as Fonte Dei Marmi are able to lay hands on customer products in a very timely manner.

The final day was capped off by a visit to the on-site showroom containing one of each of the products made, and laid out with true German efficiency. The showroom was a sight behold; decorated perfectly with everything in its place and shown to its best possible advantage. We spent about 90 minutes looking around the products and admiring the craftmanship that was clearly visible in each.

We would once again like to thank everybody involved in making this trip possible for us, and we look forward to explaining to all our customers the range and quality of the entire Bette product line – all of which are available from Fonte Dei Marmi.

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