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How Zuidberg utilizes Lean to keep improving itself

23 September 2020  |  Reading time: 11 minutes

For many years, businesses have applied the Lean methodology to eliminate waste and create a culture of continuous improvement. In other words: to create more customer value. This also applies to Zuidberg. Because of the rapid growth we experienced, we had to look for specialist knowledge in addition to allrounders. This was necessary to continue to safeguard our high standards. Lean turned out to be the method par excellence to put this on the right road.

Short time, rapid growth

When we first started in 1982, we worked with a limited number of allrounders on products for a limited number of purchasers.

Actually, we were already Lean in this situation; intermediate stocks were not necessary, everything was manageable, and communication went naturally.

In a short period of time, we experienced a huge growth and we found ourselves working on more and more different products, nearly all of them in-house.

Planning with allrounders is easier.

​Zuidberg and Lean: the first introduction​

At Zuidberg, we did not yet have any experience with Lean at all, we did not know it. But we always had the wish to become ever better – ultimately the most important condition for a proper Lean implementation.

During the period of rapid growth we noticed that departments were indeed improving themselves, but without taking into account the departments to which they delivered. Larger intermediate stocks and longer processing times followed. And then Lean entered the scene.

The Zuidberg management decided to pursue Lean goals in 2014. First, the required knowledge was acquired; purchase manager – and Lean Six Sigma black-belt – Liesbeth Sijpersma and quality manager Jelle Hakvoort became our first Lean team.

By means of a Lean Assessment, carried out by HAN University of Applied Sciences (HAN), they found out where we had to start and what we had to do. The first steps had been taken.

The entry of the 5S method

To ensure that the Lean plans could also become a reality throughout the business, we looked at the 5S method. If implemented correctly, 5S results in manageable workplaces, less ‘searching’ during your work process, and clean(er) factories.

Liesbeth and Jelle gave the internal 5S training courses together with a HAN student. Just after the implementation of the 5S method, we started with 15 minute daily stand up meetings for each department, including a whiteboard to visualize process progression. At first, we only discussed matters relating to 5S, but this was soon followed by everything about continuous improvement. In the meantime, daily stand up meetings have become regular fixtures in all our departments.

We visualize work progression with whiteboards.

Daily stand up meetings for every department within Zuidberg

During these daily stand up meetings, teams discuss current problems and progress of improvement actions. Every department has its own stand up meeting and whiteboard, at all levels. These now total 27.

The first line of stand up meetings are department-oriented. Since the cooperation between departments is lagging behind, we have version 2.0 of the stand up meetings ready: horizontal consultations between departments. Unfortunately, this has not yet been implemented because of the corona crisis, but the plans for the coming period are already in place. This is what the ideal scenario for these horizontal consultations looks like:

  • When, for example, an internal remark or a remark from a customer comes in, this will be discussed during the day start.
  • We look into the cause and solve the problem (we link it to an improvement process, clarifying the cause and structurally developing the solution).
  • We put in writing how we can prevent this faster in the future.
  • If this problem occurs in more departments, we agree a process that we can apply everywhere.

The first perceptible effects of Lean

Process engineer Bas Wouterse oversees processes across the chain and coaches departments to have their activities dovetail with other departments.

We soon noticed that the assembly, painting and expedition departments aligned their activities in a much better way.

Manager Continuous Improvement Bas Wouterse

What’s learned in the cradle...

As a black belt, Liesbeth coaches managers. They then spread their knowledge among their employees. As a result, the load is not on just a few people, but is spread throughout the business.

Recently, we developed a white-belt training course for the basics of Lean. We will soon be using this course for grooming new employees for their career at Zuidberg. After a new employee has been inducted, we introduce 5S by means a puzzle that imitates everyday on-site problems.

From their very first day at Zuidberg, new talents thus contribute to reducing waste and processing time and optimise the quality and delivery reliability.

In the end, Lean helps us ensure that staff stays with us for a long time. This also entails that employees can have a say, regardless of the level they work on.

If employees are allowed to work on their own initiatives, they are in general more motivated to build their career within that company. In view of the fact that technical employees are hard to find, this is a real solution for us.

With Lean we can ensure that employees bind themselves to us for a long period of time, on the condition that their wishes and ideas are heard.

Slow and steady wins the race

Fortunately, all time and efforts we invest in Lean pay out. For example, over 2020 we realised 8% more revenue without engaging additional staff. We also reduced the intermediate stocks and processing times. But of course, we still have a long way to go. We set ourselves realistic but ambitious goals and go for them at full throttle. With everyone who has anything to do with Zuidberg.

Here are some figures about everyone within Zuidberg who has already been introduced to Lean:

  • We have currently trained 85 employees as Lean yellow belts;
  • We have currently trained 15 employees as Lean green belts;
  • We have nearly trained 3 employees as Lean black belts.

On a workforce of 338 people, this is more than 30%. Only 70% to go!

Wat is the final goal?

We think that we can only remain market leader if we lead the way. In order to stay ahead of the competition, you do not have to copy from them, but try things yourself, just because somebody else has not done this yet.

For now, we focus on reducing processing times, improving the delivery reliability, and delivering even more customer value. In addition to our high quality, of course.

Lean does not aim to increase sales. We aim for a better net result, which means that we want to achieve better results with the same group of people. It is easy to generate more sales with rising costs at the same time. We want our costs to be as steady as possible, even with rising sales. The good thing about Lean is that the improvement process never stops. There is always room for improvement. And that is what we will keep aiming for heart and soul.

A fresh batch of schooled LEAN-green belts.

Ask our specialist

Bas Wouterse - Continuous Improvement Manager

Bas is responsible for tactical project management. He is one of the key experts on Lean internally, and provides theory and tools on project improvement from a staff position.

Follow our improvements on our LinkedIn page!

Follow our improvements on our LinkedIn page!

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