Lavetan digital factory: “A good roadmap and keeping up the pace” | Agoria

Lavetan digital factory: “A good roadmap and keeping up the pace”

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Published on 12/07/21 by Sibylle Dechamps
Every day, around 3000 samples pass through Lavetan's digitised and robotised research laboratory. The Turnhout lab has been around for almost a quarter of a century, with over half in change mode. Lab Director Jan Robrechts: “Every microtransformation at the management table means a macrotransformation in the workplace.”
Lavetan from Turnhout processes samples from the three segments of the food industry: live animals, processing and distribution. The lab first saw the light of day in 1997, while the path towards a digital factory started a decade later. Lab Director Jan Robrechts: “‘Traditional’ would be a good way of summarising our early years: with our small team, we organised and worked around the table.”

The move to a new and more spacious location marked the start of Lavetan's digital revolution: “Here, we drew up a single automated value chain, from the sample's departure from the client right through to the invoice. This concept was already quite well established in large production environments ten years ago, but certainly not in the lab world.”

From brain to system

Even today, many labs still tend to work in phases. In the Lavetan value chain, on the other hand, the end of one process phase automatically triggers the next. The intelligence is therefore encrypted in the system rather than the minds of the employees. After all, they were becoming increasingly difficult to find, as the lab director points out. 

“In fact, our growth was stalling due to the scarcity of technical lab profiles on the labour market. But if you encrypt that know-how in your systems and processes as much as possible, you can break open the talent pool. These days, around half of our employees no longer need a technical lab background.” 
 

“Our growth was stalling due to the scarcity of technical lab profiles on the labour market. But if you encrypt that know-how in your systems and processes as much as possible, you can break open the talent pool.”

Not working harder but smarter

But things didn’t just stop at process automation. Five years ago, Lavetan started the process of robotisation, mainly to ensure 24/7 business continuity. Jan Robrechts: “For about two years now, we have been in the ‘intelligent transformation’ phase. Not working harder but smarter is now our motto”.

“Specifically, feeding our employees with relevant information from the processes via dashboards gives them the insights required to continuously increase our efficiency, quality and customer satisfaction.”
 

 

Change must not become disruptive

“Meaningful digitisation and robotisation therefore depends on insights into your processes. And who knows them better than your own people, clients and suppliers? This is why we have always called on their common sense when redesigning our processes. It’s also how the transformation immediately found its way into our organisation’s DNA.”

Change does inevitably cause friction, the lab director admits. “Retraining, learning a different working method, the inevitable mistakes: change is always tough at the start.”

The key is gradual introduction. Jan Robrechts: “You can do this by focusing on that one department or segment involved, but giving the rest of your team a break. This ensures that change never becomes too disruptive. And always remember that every microtransformation at the management table means a macrotransformation in the workplace.”
 

“Retraining, learning a different working method, the inevitable mistakes: change is always tough at the start.”

No self-steering without intelligence

“One of the challenges for the coming years ties in seamlessly with this: how do we build the digital organisation around our people and give them a sustainable place within it? Incidentally, this question is not new: ten years ago, it already gave rise to the launch of self-steering teams.”

“But that fizzled out: the employees felt lost, abandoned to their fate. After that, the concept ended up in storage for years. We only cautiously picked up that thread again a few years ago.”

In retrospect, we started this process much too soon. In the middle of the automation phase, people simply had far too little information and insight to steer themselves properly. However, self-steering is now beginning to bear fruit in the form of greater involvement and motivation.”
 

“One of the challenges for the coming years is how to build the digital organisation around our people”

Vision, goal and pace

A plea for a planned approach? Jan Robrechts: “Absolutely! All too often, there is a bit of tinkering here and there but without a clear vision or goal. So yes, a proper roadmap is indispensable when it comes to making your transformation process a success.”

“Often, you can only take the next step when the previous one has been completed. But keeping up the pace is at least as important as the plan itself. After all, the world and its technological capabilities are evolving rapidly.”
 

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