People remain indispensable in high-tech
Automation and robotization are making production processes in factories faster and more efficient. People seem redundant, but appearances are deceptive.
Anyone walking through the factory of high-tech manufacturing company KMWE at BIC (Brainport Industries Campus) will see the most advanced machines and the smartest robots working day and night to make high-quality products. Yet, what stands out are the human welders assembling complex parts. A robot can’t do that job yet. Even the final inspection – before a product leaves the factory – always involves human eyes and the latest vision technologies—an interesting interplay of man and machine.
KMWE’s Aerospace division is moving to Brainport Industries Campus (BIC) in Eindhoven. By the end of this year, all its activities and associated machinery must be transferred to the new location. The huge factory halls will be equipped with the world’s smartest and most precise robots. This is necessary, as KMWE Aerospace makes parts for aircraft and engines, including for F-35 fighter planes, all tasks that must be done with extreme care and precision. Hence, there are many shiny, high-tech machines and smart robots. But most important of all? People. “Without good people, we won’t get there,” says Stijn Daemen, director of Aerospace at KMWE.
KMWE makes parts for sectors such as Semicon, Healthtech, and Aerospace. Aerospace activities can be divided into two categories: aerostructures and aero engines. “At aerostructures, we mainly make parts for the fuselage and aircraft wings. At aero engine, we produce components for aircraft gas turbine engines. Our expertise is mainly sheet metal forming, machining of different materials, welding, and heat treatments. We use these techniques to make parts that go directly into our customers’ assembly lines. The parts are assembled there into a complete end product,” Daemen says. The company works a lot for the Minister of Defense, for example, when it comes to parts for planes, but also for commercial aviation.
“Aviation is a super interesting, but also difficult sector to work in. All parts must meet high-quality requirements and can’t just be made in any factory. At KMWE, we have several certifications for performing processes and inspecting parts,” he explains. That is why several advanced robots can be found in the factory halls, but humans remain indispensable.
Humans are indispensable
Digitalization and automation are an essential development in manufacturing companies. Despite the latest technologies, for example, in 3D printing, people are still crucial. “But it is difficult to get people; many manufacturing companies will acknowledge that,” says Lotte Withag, HR business partner. “KWME is a dynamic company in which new developments are happening constantly. We naturally change along with the market and our customers, for example, in the sustainability field.”
Since finding good employees is difficult, KMWE is committed to training young talents. There is a strong connection with Summa College, which teaches part of its training programs at BIC. “We have been training BBL students – Beroeps Begeleidende Leerweg, a practice-oriented career path Dutch students can choose after high school – for years. They partly go to school, and they partly work with us. We see them grow all the way in the industry and their jobs. They are driven; they go for craftsmanship. That’s great to see. We hope to further expand the collaborations with education institutions at BIC in the future, both with Summa and the other colleges on the campus such as Fontys and Avans.”
Part of KMWE’s factory hall is specially equipped for the students. Here, they can experiment with the machines to eventually work with them. “The school space in the middle of the factory hall gives the students the right environment to learn from the start. The students receive intensive guidance from KMWE and all the space they need to learn,” Daemen says.
Feeling of community
Besides the connection with education, there is also a strong link with other companies at BIC. “We work intensively with several companies that are also located on campus. For example, Yaskawa supplies some robots, Rubix provides the company clothing, and Faes Packaging provides the packaging material for our products and logistics services,” Withag said. Having all the companies located in the same place, a community is created. Daemen: “The lines of communication are short, and we can easily coordinate matters with each other. That is interesting from a business point of view, but it is also nice for the people who walk around here. Having lunch together or going for a walk in the green surroundings is the order of the day.”
KMWE is a great example to show how BIC’s ecosystem works. They have an active role in innovation programs, giving substance to binding, engaging, and retaining talent. “We are very pleased to welcome KMWE Aerospace to BIC. We see this as a great addition to the growing ecosystem,” says Erik Veurink, campus director of BIC
Author: Linda Bak
More on Innovation Origins: https://innovationorigins.com/en/people-remain-indispensable-in-high-tech/
or read the article in Dutch: Mensen blijven onmisbaar in hightech