The Belgian Rf-Technologies manufacturing site has invested in human organisation, smart technology, sustainability and networks during the last few years. Their efforts were rewarded with a Factory of the Future Award on 6 February 2019. We spoke to Jürgen van de Velde, Operations Manager.
Rf-Technologies designs and produces high-tech products for passive fire protection. Our compartmentation and smoke evacuation products guarantee the safety of commercial and institutional buildings all over Europe: office buildings, hospitals, museums, government buildings, and shopping centres. The company employs 170 people in its two sites in Belgium (headquarters) and Slovakia.
What triggered Rf-Technologies to take part in the Factory of the Future process?
I have been going to the Factory of the Future Awards from year one because I was interested from the start. The real trigger was when I visited the Van Hoecke company via the Factory of the Future Roadshow three years ago. The company operates in a completely different industry, but we implement similar processes. I remember thinking: this is a model company, they are way ahead of us, this is what our company should be aiming for... After consulting our CEO, we went full steam ahead.
Jürgen van de Velde (on the right): The company scan we performed was an important moment in the process. It clearly showed which transformations were well under way and which had not been started.
How did you include this decision in the company vision?
First we delved deep into the seven crucial transformations of the Made Different programme. That was necessary since everything was not yet clear to us. When we knew what we were getting into, we set up an annual budget for the transformations. We presented this to our board of directors and rolled it out. We made sure that everyone was aware of the importance of the programme.
How did you communicate the programme within the company?
We soon drew up an operational plan for the seven crucial transformations. We looked into which projects we wanted to implement for each domain and communicated this to everyone within the company. This made the various transformations clear to all as well as how we planned to achieve the right level for each domain.
Which steps did you take to draw up a specific action plan?
The company scan we performed was an important moment in the process. It clearly showed which transformations were well under way and which had not been started. The feedback we received from the various Agoria and Sirris employees also helped us. They recommended the innovative labour organisation boot camp. Not only did we learn a lot during the boot camp but we also met very interesting people there.
What were the highlights along the way?
The offered structure which allowed us to look at the organisation was really interesting. It provides a wide perspective of the complete organisation. We found out that the road to change was a unique incentive to motivate the team.
Which factors made it difficult to follow through?
We are an SME and our capacity is limited. Our annual growth, 12% in 2018, meant we had to set the right priorities to take on the most suitable projects.
Which results make you proud?
I am very happy that we kept working on all transformations. The company scan showed clearly where we scored the lowest and we focussed on those aspects. One of the clearest opportunities was the digital aspect: we put in a lot of effort and realised incredible progress. We would currently not be able to work without the digital systems we implemented: real-time ANDON, StackAssist, PlayScreen, SCADA and more. We never expected to be able to achieve the current level.
Jürgen van de Velde: We would currently not be able to work without the digital systems we implemented: real-time ANDON, StackAssist, PlayScreen, SCADA and more.
Which partners did you work with?
Networked Factory is undoubtedly one of our three most distinct transformations. We are proud of our collaboration with Trianval, a company that provides custom-made products. We can count on more than a dozen well-trained target group employees any time the workload calls for it on a daily basis. We are committed to working with young people. Every year a few final year students do their traineeship here or do research for their final work or their thesis at our company. We have a number of other competent partners including Stanwick, Mabo, StackAssist, etc.
What changes resulting from the Factory of the Future process do your customers notice?
One of the direct consequences of the process of our customers is our continuous focus on quality, efficiency and delivery period. Everything revolves around a high-quality end product. Focussing on efficiency means that the sales price of the end product remains under control and the short delivery period is a very strong sales argument.
Did you have any specific expectations, an idea of the effort and time involved in the process, when you started?
When we started the process, we first registered the 'as is' conditions and defined the required 'to be' conditions. The 'to be' conditions were determined based on our various Factory of the Future Roadshow visits. We did not start from scratch, we searched for companies that had set an example. This helped us determine the projects which would provide the most added value to the company.
Jürgen van de Velde: We did not start from scratch, we searched for companies that had set an example. This helped us determine the projects which would provide the most added value to the company.
Did the actual implementation take more or less time than you expected? Were you able to quantify the process?
Not all projects were always plain sailing. We did invest more time than we initially thought. Everybody was willing to go the extra mile.
Completing the last Factory of the Future Award assessment document was something that should not be underestimated. Luckily, we had started to complete it at the beginning of 2018. This allowed us to spread the work throughout the year. We scheduled at least half a day a week for this task every week. Basically 25 days, right? Maybe even more.
If you would start the process now, what would you do differently?
The 'as is" and the 'to be' conditions provided much needed support throughout the process. A solid analysis is essential and an external perspective on the analysis undoubtedly provides added value. We sometimes thought the information was too vague, especially during the first few steps in each transformation. The people driving the process should be able to provide more specific information to allow the company to make decisions based on this information.
What are the next development steps?
We drew up a new operational plan based on the seven transformations for 2019. We again defined a few projects for each transformation. The innovative labour organisation exercise with our assembly team, the further elaboration of our largest automation project and the implementation of a new ERP package are the most relevant aspects of the process.
What lessons have you learned which will allow you to implement further innovations even faster?
You need to visit many other companies. That is essential to the process and you learn a lot from other companies. Go out, network, get to know people who tell you their story honestly including the struggles they overcame... We also learned that we have a very competent team that can handle complex projects. Factory of the Future was an important incentive to our people. A large-scale lever resulting in large-scale leverage. Just look at the wonderful steps we have taken in the area of digitisation. These projects were first of all undertaken for our own sake, not to attain the award. If your focus is on the award I doubt you can actually make it happen.
Jürgen van de Velde: Factory of the Future was an important incentive to our people. A large-scale lever resulting in large-scale leverage.