Focusing on quality and reliability through people and digital technology launched ST Engineering’s Belgian factory towards the future. Anyone expecting glitzy robots or ultramodern AGVs on the production floor of a Factory of the Future will come away empty-handed from ST Engineering, formerly known as Newtec. Nonetheless, their products are also exploring space in the meantime.
The Erpe-Mere (Belgium) based manufacturing SME Newtec develops and produces highly technical, complex satellite communication equipment. To be able to cope with the high quality requirements of its customers, Newtec transformed itself to a digitised factory, with full focus on the employee. Starting with digitising production instructions for a few thousand products to taking up the challenge of having all information at the right time at the right place in production.
This enabled Newtec to bring appr. 200 new products into production every year with a first pass yield level of >95%. Working for 7 years on lean pull systems, throughput times have been reduced from 9 to less than 5 working days, turnover per employee rose by 25%. This successful transformation made Newtec Erpe-Mere double the number of jobs in their factory from 2015 up to 2019 and earn the Belgian Factory of the Future (FoF) label already 3 times in a row. Currently, for batch sizes smaller than 10k pieces, the Erpe-Mere facility in Belgium is able to produce their high-quality products better AND cheaper than any Far Eastern supplier.
We have started sending prototypes of our equipment to Newtec because they can get remaining issue fixed much better and quicker than we can do ourselves.
Success gets noticed
The above performance levels as well as the multi-year Factory of the Future status led to the acquisition of Newtec by iDirect, an Singapore-based multinational satellite company. Since then, Newtec has adopted “ST Engineering” as its corporate brand, and the factory in Erpe-Mere was able to raise employment by another 20 people. A lot of effort has been put into creating an even more flexible factory set-up in order to enable cross-manufacturing within the global ST Engineering group.
Whoever wants to become a Factory of the Future must show the necessary openness. We have visited several companies. We are part of the panel that assesses the other candidates and a member of Agoria’s Advanced Manufacturing group, and we receive visits from universities on a regular basis. You learn something from each visit, each event. It is the symbiosis of all the information that we ultimately implement in our own setting.
Guy De Winne
VP Global Performance at ST Engineering & former plant manager Newtec Factory
Summarizing, the factory’s FoF journey consisted of following stages :
|Stage 1||State-of-the-art equipment|
|Stage 2||Excellent & skilled team|
|Stage 3||Look beyond current technologies & traditional ways of working|
|Stage 4||Long-year client partnerships|
|Stage 5||World-class ‘Manufacturing as a Service’ (MaaS) partner factory|
…and now they already made it to Mars!
People instead of robots
We mentioned it at the outset: People, not machines, make the decisions on the production floor of ST Engineering iDirect. A deliberate choice?
Mr. De Winne: “The nature of the work – fine work with a major focus on the interpretation of quality standards – makes extensive automation unfeasible. First of all, it is not repetitive work, because our series vary from prototypes and unique one-piece parts to series of up to 5,000, even if they are rather sporadic. The lead time depends somewhat on the complexity and varies from a few hours to a few days. The same applies to the cycle time. With us, you won’t find any assembly line work where an employee has to perform the same action every 15 seconds. This is more likely to be in the order of an hour or more. It is even possible that an employee has to spend a whole week assembling and checking one piece, only to make the same piece again with a minimal change.”
Click here to read the full interview with Mr. De Winne. Enjoy.