Cierpa blog - Interview met Lumileds

How do you survive in an ever-changing and demanding market like the automotive industry? There's only one answer: continuous improvement. Lumileds Middelburg sets the bar high. Cost engineer Rob Gommers talks about how Cierpa Suite supports their digital, company-wide improvement process. It's both innovative and motivating!

Lumileds is the global market leader in automotive lamps. What is the role of the Middelburg factory within the international company?

"Lumileds Middelburg supplies metal-, plastic-, and metal/plastic connectors, and caps for the other Lumileds plants. These are fixed products manufactured in very high volumes, of millions per batch. These batches have been running like this for years. This offers many advantages, such as a very long run, internal stock, and good alignment with our internal customer. And so the challenge for us isn't production itself, but delivering maximum consistent quality."

What does the production process work look like?

"For our metal parts, we use highly automated presses to manufacture different sorts of products. At the injection-molding department, we coat the metal parts with high-quality plastic. We do this with high precision and high quality, which is our specialty. We used highly automated lines from plastic supply to pallet and generic machines with specific molds and robots. The challenge on these lines is to produce with maximum consistency because you can't manufacture anything else on them. We also have some smaller machines that can make multiple products. The challenge here is to quickly and adequately make adjustments and not give up on efficiency."


Our challenge isn't production itself, but in delivering maximum consistent quality.

Currently, the automotive industry is facing a global decrease in demand. How do you cope with that?

"We continuously try to deploy our resources and our people effectively. Ten percent of our workforce consists of innovation— real specialists, who we want to keep busy. With less demand from the automotive sector, we are looking for different ways to use their knowledge.

We started brainstorming with the province about an innovation center where startups and small businesses can use our expertise. In the past year, we have already started on a small scale, even though the feasibility study on the Technology Center is still running. We do design scans to look the feasibility of manufacturing a product, whether it can be made cheaper or faster. We can also rent out a piece of a building so others may use our available production capacity.

Cierpa is also part of the process: it's an excellent opportunity to show early on what software can do in the production process, which generally only comes up later. 


As an innovative company, we would like to put our knowledge and resources to good use for other parties.


It's a beautiful initiative for all parties involved. We are currently looking at the feasibility of upscaling it with multiple parties, like other companies and research and educational institutions. We can put our knowledge and resources to good use, and other companies, startups, scaleups, and students get access to practical knowledge that is otherwise not available anywhere."


Lumileds also has an innovative approach to continuous improvement. How did that start?

"Lumileds used to be a part of Philips, a company that valued continuous improvement very early on, so that was instilled in us from an early age. And ever since we started supplying automotive products only, the need to improve has increased even more. The automotive customer already expects you to ensure an issue will not repeat itself the next time. This means you have to keep improving, and processes have to be optimized to make sure complaints don't repeat themselves."


Continuous improvement is something we were taught at an early age. That's a good thing because you have to keep improving and optimizing in our industry.

Which improvement methods do you use in the improvement process?

"We obviously work with improvement proposals, called Kaizens, that people can submit themselves. We also have improvement teams for more extensive problems that can't be solved easily. We tackle them with multifunctional teams. We use structured methods to find out the problem before we draw conclusions and start changing something.

These improvement teams can be really fanatical. We even have a worldwide competition: the Quality Improvement Competition. Improvement teams from different factories compete annually for the best quality, process, speed, or cost improvements. A jury assesses these improvements, both internally and externally. The winning teams then meet up somewhere in the world. All improvements come up during a fun week, which is also the reward for everyone's efforts, of course.

The idea behind the QIC is that it's about work floor teams, not about innovators or engineers. It's about stimulating improvement on the work floor. It makes people proud to have solved a complex problem. It motivates when that's being appreciated."

You use Cierpa Software to support your improvement process. It all started with Cierpa OEE and has grown into an entire Software Suite. How did that come about?

"The improvement process never stops with us. We always have new questions, and Cierpa always responds to them. Customization raises both the software and our improvement process to a higher level; that's a win-win situation for both parties.  


Together with Cierpa, we raise improving to a higher level.


It was a growing process. We started with Cierpa OEE when we missed a data layer in our improvement process. We had already implemented many improvements, so where did the problems arise?

When that was running for a while, we had to address an issue with our old document management system. Cierpa came up with a solution in the Competence module. That was really great because it allowed us to link documents directly to the OEE and the machine, making it very easy to retrieve the proper documentation quickly. Then, we integrated the fault catalog in Competence, which works very smoothly.

After that, we started using Cierpa Kaizen. That was quite a relief compared to the drama of submitting improvement proposals in Excel. For many people submitting an improvement proposal becomes a lot easier. And it motivates them to see that their proposals are actually implemented.


Cierpa Kaizen was a relief after the drama of submitting improvement proposals in Excel.


We have already achieved a lot, but we are never done. For example, we recently added a maintenance module to Kaizen. We continue growing together and keep on advancing in the improvement process."


What is the advantage of the Cierpa Software Suite over separate systems?

"For a user or an operator, the Cierpa Suite feels like one system. Using the links, you can easily switch from one to the other without logging in again or working in a different system. From OEE, you can make a logbook entry in Kaizen. From OEE, you can go to Competence to locate your documentation. The software is essentially one big factory environment where you can find everything."

What do you think is the key to successfully improving?

"It's about appreciating the minor improvements. Small improvements can eliminate those tiny irritations. And a lot of small steps add up to one giant step.

It's also important to realize that improving is something you do together with the people who manufacture every day. It won't work with an improvement guru in an office who will tell you how things work. Listen to your people, especially on the work floor: they know what works and what doesn't work well."

After a long improvement process, we retrieved a production line from China back to Middelburg. That makes us feel proud.

What improvement success makes you proud?

"We used to have four production lines for a given product. One of those lines was located in China, with an external supplier, and the other three were in Middelburg. We were able to improve and speed up the Middelburg process up to the point where we could bring our entire production from China back to the Netherlands. We managed to do this without investing in extra equipment or extra people. We were able to beat China on cost and quality. It was a very long process, with a lot of people involved, and it's great that we made such a success out of it."