using teamwork and communication to improve performance

At Aalberts advanced mechatronics, our customers include some of the most technologically advanced companies in the world. They demand excellence from themselves – and from us in turn. At times this requires us to completely rethink the way we work and uncover untapped potential within ourselves and our organization.

One such situation arose at IDE at the beginning of this year. In response to developments within the semicon industry, one of their key customers had significantly increased the level of quality IDE is expected to deliver. What’s more, IDE was already struggling to hit the previous targets. But rather than push back or try to maintain the status quo, the IDE management team decided to put their heads together to find a way to improve how we work and deliver the excellence our customers expect from us.

This led to the creation of the Quality First Program. This program kicked off in January with a workshop introducing the management team to Hoshin Kanri, a method for improving quality by linking continuous improvement initiatives to all levels of an organization and its strategic vision. The exotic name and methodology definitely piqued people’s interest. “When they heard about the workshop, everybody was curious about the results and what changes would take place,” says Marc Filzen, Key Account Manager for the customer. “Fortunately, most people already felt like things had to change and were ready to find ways to improve.”

To build on that curiosity and openness, the improvement initiatives management developed were shared with everyone in IDE. Employees also got guided tours to see changes that had been implemented. Initially, some were worried about adding to existing workloads and figuring out how to prioritize and skeptical that the initiatives would really help. To address these concerns, the quality team was expanded and IDE leadership welcomed questions and regularly informed everyone what was being done and how things were progressing.

Green Belt Team IDE
Green Belt certification recipients

Trainings were also given to help shift mindsets and create accountability. For example, during one workshop employees learned how quality issues that seem minor at IDE can cause considerable negative impact for IDE’s customers and their customers’ customers. Also, a group of employees from throughout IDE were chosen to run improvement projects, and as needed were given Green Belt training to ensure they were well equipped to take ownership of their projects.

It took a while to see results, but eventually the hard work started paying off. In the nine months since the Quality First Program began, the team has been able to bring their error rate from 5% down to 0.25%. This massive improvement goes beyond the target IDE set for itself for 2020 and puts the team on track to meet the customer’s target next year. Marc says, “Everyone is proud of what we’ve achieved – not only because we’re doing a better job for our customer, but also because they can see that the results have positively improved their daily work life. We’ve also gotten better at working together and feel confident about meeting our goals going forward.”

Another great result to come out of the program has been developing a closer collaboration with the customer. “When we told the customer about our plans to improve quality, they suggested that we collaborate,” says Marc. “This way of working has turned out to be extremely valuable. We speak regularly and they ask tough questions. These interactions not only help us satisfy them better – they also help us become a better company.”

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