Issue Iss 1 2008
Vestas’ all star cast
Originally established as Kristiansand Jerstoperi as part of the Windcast Group, Vestas Castings is one of the world’s largest producers of advanced, high-quality castings for the wind turbine industry.
Following over ten years of successful co-operation between Windcast Group companies and Vestas Wind Systems AS, Vestas acquired Windcast in 2002. Now part of the global wind technology Vestas Group, the Norwegian-based company is enjoying an extended period of growth within a rapidly expanding industrial sector. The Kristiansand site manufactures a range of hubs, foundations, and bearings from ductile iron, weighing between 100 kilograms and 15 tons. Working closely with Vestas to provide tailored solutions with its research and development department, the castings division provides its final products specifically for Vestas.
Over the last year, Vestas Castings has focused on continued expansion, particularly into the way its site is organised and the manner of its processes. Managing director Wilhelm Lange outlines the period: “Vestas Castings has doubled its production levels, and made a number of significant investments to increase the capacity of moulding boxes it manufactures, as well as developing our knock-out and shot-blasting capabilities. Everything is now up and running, and this will aid the company’s position within the heated casting market. We have invested more in our people than in our plant, and the consequence of this is stability of productivity.
“We have made minor changes within the organisation of our plant, but we mainly stay to the plan that has succeeded in the past. We have implemented a factory support team, as well as hard working lean, logistics, administration, and production teams. Our factory will continue to be run the same way as before.”
The emphasis has been very much on improving efficiency of services within the company, as Wilhelm explains: “Lean has been proven as a very effective tool; but lean is not merely a toolbox – it’s a culture. Working with people is important, and hence we encourage an open atmosphere, where communication straddles all levels. We must work more with questions, and less with directives – and for this to succeed, we must have the right people onboard. We have educated an employee to green belt status in Six Sigma, and we are running a programme to ascertain what is required from the company over the next year. We aim at achieving the fourth Sigma level by next year, which means we must identify our critical quality parameters, and apply it to our current status.
“In the past, there have been very good results through using this system in regards to materials, and the challenge is to apply these concepts more generally, like GE has done to great success,” Wilhelm continues. “The company is pleased with the progress it has made, and we feel we are doing very well. Within the entire Vestas Group, we work very hard to apply not only lean principles, but also all aspects involved with Six Sigma training. We have training facilities, which have resulted in the emergence of black belts within the Group. For the time being, we have both internal and external consultants that are helping us generate and analyse Six Sigma data, but we are developing the amount of people being trained in this area at our facility.
”We have invested significantly in training our people in these processes, sending them to Six Sigma courses. We started small, but soon saw success, particularly in the application of lean principles, so we are planning to develop our team. Within two years, we plan for every manager working under me to have at least a green belt in either lean or Six Sigma disciplines. We will also have a quality manager with a minimum of a green belt.”
This focus on service efficiency has been developed alongside an improvement in health and safety within the Kristiansand site. Wilhelm elaborates on the process: “Safety is a key aspect within the company’s operations, and was the main point of focus for Vestas Castings this year. It was a big challenge to maintain our safety record, especially considering the amount of staff we have introduced over the last year. We have hired many new employees, which in a climate where there is two per cent unemployment was a major challenge in itself. Regardless of this intake of new people, we managed to stabilise the accident rate, although we did not reduce it significantly.
“The people we took on were not always highly knowledgeable of the foundry business, but we have run a safety programme, already training around 40 people. Many people have also been attending our safety seminars, and the amount of time between incidents is increasing. We are at a turning point, and are really improving safety for everyone. It may be too early to confirm this as a trend, but the prospects are very promising.”
Vestas Castings is in an established position to continue to meet the demands of the industry. Wilhelm comments on the state of the sector at the moment: “The wind market has a long-term growth potential, and it is estimated that the industry has a 20 per cent growth rate within the supply sector. So we expect to be part of this progress, and expand at the same rate. To meet this expected level of growth, we must increase our capacity, and this is not just a matter of developing the capabilities that we have, it is also linked to creating new facilities. Right now, Vestas is investing in a new factory in China to increase its capabilities in the Far East market. The Group is also investing in external research facilities across the globe – it is all connected to the perceived outlook of the industry. We are closely linked to start-up operations that are occurring within the organisation.”
Wilhelm outlines the Group’s vision for the future, and some of the factors that have contributed to past success: “I would like to see Vestas Castings be part of the Group’s general planned growth period – we will increase our capacity at the site, and the emphasis is very much on improving productivity, and increase safety levels. Also, we must concentrate on the environmental aspects of our systems, so all of these factors are of the concern of the entire Group.
“Having the right people is important, but supporting them requires constant endeavour, and this is something we must focus on. It’s not an easy task, but I think it we are very capable of achieving it,” he concludes.
Products: Wind Turbine castings