PRAGUE — The CEO of wire harness manufacturer Leoni, Aldo Kamper, praised the efforts of the company’s 7,000 employees in Western Ukraine for producing components under pressure.
Speaking at the Automotive News Europe Congress in Prague on Thursday, Kamper called wire harnesses “the nervous system of the car” composed of hundreds of wires totaling between two and three kilometers in length per vehicle.
“It’s the first component that goes into the car after the body shop assembly, because everything is connected to it,” he said. “There is a huge complexity to wire harnesses, because each one is made specifically for an individual vehicle—it’s a real ‘just in time’ component.”
When discussing the impact the Russian-led war in Ukraine has had on the company’s business, Kamper explained Leoni had set up a task force ahead of the invasion to plan for the worst eventuality, which—even after months–he still regards as a shock.
After shutting down production completely in the first days of the war, Leoni’s facilities in Western Ukraine were soon able to ramp production back up, although logistics were still complicated by border crossing restrictions.
“I have got to hand it to the Ukrainians, they are very well organized,” Kamper said. “It is still dangerous, but at least the fear of Russian occupation is diminished for now.”
In addition to locating bomb shelters for employees, Leoni also organized for certain workers to move to countries where Leoni has production facilities, including Romania, Serbia, Tunisia and Morocco.
Kamper explained close collaboration not only with the Ukrainian team members but also with customers was critical to managing the crisis.
“Everybody knew this was an extreme situation and that needed to work closely together. Decisions were made very quickly that otherwise would have taken months or years,” he said. “The industry stood together in combatting this crisis and we have been able to keep supply running, largely thanks to our team members in Ukraine.”
At this point, Leoni is fully able to supply everything their customers require, Kamper added.
He highlighted the challenges of the production shift, noting Leoni’s effort to duplicate the programs in Ukraine, but admitting the custom nature of wire harnesses makes the process difficult.
“We are expanding footprints, hiring people, and buying equipment to expand these programs, but for the more complex programs, we are still in that duplication process,” he said.
“We also want to honor all the work the Ukrainians have put in and the risks they have been willing to take. At the same time, we have to have this safety net—that is why this duplication effort is so important.”
He said the crisis has brought with it the realization that standardization will allow for better crisis management in the future.
“I think we will see more software variety and less hardware variety, so you have a product you can more easily shift between facilities,” he said. “It will be a new world where harnesses are more standardized. The more we can automate, the closer we can be to our customers.”