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Efficient production automation starts with people work

Efficient production automation starts with people work

ERP system and laser cutting machine understand each other

Efficient production automation starts with people work

 

SixPointTwo has various in-house techniques for sheet metal processing. Laser cutting is one such technique. A Trumpf laser cutting machine was purchased for this purpose in 2018. Before the machine was delivered, consideration was given to the optimum method for the machine to communicate with ECI Bemet’s ERP system that SixPointTwo had been using for many years. Gerrit KleinJan of ECI Bemet and Tomáš Kautcký from Trumpf tell us what that entailed.

Sheet metal cutting is all about quality and cost efficiency. Therefore, the ERP system and the laser cutting machine must communicate well with each other in all phases of production control. “The biggest challenge is to always ensure the correct data gets from the ERP system to the laser cutting machine so the machine can provide feedback. Working with SixPointTwo, it was decided to first define the optimal process of production and control”, says KleinJan. He knows the ERP system through and through. “At the time, I was also involved in its implementation.”

Include outsourcing as an option
Together with the SixPointTwo team in the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, KleinJan and Kautcký went through the process step by step. Specific wishes were formulated during this process. “SixPointTwo wanted to be able to decide during the process whether to outsource an order if this offered a more cost-efficient option and/or if it was a better fit after considering planning and available capacity. The decision is made partly on the basis of the information that the machine sends back”, says KleinJan. How does that work? ”The ERP system communicates the orders the machine will execute. One of the things used for this is the start date and the delivery date of each order. The machine must then return information for each order: How much time will it take to complete the job? Is there enough time, or does the job require too much capacity from the machine? In the latter case, the order will be returned to the ERP system and the order outsourced.”

Nesting
KleinJan noticed the option of integrating outsourcing into the production management process was not being utilised very often. “After internal processing had been chosen in the process, an option to choose outsourcing based on available capacity was still required. This was a challenge, particularly for the programmer. We solved this within the link between ERP and laser cutting machine by including fields within the ERP that state which cutting jobs are already nested in the laser cutting system and which jobs are not. For each of these fields there is a definition about which data must be supplied from the laser cutting machine. This two-way street offers real communication. And it’s necessary for optimal control. As soon as the laser cutting machine has completed a job, the machine returns specific data for a subsequent calculation, such as the duration of the cutting operation and the material consumption.”
Another challenge focused on the exceptions: “What do you do if something goes wrong during the production process, if the order is cancelled, or the order is only partially completed? We also thought about this beforehand”, says KleinJan.

Smooth process
Defining the process was a smooth operation according to Kautcký. “We quickly came to our agreements: we took just two days to decide how we would go about it all. For Trumpf, the challenge was not as great as it was for ECI Bemet. Our first task was to provide documentation about the machine and adequate descriptions of the interfaces.” After completing the programming work at ECI Bemet, the necessary tests were carried out. The link appeared to work from the outset. “SixPointTwo played an important role in achieving this positive result”, says Kautcký. “They had a clear picture of the process and knew exactly what they wanted. You don’t see that often in projects like this.” KleinJan: “They gave us the time to ensure we had good preparation. This enabled us to deliver a great product with Trumpf.”

 

 

SixPointTwo has commissioned a second welding robot

The welding robot will never have to stand still again

SixPointTwo has commissioned a second welding robot

 

SixPointTwo now has two welding robots, both supplied by Valk Welding. Why are welding robots indispensable? Can they get any more efficient? Ad van Boxel, Technical Adviser at Valk Welding, shares his thoughts.

SixPointTwo first approached Valk Welding in 2016. The expansion of our production capacity necessitated additional welding capacity. “Especially the welding for serial production runs”, says van Boxel. A further increase in production led to the purchase of a second welding robot in 2021. “Like the first, this is also a complete welding robot system in which the welding robot is mounted on a stable H-frame. We also supplied DTPS: the software package for offline programming.”

Efficient use of time
How does the performance of welding robots compare to the performance of professionals? “Research has shown that a manual welder is actually welding 15% to 20% of their time. The remaining time is spent on other activities, such as loading and measuring the product. A well-managed robot installation, on the other hand, uses 70% to 80% of the start-up time for welding.” If you consider that skilled welders are increasingly difficult to find, and that they stop work every day after eight hours, you will understand why welding robots are indispensable. “A welding robot just keeps going. Depending on the production order, you can press start, turn off the lights and go home.” You no longer need a qualified welder for the human actions that have to be performed on the robot installation. “Any operator can perform them.”

Offline programming for extra production time
DTPS, the software package for offline programming, saves SixPointTwo even more time. “There are two programming options: online and offline programming. Online programming is done on the robot itself. The robot can’t be used for production during programming.” Offline programming doesn’t have that disadvantage. “This eliminates downtime. While the machine is running, you can programme on the PC. And when the programme’s ready, you send it to the welding robot.”

Always find the weld seam
First time right was an important performance requirement for SixPointTwo when choosing the welding robot system. “Our welding robot is equipped with Quick Touch Sensing. This means it can anticipate tolerances. Using the welding wire, it first searches for the product to determine where the weld seam is. The programme is therefore automatically adjusted for each weld seam, which means you get a perfect weld. It always finds the weld seam.” According to van Boxel, this is exactly what metal companies need. “As an example, sheet metal settles and always has many deviations. This welding robot can deal with these easily.”

Measure and check
It’s also important that the robot maintains control over the process. “This is because the welding source and the robot communicate with each other. The robot adds welding wire if necessary, and will stop automatically if there’s a problem or it runs out of welding wire.” In addition, the welding robot is equipped with Automatic Tool Control. “This programme lets the robot check whether the tool (the welding torch) is still in the original position on the robot arm. As a user, you can set the desired frequency of checking yourself. If problems are found, the robot will report them. The user can then repair it or have it repaired.” ATC ensures the robot continues to deliver the same performance from the moment of delivery. “A torch that isn’t in the right position shouldn’t be allowed to produce abnormal results.”

Under development
Valk Welding has offices in Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the Czech Republic, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland. The company only supplies welding robots from Panasonic. “Our relationship with Panasonic dates back to 1988. Our management team forms a part of the Panasonic development team. We’re therefore thoroughly familiar with their systems. All our technicians are trained to work with them. If a customer has a problem, we can solve it.”

Developments are moving quickly. Valk Welding is committed to fully automated offline programming. “To make it even easier for our customers, we want to shorten programming times for a large number of applications. In our steel construction, we’ve already reached the point where programmes can be generated offline using 3D packages.” In a new step forward, if all our production programmes can be made offline, the welding robot can also be considered ideal for single-piece production and it will never have to stand still again.

 

SixPointTwo has commissioned a second welding robot
Will blockchain become the source of truth in the steel market?

Will blockchain become the source of truth in the steel market?

Will blockchain become the source of truth in the steel market?

Tom Meulendijks: “SteelTrace is changing the supply chain!”

 

It takes thousands of hours to manually check a product for customer specifications, legal rules and standards. The result is often a PDF document confirming that the product meets all requirements. But do you really want to take a PDF document as a watertight guarantee? Tom Meulendijks, CEO of SteelTrace, spotted an opportunity and room for improvement.

“A few years ago, I worked on a tool for managing these PDF documents for a supplier to the petrochemical industry. At the time, it was assumed that changes could not be made to such documents. And I thought the control process could be properly secured using blockchain technology. This allows you to store all the data about standards, regulations and customer specifications. You can then translate that data into algorithms with which you can check and secure the data.”

Quality assurance is crucial
To achieve his idea, Meulendijks founded SteelTrace in 2017. The company is active in Asia, the United States and Europe. “We focus on the market for the high-end steel used in the (petro)chemical industry.” The quality of the steel and its associated certification is crucial in this market involving vast sums of money. “You can’t tell the difference between good and bad steel just by looking at it. In addition, steel often only arrives at the end user’s location from the factory after travelling through various suppliers.” With paper documents, this is a process that’s wide open to fraud. “Suppose someone buys high-quality steel pipes from a good steel manufacturer. They can then buy cheaper pipes of inferior quality and easily copy the certificate and heat number of the high-quality pipes. They can then use this certificate and send it with the inferior pipes that they resell.”

Platform for transparency and certainty
From steel manufacturer to end user, SteelTrace makes the supply chain transparent. “Our platform has four certainties built into it: real-time structured data, traceability, protection against fraud and automation.”

Real-time structured data: efficiency
Control processes can be slow. “I know of cases where ships were unable to sail because the quality manager was only able to review the paper documents a week after the lab tests, and then a few problems appeared.” When the supply chain works with SteelTrace, things are different. “Control activities take place in one go. Quality managers, labs and inspectors enter the data directly into the platform and sign it digitally in real time. If test values deviate from the specifications and/or standards, this is immediately detected and logged.” Reviewing paper documents is no longer necessary, all platform users can see exactly where the process is at any time.

Traceability: every step is visible
The SteelTrace platform ensures every step is visible. “Who conducted the test? Was the person certified to do that? Was the machine certified and calibrated? Was the inspector authorised to sign? Everything is visible. In addition, all the data is secured with blockchain technology and can always be traced back to the source.” Data can be easily checked via a smartphone. “Every platform user has a secure digital identity to identify them.”

Protection against fraud
The identity of everyone who plays a role in the control process within the supply chain is checked in advance and their powers established. Quantity tracking and transfer of ownership are other built-in protections against fraud. “During sales, certificates are simultaneously transferred with the ownership of products. Certificates are always linked to products. There are always as many certificates as there are checked products within the SteelTrace platform. This removes the financial incentive for fraud.” See the example in the insert for more information.

Unnoticed fraud is not possible
A manufacturer makes 1,000 high-quality steel pipes. They are entered into the SteelTrace database. The 1,000 pipes are certified and checked. Whenever the manufacturer sells a pipe from this set of 1,000, ownership of it passes to the buyer along with the certificate. Suppose someone buys 19 inferior pipes on the black market and one high-quality pipe from the set of 1,000. This person then requests the certificate for the high-quality pipe from within the SteelTrace platform. The step is digitally registered. If they then mark the 19 inferior pipes with the heat number of the high-quality pipe, they’ll have a buyer for each pipe. But before the transfer of each pipe can occur with a certificate, each buyer must request the digital certificate in SteelTrace. Once they do, the 19 buyers will receive a message from SteelTrace informing them that the certificate is no longer in the seller’s possession. They’ll then know that something is wrong.” 

Automation: compliance by design
All the standards, requirements and data supplied by suppliers are automated. As a result, all the control and monitoring processes are automated and the data is immediately available in its entirety. Tests and test values can be checked automatically. Manual, error-prone checks are no longer necessary. Meulendijks: “The result is that customers save tens of thousands of man-hours, which equates to millions of euros. That’s our business case.” But even more savings can be made. “Because the company’s risk profile is improved, the insurance costs go down. A reliable supply chain also pays for itself in incident reduction: there will be less premature perishing of materials. As part of due diligence, assets will be valued higher.” Meulendijks has long since ceased to receive sceptical reactions to the blockchain technology. “Our target group is interested in any secure, digital solution that makes it possible to work even more effectively.”

SteelTrace is changing the supply chain
Meulendijks sees many more applications in the steel market. “We can also make processes and additions to the base steel material transparent and secure. These include welding, forging steel or adding plastic to pipes. We can also make information about the carbon footprint and ESG scores visible.” He also sees another useful application: “Making the country in which the steel operations have been carried out visible. This allows you to demonstrate in which tax bracket your company falls, which means you can avoid excessive tax assessments.” And Meulendijks looks even further ahead: “SteelTrace’s ambition is to become the single source of truth for the entire steel supply chain.”

 

 

How are you helping Ukrainian colleagues and their families?

How are you helping Ukrainian colleagues and their families?

Jiří Vepřek: “We’re doing everything we can”

 

SixPointTwo in Humpolec employs 16 Ukrainian people on permanent contracts. “When the war broke out, we immediately said: we want to help them. We asked what we could do for their family and friends in Ukraine”, says Finance Manager Jiří Vepřek. He tells us how SixPointTwo offers help and how the Ukrainian colleagues are doing.

As a result of the war, many Ukrainians fled their country. In addition, Ukrainian men have returned to help defend their country, either voluntarily or at the behest of the Ukrainian government. What makes Humpolec different? “Returning to Ukraine is particularly important for people who work for companies in the Czech Republic on a temporary basis through external agencies.” Returning to Ukraine is not on the cards for a number of the permanent Ukrainian employees at SixPointTwo. “Before the war, they already lived here and had no plans to return.”

Help as needed
Until the war, some employees lived in Humpolec and their families lived in Ukraine. “One of them wanted to bring his wife, mother and two children to Humpolec. Our plant manager drove with him to the Slovakia-Ukraine border to pick them up. SixPointTwo then helped with all the formalities such as applying for a work permit, residence permit and state benefits. A house has also been arranged for them. His wife now works at SixPointTwo. And their two children are already going to school in Humpolec.”
We also managed to arrange a large house for another of our colleagues who has six children and whose wife is pregnant. “Unfortunately, it’s located 40 kilometres from Humpolec. His wife and children live there. The husband is there at weekends; during the week he stays in Humpolec.” Vepřek himself has two young women and a girl staying with him on a temporary basis. “They want to return to Ukraine, but that’s not possible for the time being.”

Single point of contact
In addition to providing help with the arrival of relatives, SixPointTwo also offers support in other ways. “My HR colleague is the first point of contact for our Ukrainian colleagues. They can contact her with all their questions. She does a great job and arranges a lot for them such as taxi transport, communication with authorities and lease agreements. Where necessary, she brings in other colleagues from SixPointTwo. There’s also co-operation with other companies, such as when Ukrainian newcomers are looking for a job. As an example, the heavy work in our production environment isn’t always suitable for women. We try to refer them to lighter work at other companies in Humpolec.”

Initiative for large-scale reception
Together with other companies, SixPointTwo also developed a plan to welcome refugees and help them to integrate. “There’s a house in Humpolec where older, single people used to be cared for. This care home could accommodate about 100 people and was closed last year. SixPointTwo has drawn up a plan with other companies: if the municipality opens the building to Ukrainian families, the companies will offer support in various ways. This includes paying energy costs, having Czech language lessons provided by a teacher, paying the wages of a concierge, school contributions for children, building playgrounds and putting beds in there.” Unfortunately, the municipality is yet to make a decision on the matter. “It’s a shame because this project can make life easier for the refugees and for the residents of Humpolec.”

Positive attitude
How have our Ukrainian colleagues been doing in the meantime? “They were completely in shock when it all started. But they’ve adapted to the situation. Returning to Ukraine is no longer an option for some of them, as they come from cities and villages that have been destroyed. However, they have a positive attitude and appreciate SixPointTwo’s efforts. The Ukrainians also support each other wherever they can. The atmosphere in the company is good: we’re all willing to help each other and we’ll see how it goes.”

 

How are you helping Ukrainian colleagues and their families?
Powder coating or wet painting?

Powder coating or wet painting?

Powder coating or wet painting?

Ben Hoppener: “Impact resistance of powder coating is important advantage”

 

Wet painting is a centuries-old process used for the treatment of various surfaces. In the 1970s, another process for industrial treatment of metal surfaces arrived: powder coating. What are the advantages and disadvantages of wet painting and powder coating? Ben Hoppener from Coatingadvies Nederland in Udenhout shares his views.

Hoppener has worked as a consultant for clients such as Brabantia, Philips, Heras Hekwerk and SixPointTwo. “My colleague and I work all over the world. We support both powder coating companies and production companies with in-house powder coating lines.” The support is mainly aimed at the setup and optimisation of production lines, and at quality improvement across the entire process. “At the time, I advised SixPointTwo on the design of the powder coating line.”

Powder coating easily automated
The comparison between wet painting and powder coating starts with a crucial factor: the layer. “Powder coating applied properly produces a strong layer. This layer is resistant to bumps and scratches, and is not easily damaged. An important advantage.” Another advantage is that powder coating is easier to automate than wet painting. “A large part of the surface to be treated can be powder coated using a spray robot. It doesn’t require complicated settings. The operator can spray awkward spots by hand.” Powder coating is also more practical in terms of drying. “The treated products are put into the muffle furnace. Inside, the powder melts and becomes hard as a rock. The products can then be packaged immediately. Wet-painted products, on the other hand, often take a few days to dry.” The fact powder coating requires a muffle furnace, does constitute a disadvantage. “You can’t really powder coat a steel bridge or other extremely sizeable products. There are some exceptions, but about 15 metres is usually the limit. You would need furnaces of such dimensions that powder coating is no longer financially attractive.”

Environmental and health & safety aspects
How do the two processes score when it comes to environment and health? “Firing the furnace takes quite a lot of gas: this is a disadvantage of powder coating.” Wet painting has a different drawback. “The yield is much lower than that of powder coating. This is because with wet painting, the overspray – the quantity that is sprayed next to the product – is completely lost, unlike with powder coating. A recovery system on the sprayer can return the overspray to the storage tank for reuse. As such, the powder used can achieve a yield of up to 95%.” What about personal safety? “Wet paint often contains solvents that are released during spraying and the drying process. Powder coating, on the other hand, contains no solvents, so that less personal protective equipment is required.”

Operator professionalism is important
The corrosion resistance of the treated product partly depends on the type of powder coating used. “However, pre-treatment is just as important with powder coating”, Hoppener says. “It requires a controlled, systematic process.” Many companies, including SixPointTwo, have fully automated this process. “The products always receive the same pre-treatment, which includes chemical baths.” Operators use fixed procedures to measure whether the pre-treatment baths have the desired composition. Other parts of the process are automated too. “The settings for the muffle furnace have to be just right, and these are different for every product. Other factors are dosing the powder, writing correct programmes for the powder coat equipment, and the layer thickness.”
Well-trained operators are indispensable here. “I give practical training as far away as Israel and China. I go out on the shop floor in my overalls to impart knowledge and skills, just as I did at SixPointTwo.” Hoppener can also be of assistance in carrying out checks on the final quality of the coating, such as its resistance to environmental influences, through his company M2LAB.

Latest developments
According to Hoppener, there are no spectacular developments in the world of powder coating. “There are still powder coatings being developed that last longer and longer, like coatings for high-end facade construction that can easily withstand 20 years of sun, for example.” The market is more or less established. “Wet painting is often more suitable for very large products, for products where an extremely high-quality visual finish is required, or if a few products just need a quick coat. For large batches of not-too-sizeable products, powder coating is actually always the best solution. It makes the coating much stronger and it is often cheaper because it can be fully automated.”

SixPointTwo has an advanced powder coating line. If you would like to find out more, please contact Willian van Eerd, willian.van.eerd@sixpointtwo.eu.

 

New style bicycle parking MB Fietsparkeren (bicycle parking)

New style bicycle parking MB Fietsparkeren (bicycle parking)

Maurice Paulssen: “I make products I wouldn’t mind having myself.”

 

Maurice Paulssen has been developing products all his life. For example, he developed products for the car industry that were sold across the globe. Now he is active in the world of bicycle parking, with the Eindhoven-based company MB Fietsparkeren. Innovation is his passion: “I look at a product and I think: how can I make it better and more beautiful and sell it too!”

Through a relation who rented out bicycle parking spaces for events, he became involved in the creation and installation of bicycle stands in 2009. This gave Paulssen – a keen cyclist in his free time – the idea for better, more user-friendly bicycle parking.

Universal system
“My system is different because it is suitable for every type of bicycle”, says Paulssen. “It works by way of automatic clamps on the front fork. E-bike, normal bike, racing bike, transport bike, or a bike with a crate on the front: every bike is held upright.” This ensures ease of use and orderly bicycle parking. “At bicycle parking locations with traditional wheel stands, you will often see electric bikes and also other bikes parked next to the stand. Why? People are afraid the wheel won’t go in properly and warp the rim. This can never happen with my system.”

Suitable for racked parking
Paulssen patented the system in 2010. All MB Fietsparkeren’s parking locations are based on this system. You can recognise them by the V-clamp with the sloping groove for the wheel. The system is also practical for racked parking where bicycles are placed one above the other. “In conventional bicycle parking, you have to push the bike to the top, which is difficult, the bike becomes heavy. It is much more convenient for the bike to be able to move up and down horizontally. For this purpose, I have devised a lift for multiple racks on top of each other. This just moves up and down. The lift is not suitable for a train station where lots of people come and go at the same time, but it does work well in an apartment complex or company bicycle stands, for example.”

Three systems
MB Fietsparkeren has launched three bicycle stand designs on the market. You can see them all around the Netherlands: at Scheveningen beach, in Groningen at the Hanseatic University of Applied Sciences, and in various Limburg municipalities. You can also see them at several locations in Belgium, such as Aalst city centre. “The bicycle parking systems all work the same way, but are different in design and exterior. The MB ECO is the basic system. The MB BASIC has a more high-end design, with extra sturdy lock fixings. The crème de la crème is offered by our newest bicycle parking system: the MB Wave. This system can be fitted with integrated charging points for electric bicycles,”

Production in the Czech Republic
The stands are made from galvanised steel. MB Fietsparkeren outsources its production. “Drawings and parts lists all get sent to the production partner. I carry out the final inspection of the products supplied.” Experience was gained with various production partners. “We eventually found SixPointTwo. Their head office is close by: in Weert. It makes things easy for the final inspection. The contact is important too. I will get an immediate response to a question, I don’t have to chase it up by phone or e-mail.” Also important – of course – is the quality of the Czech-made products. “Radiuses or weld thicknesses: everything is made exactly in accordance with the drawing. In theory, this should be the case with other partners too, but in reality, there are differences. SixPointTwo just makes very good products.”

Constant innovation
Paulssen expects a lot from an innovation that will soon be launched: infrared sensors. “The idea was awarded the Intertraffic Award in 2014. Now the software is completely ready, and so is the market.” The infrared sensors are placed in the wheel groove. Once a bicycle is parked, a timer is activated. “One person can look at the PC screen and see where each bicycle is, how long it has been there, and when a bicycle is removed. Wardens can take a targeted approach to the issue of abandoned and stray bikes. What’s more, there is a constant overview of the capacity utilisation of the bicycle parking facilities: useful for determining whether they are actually in the right location.” In the event of bicycle theft, camera images can be viewed quickly. In short, very interesting for large companies, student campuses, and local authorities!”

 

New style bicycle parking MB Fietsparkeren (bicycle parking)
Human resources in times of scarcity

Human resources in times of scarcity

Human resources in times of scarcity

Magda Rajdlová: “Employee marketing? There’s no recipe for it!”

 

Business is booming. The economy is running at full speed. Naturally this is great, but it also has a downside: companies are having a lot of trouble finding the right people. After all skilled workers have the pick of the jobs right now. SixPointTwo is also struggling with this problem. “Unfortunately, there is no ready-made solution,” says HR officer Magda Rajdlová.

Being visible to as many potential employees as possible is a priority for SixPointTwo recruitment. “Now that professionals are scarce, we cannot expect to come across people with the right qualifications immediately. That is why we decided to focus on people without qualifications as well. We can then train them ourselves”, Rajdlová explains.

Pulling out all the stops for attention
Humpolec and surrounding area saw intensive recruiting. “Among the things we did were a bulk SMS, a direct mailing posted through 29,000 letter boxes, and billboards placed at easily visible locations. Always carrying the main message: if you want to roll your sleeves up you are welcome.” Creative concepts formed the basis for commercials with regional broadcasters, and for advertorials and advertisements in local newspapers. “For example, the advertorials made use of the concept: ‘this is how much fun it is to work at SixPointTwo’, and was aimed at candidates for all roles, from cleaner to member of the board. The concept ‘Grandmas and grandads read the newspaper and tell their children about new jobs’ was used in advertisements.” There was mixed success. “The first time a concept was used, the response was good. As soon as we repeated it, it no longer worked. The reason for this is not clear. We will have to select a new approach every time”, Rajdlová concludes.

In-house training not always successful
Actually, SixPointTwo gained quite a few new people from the recruitment campaigns. Those who had the right qualification were put to work immediately. The others received internal training first. “This also created some informative experiences”, says Rajdlová. In-house training is great for roles such as mechanical assembly operator. However, roles involving welding and sheet folding are more complex, and we noticed that in-house training was less helpful.

Continuing to bind and engage employees
Attracting new employees alone is not enough, of course. “SixPointTwo wants to remain an appealing employer, both to newcomers and existing employees. We try to enhance the group spirit by various means, such as a three-monthly newsletter, birthday cards, and exercising together. We even have our own football team taking part in a regional competition”, explains Rajdlová.

The COVID-19 epidemic imposed restrictions on group activities and more. “We found a solution: the Challenge Cup. Every four to five weeks, we organise an indoor activity that is organised and carried out in a coronavirus-proof way, such as rodeo (with a bouncy castle), go-karting, and shooting. For the Challenge Cup, teams can challenge each other, but individual achievements are also rewarded.”

We Care
Team spirit is also an important part of the policy on Corporate Social Responsibility formulated by SixPointTwo. The policy is explained briefly and to the point, in a leaflet for employees. “The leaflet tells employees what SixPointTwo does for them and what SixPointTwo expects from them. Statements such as We Care, We are professional and We are ambitious make it clear that everyone in a group is responsible and takes on responsibility, and that we want to be the best together. We want to emanate this winner’s mentality both within the company and in our contacts with our relationship.” Team building and performance improvement are a work in progress. “Our HR people can often be found on the shop floor. They talk to employees to find out how they are and what they need to bring the best out of themselves.” Rajdlová is convinced it works: “Employee reactions are very positive.”

 

What are steel prices doing?

What are steel prices doing?

Arold Kanen: “Steel supply is gradually moving towards a normal level, price pressure remains volatile.”

 

Rising prices and a drop in raw material availability: these have been worrying times for the industry since the first half of 2021. In the metal industry, developments surrounding steel – for example – are closely monitored. What are steel prices doing? When will supply be back to normal? Read an expert’s view: Arold Kanen from MEKA Steel in Bladel.

MEKA Steel assists customers, including SixPointTwo, in the supply of steel sheets. “Our approach is contract-based. We do business directly with the steelworks. By anticipating market developments, we try to negotiate the most favourable conditions for our customers in terms of price and volume conditions for the required steel grade for a certain period of time.” MEKA Steel ignores the traditional trade channels – suppliers/wholesalers with their own inventory and agents. “They are supply-driven. Our work is demand-led: we act solely on the instruction of our customers.”

Operating in challenging times
Until the summer of 2021, the market was extremely volatile: in a short time, the steel price peaked several times at new heights. What could MEKA Steel do for customer during that time? “For example, we advised customers who prioritise securing production progress in the longer term as early as 2020 to reserve material in good time to cover the availability of their specific steel grade.” The right contract period was essential in this: “During periods of price rises, we try to obtain a contract at a competitive rate, for the longest possible period, and the largest possible volume.” This involved looking further ahead than usual: “At that time, we stipulated contracts with a scope of no less than 6 months for customers who would normally maintain a scope of 2 to 3 months. This could mean that the agreed price was higher than the average market price at the time of closing. However, because the steel price rocketed much higher afterwards, the contract price sat below the level if the market average over the contract period.” Like many other MEKA customers, SixPointTwo has secured a large part of its steel requirements for 2021.

Internal model
In order to offer customers the best possible service, MEKA Steel closely monitors market developments. “We don’t have a crystal ball. We can’t see what the steel price will be at a certain time”, Kanen explains. “What we can do, is identify trends for periods of 3 to 6 months.” To do so, MEKA Steel uses its own model with several variables that could affect the price. “These include the availability of raw materials, capacity at the steelworks, current and/or global events such as the COVID crisis, currency proportions, import/export restrictions, and the number of logistical movements between international regions.” Kanen compares it to a dashboard: “We can see the pointers for the different variables moving to red or green, giving us an indication of the price development and availability of steel over time. This means we are always ahead of the regular market. Depending on the customer’s specific needs, we can use our market knowledge to make suitable and distinctive (purchasing) contract proposals.”

Market overheating
How does Kanen view the situation in the steel market? “We have passed the low point of the COVID crisis. Steel production has restarted in all regions of the world. The regions are still mainly trying to meet the demand for steel in their own regional markets. This is troublesome in Europe, because a large part of the European demand for steel must be imported from other regions.”
There is an additional challenge: steelworks are up to more than 100% capacity for the whole of 2021. Demand from the metal industry, especially from the automotive, construction and mechanical engineering sectors, has been stagnant for long periods in 2020, but has started to catch up in 2021. Because steelworks had scaled down production, it took several months for capacity to be brought back to normal levels. All these factors have caused market overheating.”

Prospects?
Right now, many companies have secured and/or reserved their steel requirements for 2021. “It led to demand waning somewhat after the summer. This was also because a similar development manifested itself for other raw materials, such as chips, building materials, and oil. What’s more, various industries are still relying on government support, meaning that orders will also be moved to 2022. The waning demand means that the rise in prices in Europe is levelling off. As such, I don’t expect another huge price increase, not even in 2022.”

According to Kanen, the availability and throughput of steel could return to a somewhat normal level in 2022. “Where the lead time at steelworks is between 6 to 10 weeks in a normal market, we are currently still waiting 10 to 20 weeks for new production. Lead times are expected to get shorter during the course of 2022, but to be honest, it’s akin to reading tea leaves.”

Kanen predicts there will be a slow rise of steel availability, allowing the base price of steel to stabilise and possibly decrease over time. “This will initially become apparent with low-grade basic steel grades. However, as soon as more availability comes up in the subsequent steel processes, including galvanisation and pickling, the price pressure will increase further on all fronts. As long as the world market is still unbalanced, steel prices will remain very volatile. This could (still) create large price differences within steel categories. That is why it is important that chain partners – more now than ever before – continue the dialogue about demand and capacity, now with a short-term scope!”

SixPointTwo closely monitors the developments in the raw materials markets. Meka Steel is one of SixPointTwo’s three strategic partners. If you would like to find out more, please contact Willian van Eerd, willian.van.eerd@sixpointtwo.eu.

What are steel prices doing?
Nearshoring offers interesting possibilities

Nearshoring offers interesting possibilities

Nearshoring offers interesting possibilities

How can the power of parallel supply chains be harnessed?

 

Many companies work with a parallel supply chain. They don’t want to be dependent on a single supply chain. After all, the consequences would be incalculable if the supply of products and services comes to a standstill in this single chain. Another important advantage is that the parallel supply chain enhances the adaptive capacity of businesses. It means they are more flexible and better able to respond quickly to changing market conditions. The question is: how and where do you structure the parallel supply chain? Nearshoring could be an interesting option.

The vulnerability of a supply chain was demonstrated once again recently. Every business owner who relies solely on partners in the Far East will have felt bitterly angry when the Ever Given caused a blockage in the Suez Canal. The blockage is gone, but the effects are still palpable. Prices for transport from the Far East have risen sharply. Another fly in the ointment was the coronavirus, without a doubt. No country or continent is immune to its impact. The virus may seem under control for a while, but then flares up again. Government measures such as a lockdown and mandatory quarantine can bring a supply chain to a standstill in an instant.

Parallel supply chain goal 1: ensure delivery continuity
Every company wants to offers its customers delivery continuity. Setting up a parallel supply chain is a way to achieve this goal. As soon as there are issues threatening supply from one (main) supply chain, the capacity in another supply chain can be expanded quickly. This is how delivery problems can be resolved or even prevented in a short time. An additional advantage is that a parallel supply chain keeps the partners in the main supply chain focused. They will realise it is important to be competitive with their terms and conditions, service, and prices. After all, there is another party who can take over the work…

Parallel supply chain goal 2: increase adaptive capacity
Being able to respond quickly to changing market conditions is of vital importance to businesses. This is not always an easy task for internationally operating companies. After all, market conditions can vary greatly from country to country. Large fashion chains are often very well prepared for this. When the Netherlands experiences an unexpected warm spell in autumn, H&M – for example – wastes no time in making sure the shops are stocked with light and floaty tops. These are not brought in from the Far East, but from a parallel supply chain close to the local market (nearshoring) that can scale up capacity quickly.

Structuring a parallel supply chain
It is clear that a parallel supply chain offers clear advantages. Also clear is that setting up, managing and maintaining a parallel supply chain demands a significant investment of time, money, and manpower. This article cannot address when a parallel supply chain is profitable or not for a company. However, it is telling that experts feel every company should have at least a dual-sourcing strategy. They point out that this does not need to lead to a completely structured and active supply chain. If a company has identified and assessed all alternative sources of materials, goods, transport, it already has a realistic plan B in place. Based on this, the company will be able to react quickly, giving it a huge advantage over competitors who are unprepared to face a disaster.

Option: nearshoring in Czech Republic
Where could a Dutch company – active in the Western European market and with a supply chain in the Far East – set up a parallel supply chain? The Czech Republic should be strongly considered. For a start, this reduces the transport time: transport of products and materials from the Czech Republic to the Benelux/Western Europe takes just one day. What’s more, Czech work ethic is a crucial success factor. Czech employees are often excellently educated, very motivated, and work as hard as in the olden days (in the best sense of the word). If they then also have advanced equipment and high-quality materials, the result is perfect: products that are available quickly and meet the very highest quality requirements.

If you would like to know what nearshoring in the Czech Republic could mean to your company, please contact Willian van Eerd, willian.van.eerd@sixpointtwo.eu.

Modernisation of company premises in the Netherlands

2017 is the year of renovation and refurbishment at our new company premises in the Netherlands.

Our Dutch sales office and central warehouse have been based at the van Weert industrial estate since December 2016. We bought these premises from AkzoNobel to give our rapidly-growing organisation more room and possibilities to expand further. The building has various large offices and now we also have a large logistics centre with lots of potential.

The whole building is being fully renovated and refurbished to give it a completely new feel and image. Following a number of renovation projects on the top floor, the building’s front façade and all of the ground floor are now scheduled to be renovated too. We want to give the whole premises a facelift with a modern and interesting appearance.

As well as engineers and the SixPointTwo sales team, we’re also providing accommodation to sector-related enterprises and start-ups here.

Modernisation of company premises in the Netherlands