VEO’s production excelled in a difficult year
Year 2020 turned out well for VEO’s switchgear factory. In production, overall efficiency and productivity increased despite raised concerns of material shortages due to the coronavirus pandemic. When facing a constantly altering workload, VEO’s production teams showed extreme flexibility and their efforts paid off: security of supply was maintained throughout the year and orders were finished on time.
The Production Director of VEO’s switchgear factory Mikko Tolvanen could hardly be happier about the outcome of year 2020. “The newly developed reporting system for measuring production efficiency shows increased productivity and, in combination with successfully implemented cost saving measures, both in production and logistics, our result was far better than the year before”, he says with satisfaction. Only one question still remains unanswered: how outstanding could the result have been under normal circumstances?
“I can only be grateful to our employees: the fact that our production was able to perform so well and even improve its efficiency, despite the global challenges, is something remarkable,” says Tolvanen.
Altering order volumes calls for great flexibility
One of the biggest challenges in VEO’s production in 2020 was to adjust operations to cater for an uneven and constantly fluctuating workload. The year that rocketed with many large and overlapping projects for the spring and summer was followed by an autumn when order volumes decreased worldwide. Nevertheless, VEO succeeded in securing both employee resources and components during the year, turning the challenging situation into one of VEO’s biggest successes.
“During the busiest times, especially when we had the biggest delivery in VEO’s history on our hands, our teams showed great flexibility and worked long hours. Normally we have about 100 employees working in production, but because of additional workload and some delivery peaks, we needed to expand the work force to maintain the security of supply. At most, we had up to 60 agency-hired employees who also needed guidance from our regular employees,” says Tolvanen.
VEO had prepared for the extensive workload also by renting another production facility for the coming large-scale factory acceptance tests (FAT), which turned out to be a good and appreciated decision.
“It helped us to maintain safe social distancing while we managed to deliver each project, including the major Singapore deal, according to the agreed schedule.”
Towards the end of the year, there were also times when flexibility was needed in the opposite direction.
“When the workload shifted and left some parts of production with less work, our employees proved that they don’t like to sit idly around. Instead, they took flexi-leave and shortened their worktime willingly in order to keep up the efficiency. Even the temporary lay-offs at the year-end were accepted with a sense of understanding. The past year made it clear that the VEO-employees’ flexibility towards changing workloads is a big strength for VEO,” says Tolvanen.
Although material shortages were anticipated around the world because of the pandemic restrictions, VEO pulled through the whole year without a single stop caused by a shortage. “To prevent any lack of components and halt in our production, VEO kept in close contact with the component suppliers and supervised the deliveries rigorously. The work certainly paid off”, states Tolvanen.
The production personnel’s safety was kept at a high level in VEO’s switchgear production throughout the year. All the necessary precautions were taken from a very early phase to prevent the spread of the pandemic. In addition to maintaining safe social distancing and wearing face masks at work, the teams took their breaks in turns and all the employees had their lunch breaks by their own workspace.
“Almost from day one, we also added a daily disinfection cleaning to our cleaning services and will continue with this as long as needed”, confirms Tolvanen.
Customers appreciated Remote FATs
Year 2020 called for new thinking also regarding VEO’s Factory Acceptance Tests with the customers. As the national and local travelling restrictions made obstacles for VEO’s customers to attend the tests physically, VEO had to act fast and develop new ways to run tests and demonstrate the results without risking the personnel or customer safety.
“Thanks to our well-functioning IT-infrastructure and Teams-meetings, our customers were able to participate in FATs remotely and we could share high-quality livestreams of the tests, which demonstrate both the quality and functionality, of the switchgear,” says Tolvanen. He points out that even though there was a readiness for traditional FATs in VEO’s production facilities as well, the positive feedback received from the customers for providing remote FATs was overwhelming.
“After all, we conducted almost all the FATs remotely last year,” says Tolvanen.
Development measures taking effect
In 2020, VEO’s production was also affected by many previous development measures and changes, which started to take effect. According to Tolvanen, the new reporting systems for both the stock and logistics enabled leadership through numbers and allowed VEO’s production to rapidly adjust its operations to altering volumes. In addition, production planning processes were made more consistent, and an extra resource was added to production development. Moreover, in Tolvanen’s opinion, the so-called TOP3-development projects have provided employees with a broader understanding of the work everyone does, which makes the production process smoother, especially between engineering and production. Teams were also divided into smaller units to bring team leaders closer to their team members and strengthen their role.
At the end of year 2020, a new production development project was launched in VEO’s production to promote a safer and more efficient working environment. The aim is clear: “Our intention is to use a 6S-lean process improvement tool to become even better in the future. Cleaner and more organised production facilities as well as standardised work methods will further improve the efficiency and the employees’ wellbeing in our factory,” Tolvanen concludes.
In the words of our employees
“The most memorable memory of 2020 was when the last switchgear of Neste’s Singapore delivery left the loading platform for transportation. At that moment, all the work done during the year took shape, and the feeling was one of relief and accomplishment. The year included several similar massive deliveries, and from time to time, the situation in production was tight due to the overlap of projects. However, with a good team spirit, we got everything done on schedule. I would argue that not everyone is capable of such performance. This also increased our pride towards our own professionalism.”
Tero Vainionpää, Production Manager, Singapore LV project
“Large deliveries required a lot of flexibility from the whole production unit. However, it was great to see how everyone, both permanent team members as well as agency-hired labour, were willing to also work overtime, even though most of the rush hit in the middle of the summer season. One of our most successful solutions was to lease another production facility for FAT testing. We received a lot of positive feedback from both customers and our own inspectors about this arrangement which provided not only more space but also peaceful working conditions.”
Marko Silvennoinen, Chief Shop Steward
“Until the last quarter, 2020 was really busy. Operating in two properties and implementing the results of various TOP3 development projects at the same time brought their own challenges to managing large deliveries in logistics. This was also a year of learning. Large projects also provided an opportunity to test the effectiveness of process improvement actions, practise new approaches and see the benefits they bring. All this required an atmosphere of working together, and in my opinion, we succeeded excellently.”
Terhi Antila-Storås, Logistics Manager