Variant and complexity management: Less is more

Lean Management, Operational Excellence

The Italian machine builder PAMA has established a leading international market position with customized machining centers and milling and boring machines. In order to leverage previously unused efficiency potential, PAMA decided on modern variant and complexity management. The result: greater machine diversity and quality with lower costs at the same time.

PAMA’s goal of drastically reducing the complexity of its own products and processes followed the Staufen motto that inside every company there is an even better one. To implement this, the Staufen consultants, who specialize in variant and complexity management, developed the PAMA Modular System (PMS), a modular system made up of machine-independent modules, together with the company. This means that it is now possible to use pre-developed components and groups of components via clearly defined interfaces instead of designing and manufacturing customized individual parts as it previously was the case.

By dividing machines into subsystems, the individual components could be developed in such a way that they can be used in the company’s different models without any adjustments. Put simply, the system resembles a Lego set. So instead of constantly developing new components, predefined modules are used that can be combined in almost any way.

Thanks to the standardization, all customer requests can still be met despite a drastically reduced complexity. An example of this is the ball screw: In the past few years, a total of 161 different ball screws with a length of up to eight meters have been used. The various lengths, diameters, pitches, and bearings have been standardized for the modular system. The new generation of machines now only use screws with a diameter of 80 or 100 mm. Now there is only one uniform bearing block. In addition to a significantly simplified development work, the positive effects seep through the entire company: from purchasing to warehousing and production to service.

Michele Dal Ri

Direttore Sviluppo Prodotti


Modularization revealed considerable potential for efficiency

According to Michele Dal Ri, director of product development at PAMA, the company has uncovered considerable potential for efficiency through consistent modularization: “We no longer needed a large number of different parts to meet the various customer requirements. The previous system of comprehensive individualization had grown historically and arose from individual technical considerations. In the beginning, I was even proud of having this incredibly complex value chain under control. But over time, we realized that we had to rethink. With standard parts, we can now buy cheaper, keep parts in stock and shorten the delivery time enormously – without the customer having to compromise on quality or choice.”

When moving to modularity in assembly, it became clear that simply changing the technical approach is not enough. In order to fully exploit the advantages of standardization, all areas of the company must be integrated. In phase B of the project, this holistic approach also led to a rethinking among employees: problems were no longer treated as singular issues, but viewed and solved as a chain of interrelated subsystems. “If employees are good at dealing with a high level of complexity, they are not automatically good at reducing complexity. So we had to change the processes and workflows in the direction of personal responsibility and efficiency. In the end, we not only achieved a quick ROI in assembly with the modularity, but also optimized processes in the entire value chain,” says PAMA head of development Dal Ri.

The configurator for the machine of your dreams

With the modular design, the use of a configurator has now also become possible, which above all simplifies the work of sales enormously. While in the past, every sales consultation involved a rat’s tail of research and calculation work between sales and engineering, today prices can be calculated quickly and reliably. In addition, production costs have fallen significantly, which even led to the withdrawal of some competitors from certain business areas.

The change process has been advanced in almost 60 different projects so far, the advantages are noticeable in all areas:

  • Sales: The SPEESDRAM PMS machine, which was newly created from the modular design, has quickly become PAMA’s best-selling model.
  • Construction: The number of newly developed parts could be reduced by 80 percent.
  • Production: Cycle times in assembly have been reduced by up to 50 percent.
  • Configuration: The possibilities of the freely combinable modules are even greater than before in many areas so that customers can select and expand their machines even more individually.

“During the course of the project, thinking in terms of modules and standards was consistently and deliberately extended from machine assembly to the other areas of the company,” says Dr. Klaus Alders, who was responsible for the Staufen project from the start. “Thus, the initial goal of modularizing the products gradually became the modularization of PAMA.”

Data and sustainability – PAMA is ready for the future

Customer reactions to the new modular design are positive: “Many were surprised and impressed at the same time. They understand the approach and see the advantages, especially in terms of service, quality, and maintenance,” says Michele Dal Ri. For example, the new modular components make it easier to retrofit machines for specific tasks, and more extensive ESG reports are now also possible. “Data-driven production and sustainability are becoming increasingly important, and with the modularity, we can cover both areas. With machines that consist almost exclusively of individual parts, complete traceability is far too complex, almost impossible. But since we use standard parts, we can collect and retrieve all important data. In addition, we can now enter into a circular economy, because after the life cycle of a machine, certain parts can be reused in other machines, for other components we know exactly the possibilities of recycling or reprocessing,” says PAMA manager Dal Ri, looking optimistically into the future.

About the company

The northern Italian machine tool manufacturer PAMA can look back on almost 100 years of company history. The company designs all the main components of its machines itself and produces in two plants (Rovereto and Brescia). Over 80 percent of production is exported, primarily to China, India, Germany, and the USA. The machines are used in industries such as power generation, heavy engineering, machine tools, rail transport, aerospace, shipbuilding, and large diesel engines.

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