How do you increase flexibility and production capacity with outsourcing?

Peter Nieland, Plant Manager of SmartMetals Mounting Solutions B.V. in Culemborg:
“SixPointTwo is part of our business process.”


Schools, events and talk shows on TV: SmartMetals are always around wherever you can see AV systems. “We make suspension systems for the professional AV market to mount screens in any desired location,” says Peter Nieland. As Plant Manager, he is responsible for the complete production of SmartMetals in Culemborg. He explains what this involves and how SixPointTwo contributes.

SmartMetals makes many different types of suspension systems, all of them tailored towards specific professional applications. “We offer ceiling solutions, standing solutions, floor-to-ceiling solutions, and solutions for video walls and LED walls, and much more.” SmartMetals is part of the Vogel’s Group, which also serves the consumer market from its head office in Eindhoven.

International customers
SmartMetals supplies is products to parties in the Benelux, other European countries and the United States, both directly and via customers. The end users can be found in various sectors, such as education (including schools and museums), rental (systems for public events), companies and government institutions. “Display suppliers also purchase from us in order to offer their customers complete solutions.”

Production plant in Culemborg
The production team in Culemborg works to a build-to-order schedule. “Customer orders come to us through Sales. We ensure the requested products reach the customer. Design, work preparation, purchasing, assembly, packing and shipping: we do all of that.” Parts come from elsewhere. “We don’t make the parts in Culemborg. We only have a saw machine to cut aluminium extrusion profiles down to size. It is simply not feasible to keep all the required lengths in stock.”

We do keep a limited amount of stock. “We have separate parts in the warehouse that we use in the desired configuration, depending on the customer requirements. However, we do not have finished products in stock. We would need a gigantic warehouse for that, which would require far too much capital.”

Supplier input
SmartMetals works with a small group of manufacturing suppliers who contribute to the production process. “These suppliers make the parts we have designed. Before we start working with a supplier, we ask them to make test samples. We validate the products by carrying out our own checks. This means we can test whether the manufacturability of this supplier is good and whether they can guarantee the quality.”

From parts supplier to end product maker
SixPointTwo started out as a supplier of wheel frames and PC trays to SmartMetals. After a while, and following close consultation, a decision was taken to give SixPointTwo a different role. “Since the end of 2018, SixPointTwo has been making a trolley lift for us intended for the American market. We sell it through a customer of ours.” How does it work? “As soon as we receive an order from our customer, we transfer it to SixPointTwo. SixPointTwo produces all the custom parts for this in house. In addition, they also purchase the packaging material themselves. We supply SixPointTwo with all the off-the-shelf parts for the trolley lift, such as the wheels and electrical components.”

SixPointTwo assembles the trolley lifts and ensures they are UL-Listed and UL-Certified. The SmartMetals customer collects the trolley lifts in Humpolec. They then go to the United States in sea containers. “SixPointTwo must have the products ready on the agreed date and time to coincide with the departure time of the ship. SmartMetals provides the correct paperwork, the invoice, and the packing slip. And our customer uses these documents to arrange transport to the United States itself.”

Quality assurance: quality report
SmartMetals prepared the required working method with SixPointTwo. “We provided detailed and complete work instructions, up to and including the required method of palletising. One of our work planners and various assembly colleagues went to the Czech Republic for this – I was not working at SmartMetals at the time. This was to ensure the correct production with the necessary checks. In addition, the SixPointTwo employees received good instructions.”

Production follows a fixed procedure. ”SixPointTwo provides a quality report for the first product with every order. They check a box containing a complete trolley lift and check whether it meets all the specified specifications. The quality report is then sent to us. As soon as we have given approval, SixPointTwo can continue with production.”

Unburdening provides extra capacity
The trolley lift is a popular product on the American market. “During the time we also still made the trolley lift ourselves, at one point we delivered an order for 11,000 lifts in 50 sea containers using SixPointTwo.” SixPointTwo is the only supplier that makes a complete end product for SmartMetals. “There have been some start-up issues, but they have all been resolved. SixPointTwo is a very reliable partner: they honour their agreements and the quality delivered is very consistent. And not just in terms of quality, but also lead time, flexibility and communication – things are going very well: SixPointTwo takes care of everything. This means we can retain our capacity for smaller orders that require relatively much more control, and which we therefore prefer to keep in house.”

No more supplier hopping
Hopping from supplier to supplier: that’s not what SmartMetals is all about. “Of course we keep our suppliers sharp, and we sometimes set a benchmark as a check, also in terms of price. But we also know that we cannot do without our suppliers. They are part of our business process; we must be able to rely on each other. We therefore focus on positive co-operation in which we solve any problems we encounter together. And this works very well with all our suppliers!”

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