Engineering Manager Marcel Rietkerk (43) is responsible for a multidisciplinary team of engineers within the Mechatronics division of NTS. The team ensures that the components, products and systems of NTS’ customers can be made in a higher volume. Together with their customers the engineers work on creating and maintaining the most efficient situation possible. An extremely comprehensive process that already starts in an early concept phase. Moreover, after the delivery a component or system it is improved continuously. As OEMS increasingly rely on the supply chain to develop and manufacture systems and components it is essential for NTS’ engineers to combine a generalist approach, specialistic knowledge and to play a bridging role between customers, colleagues and suppliers.
"Everything our customers develop and what the division Development & Engineering develops, is eventually meant to build in a series," says Marcel Rietkerk. "My department is responsible for the technical realization of series. You have a model or a prototype and that needs to be scaled up. If a customer currently produces one system per month and he wants to increase production to fifteen items per month, requirements in design, workplace and process design change substantially."
Diversity in technology is extremely interesting to engineers
"Cleanliness, for example, is essential in the semiconductor industry. We work for customers who work at cleanliness levels ISO6, ISO7 and ISO8. This means that we have to know all about it. Another example is working with cryogenic conditions and high vacuum. As an engineer at NTS you have to know a bit about everything and these technologies are super interesting. To an engineer, it is extremely educational if you have the possibility to learn more about this."
Everything revolves around optimization for production in volume
"The engineers in my team do not design a product, system or component. We contribute to optimizing the customer’s design or the design of a system developer of NTS in order to make it suitable for production in volume. In this, we work closely together with our customers. We are responsible for creating and maintaining the most efficient situation possible."
No production but specification and assembly
"Within the Mechatronics division we do not produce parts ourselves. We focus on specification and assembly. Suppliers deliver our parts. If we put the product or system together and it does not work in the end, there are basically two options. Either a supplier has not delivered parts according to the specification, or everything was delivered according to specifications and assembled according to the design, but does not seem to work. In the latter case we involve smart minds and start to troubleshoot. A situation like that has to be changed immediately. Besides trying to solve the situation we also look at what the effect is for the components that are already in preparation in the supply chain. And our last but most important question: 'how are we going to ensure that the specific issue never occurs again?'"
Aim for early involvement in scaling up
"When a customer wants to increase its production in a higher volume, our team prefers to be involved in the customer’s process as early as possible. Preferably in the phase in which the concept is designed. This is called early supplier involvement. In the concept phase and the subsequent prototype phase, over 80% of the eventual production costs are determined. It is very important to reduce as many production risks as possible in an early phase by including the knowledge and experience of production and assembly engineers in the design. “
"Examples of questions an engineer might ask are: ‘How much do we have to be able to deliver, within what timeframe and against which quality requirements?’, ‘Is the drawing clear and are all specifications complete?’ ‘What does the customer define as essential criteria and which points are not directly functional or critical?' Take the housing, for example. Systems often have a varnished housing, is it important that the colour of the housing is the same in all cases? Or is variation allowed? Or how bad is it when there is a scratch on a part? Aesthetics does not have direct influence on functionality, but it often is a point of discussion. These kinds of choices have great impact on the design of your process, supply chain and costs."
Producing existing machines or parts in a higher volume
"Another topic our department deals with are machines or products that have been developed in the past but that now have to be produced in higher volumes due to the increasing demand. Then you encounter completely different aspects such as if our suppliers can still meet the demand in the way that they did before. It could for example mean that a component that our supplier made in a certain way needs to be produced in a different way if volume increases. It might not be possible. "
"We look at the feasibility of industrialisation. An NPI engineer together with a project team has the assignment to set up the intended process and to run a pilot to see if it works as expected. He keeps an eye on costs, construction and process design. The project is completed when a series is built and the pre- and post-calculation are correct and the risks in the process are secured sufficiently. Then the product or system is released for volume. "
Permanent improvement after delivery
"Then continuous improvement takes place. This means that the customer, suppliers and NTS continue to make minor changes to improve the product and process. Our production engineer is involved in it, he works on the current line. Topics that he deals with, for example, are solving problems in assembly and in parts production at suppliers. He looks at how often a problem occurs and how it can be prevented in the future. In this way we guarantee quality. "
Increasing linking function between colleagues and customer
"What you see is that the large OEMs are increasingly relying on the supply chain to develop and manufacture components. The manufacturability of components and if systems and products can be assembled is knowledge that the 1st tier and 2nd tier suppliers have to introduce. For our engineers, this means that they increasingly fulfil a bridging function between the customer and our colleagues on the shop floor and in the chain. This requires a great deal of knowledge and the ability to transfer knowledge of what is feasible, because what is thought of in theory still needs to be manufactured. As an NPI engineer, you operate on that interface."
"Due to these types of developments, NTS is a fast-growing company that is changing rapidly. I have been working here for 3 years now and I see a lot of positive developments such as the introduction of World Class Manufacturing: a lean work methodology that NTS has recently introduced. You notice that it is effective: It leads to transparency, people take ownership, we can act faster and have a better control. Furthermore, IT systems are increasingly integrated and we are working on creating a campus in Eindhoven in order to bring the full spectrum of development, manufacturing and production come together physically."
Growth of organisation and team
"You also see the rapid growth of the organisation in my team. The demand for people who can do what we do is considerable. In 2.5 years, my team has doubled in size. It is a very diverse job. NPI and Production Engineers are people who have a central role and are constantly working on maintaining contacts at the customer, at suppliers and in the internal organisation. Therefore, it is very dynamic. You also have to deal with a certain amount of pressure. When a system does not work, it cannot last a month. The situation must be resolved as quickly as possible."