It seemed a logical step to Eric Hengst: to start off in manufacturing after his technology studies. Yet almost immediately, he noticed that he was interested in more than technology alone. “I am curious about all aspects of business management and therefore I subsequently also studied business administration.”

Combining the knowledge of these two degrees, he has already clocked many hours in managerial roles. In recent years, he has been supporting companies in the role of Interim Manager. As a Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM) expert, he focuses on reducing the time from receiving the order to delivering the finished product. Via Van de Groep & Olsthoorn, he started as an Interim Operations Director at the stainless steel sheet metal company ReviconBarosta.

Process optimization is the common thread in his professional career. After having fulfilled various operational roles in various sectors, it clicked for him: “Of course, each sector has its specific characteristics, but essentially, it all revolves around making and shipping a product. It doesn’t matter whether that happens in a printing company, a kitchen factory or a stainless steel shop. A customer comes with a request, and a product will get designed, manufactured and delivered. The processes and the challenges are the same everywhere.” This was the main reason for him to start focusing on optimizing production processes.

A calm and organized work environment

To ensure that the production process runs smoothly and quickly, it is vital to have a calm and organized work environment. Hengst explains with an example: “It is important that there aren’t too many materials on the shop floor. Having a clear and straightforward production process makes the work easier. Moreover, it becomes easier to anticipate and adjust course. If an order changes, it won’t be problem, because following and tracing orders is always easy. It simplifies making fast switches.”

Reducing the turnaround time

After having optimized the production process of various organizations, in positions such as Plant Manager, Business Unit Manager and Operational Director, Hengst decided to become an independent Interim Manager. He became an Associate and Partner at the consultancy company LeanTeam. “Initially, we mainly worked with Lean Manufacturing. This approach is very suitable for mass production, but not as effective if there’s a large variety in products or a fluctuating demand. If that’s the case, it’s hard to implement fixed product routes and production lines.”

QRM

In such situations, Quick Response Manufacturing proves more effective. Hengst explains: “If you use QRM, you work with multi-functional teams that oversee a specific product-market combination. They determine their own flow and the processing steps for creating the products; the primary KPI being to shorten the turnaround time. Due to the low amount of in-process inventory and the transparent organization, output goes up and the costs go down. This method also enables you to handle a large variety in products.”

The wow factor of vacancies

Hengst is an autodidact, he trained himself to become a QRM expert. “I have read and experimented a lot. Ultimately, alternating between being a QRM trainer and doing Interim Management projects turned out to be ideal for me. It was therefore absolutely perfect when Van de Groep & Olsthoorn approached me for an interim assignment using the terms ‘project organization’ and ‘QRM’ in the headline. That’s quite rare.” Although Hengst and Van de Groep & Olsthoorn had known each other for years, they had never actually worked together. “We often interact with each other. Everything about them tells me that, for managerial positions, their focus is on industry and technology. They understand what goes on in a production company and use that insight to find the right candidates. They always make the right match. When I read their vacancies, I think ‘Wow, that seems like a really cool position’ for the majority of them.”

Optimizing production with QRM

When Hengst expressed his interest in Van de Groep & Olsthoorn, it was a done deal. Of course, it certainly helped that he had previously taught the CEO of this company the principles of QRM when he was a trainer.” After a successful first meeting, he could start working within a few days already. ReviconBarosta was created when two companies specializing in stainless steel constructions merged. The company supplies high-quality stainless steel sheet metal solutions, from composite components to complete installations. ReviconBarosta doesn’t want to be just a supplier, but also offer practical added value to projects as a partner. “An investment company saw opportunities for a merger organization, but this proved unmanageable in practice. They were looking for someone who could streamline the production and processes within six months, and who could further develop QRM.”

Delivering added value in a short time

The moment Eric started, he immediately had to deal with a number of engineers leaving the company. “The first challenge was to complete the outstanding orders as well as possible with the current team. At the same time, a reorganization was inevitable, from a financial perspective.”

Being able to switch quickly is exactly what Hengst offers his clients in such a situation. “Companies have high expectations of Interim Managers, which is entirely justified. I am paid to deliver a lot of added value in a short time. In concrete terms, that means that I want to know how everything works within two weeks, and then take the corresponding actions.”

Towards a ‘one-piece flow’

In addition to the reorganization, his first act was establishing transparency in the production based on the principles of QRM. “The costs of finding, moving or stocking parts in warehouses are often hidden. After all, that overhead does not get measured. That is why I immediately focused on reducing the in-process inventory by establishing transparency.” And although it may sound strange, Hengst does not primarily focus on efficiency. “For me, it’s all about output. Which items go to the customer? Because that is something you can invoice. To streamline the output, processes must be simple. I strive for a ‘one-piece flow’, with short distances between the workstations and no stock.”

No production, no company

Although his professional focus is on process optimization, his heart lies with the employees. Hengst: “This is where the added value and revenue are generated. If there is no production, there is no company. It is therefore always important to include the employees in the change and optimization process. I always ask employees which things bother them. They usually have good ideas for improving processes or process steps. And as an organization, you have to invest in that. Improvements in the workplace always pay off at another point in the process.”

The value of true craftsmanship

In a production environment, it is also crucial to value craftsmanship. “Everyone should be allowed to give input and there shouldn’t be a distance between the office and the work floor. We were able to achieve this. I think it is fantastic to see that engineers at ReviconBarosta are now walking around the production hall and discussing how to tackle a project with production staff. For me, this confirms that they have embraced the cross-departmental approach of QRM.”

Continuing to build together

Because of the good operational results that Hengst was able to achieve as Interim Manager within six months, ReviconBarosta asked him to stay on as Operational Director. Although he enjoys the freedom of choice he has as an Interim, he has decided to accept the offer. “I like to determine and implement the strategy. In this organization, I am able to put into practice all the knowledge I have acquired when I was self-employed. To build on what we have already achieved in a short time, together with all the employees, is an exciting challenge.”