This company established in Genk, Belgium, currently employs 80 people and was one of the first Factory of the Future Award winners in 2015. The company has since completed a follow-up assessment and has been awarded the title for the next three years.
Provan provides ‘tailor-made metal solutions’ for which they focus on total solution projects. From pipes, sheet and metal machining through to complete assembly, the company has the right technology in-house or knows the right partners for the work they do not do themselves.
We discussed the path to this award with Ben Proesmans – the PRO in PROVAN – who is currently the International Strategic Director/Co-owner.
What triggered Provan to take part in the Factory of the Future process?
I immediately liked the process that sets high standards and can be seen as an actual reference. This ensures that your company is distinguished from the competition. As a supplier company we have to rethink our products every day. Innovation is part of our DNA. We did not want to copy the work method of others to stay ahead of the competition. This is why we set our sight on the Factory of the Future. We realised even then that it would be ever more difficult to keep production within Belgium because of the competition with low-wage countries in Eastern Europe and also China. Before starting on the road to become a Factory of the Future, I had participated in various working groups on digitisation and smart production organised by Agoria and Sirris and registered for a Master class by Rajan Suri, a global authority on Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM), where I learned to see my business from a new perspective.
We decided that we were going to distinguish ourselves by producing smaller series of products and providing a wider range of products in less time. The unique QRM product strategy formed the basis for this. We were one of the first companies that fully took QRM on-board. The strategy reaches throughout the organisation and focuses on shortening the turnaround time. The emphasis is on ‘time’ not on ‘costs’, which decreases the global Total Cost of Ownership. The machines required to carry out the various production runs are all physically placed in a QRM cell. Waiting times are eliminated and turnaround times between starting production and delivery are shortened. It is a completely different type of manufacture. We needed to convert our philosophy to increase flexibility and needed to retrain our employees especially to take responsibility for their work. This resulted in the transformation of the seven Factory of the Future domains. Our decision to take this road was actually a logical one.
Factory of the Future is like the Champions League, we really wanted to take part! The standard was high, but we thought it was feasible! More specifically: the standard remains high, it is never lowered. We even made it to the follow-up assessment, which proves that everyone at Provan is committed and proud to be a Factory of the Future. We want to be a Factory of the Future for the foreseeable future. Our challenge consists of implementing continuous improvements: always aiming at the next level. For example, we currently consume 15% less energy even though we have grown by 20%. That is really something.
‘For example, we currently consume 15% less energy even though we have grown by 20%. That is really something. ‘
Did processing the management vision take time? Including communicating it all to stakeholders.
Well, the vision was already there. We wanted to play in the Champions League, in all domains. We soon discovered that we were working on the right issues. We were also aware of what needed to be improved. For example, ecological production. We started using internal transport containers to ensure that we no longer needed plastic, cardboard or foil to protect materials when transporting these at the workplace and to the customer. We installed solar panels, LED lighting and energy-efficient machines. These changes decreased our energy consumption by 15%.
The transformation culture is part of our company now. Anybody that has not been on the work floor for six months must probably be retrained. Changes are implemented that fast! Continuous change has become the standard: it has become a part of what we are. Sometimes the changes are small: we see an issue, research potential solutions and a week later the procedure has been adapted.
‘The transformation culture is part of our company now. Anybody that has not been on the work floor for six months must probably be retrained. Changes are implemented that fast! ‘
Did you decide on a specific action plan when you were on the road to becoming a Factory of the Future?
The transformation culture leads to a continuous action plan to continuously adapt and improve our QRM to speed up the turnaround time even further. This also means that complexity is continuously increasing. Within the company we call this going ‘back to basics’: how would we approach a specific issue or change if we were still a small(er) company? In the old days, we would all sit down at a table, all ten of us, to discuss a modification or to find a solution to an issue. We do this in working groups now, but the spirit is the same. That proves once again that people are important at PROVAN: we discuss, decide and implement changes as a group. We consciously recruit people who are open to continuous learning, who like to collaborate and who are not afraid of change or taking responsibility.
‘Within the company we call this going ‘back to basics’: how would we approach a specific issue or change if we were still a small(er) company? ‘
What were the highlights along the way? Which factors made it hard to stay on track? Which results make you proud?
It is difficult to select just one element, but we are very proud of our digital planning system Propos. We discovered it via the QRM system at Bosch and asked if they would be willing to commercialise it. That system ensures that everyone can be quite independent. It is also updated every quarter. The system ensures everyone can see the current status and the planning for the next few hours, days and weeks. This means that we are in control. Orders can be synchronised better and everyone is optimally involved in the processes. Once again: back to basics.
Something that made it hard to stay on track: at the start we often had to convince people regarding the opportunities inherent in the continuous improvement philosophy. In the past we were only or mainly focused on building or purchasing new machines to meet demand increases. Changing this mindset into radical ways of organising the work more efficiently took some blood, sweat and tears.
If you would start the process now, what would you do differently?
PROVAN was one of the Factory of the Future pioneers. We needed to develop and learn as we moved along. Nowadays, companies can depend on the support and advice of their predecessors, on companies that attained the Factory of the Future award before them. That does make it a little easier. In the meantime we will continue to think outside the box, thinking in terms of breakthroughs. However, not everything is a success the first time around.
‘In the meantime we will continue to think outside the box, thinking in terms of breakthroughs. However, not everything is a success the first time around. ‘
What are your next development steps?
We will continue on the continuous innovation road. We believe the Networked Factory is essential: collaboration with other companies that learn from each other based on trust. You do not have to reinvent the wheel every time when you can collaborate with other companies to provide an end product together. We plan to continue on the road we have taken. We will work as we have been doing: we first decide on goals that are far enough ahead that they seem unattainable at first, pitching further than you think you can reach. We find this very motivating. We hope that the Factory of the Future will soon be a point of reference at a European level. The European Champions League.
‘We hope that the Factory of the Future will soon be a point of reference at a European level. The European Champions League. ‘