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Journey to Maintenance Excellence

Volvo Cars Gent was founded in Belgium in 1965. Establishing this plant was an excellent way for the Swedish car manufacturer to reap the benefits of the European Economic Community and to evade the heavy import tax. High productivity attracted heavy investments. At this moment, the plant has the highest production volume of all Volvo plants. The following Volvo models are manufactured at Gent: the V40, the S60 and the XC60.

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Figure 1: Volvo Cars Gent

The growth of Volvo Cars Gent was the result of decades of effort. At the end of the 1980s, the first managers visited Japan to understand local production methods. In the 1990s, Volvo started to decisively implement total productive maintenance (TPM) methodology. The approach was translated from the Japanese culture to the European (Belgian) culture in different steps.

Maintenance was fully integrated within production. Early equipment management took care of addressing maintenance in the design phase of the equipment. Extra attention was given to the maintainability and reliability of the equipment. Within production, there were also self-steering teams that were responsible for a number of basic maintenance activities. As a result of our efforts, in 1999, Volvo Cars Gent became the first manufacturing company in Europe to achieve the TPM World Class award. That same year, Volvo Cars Gent was taken over by Ford.

This acquisition required Volvo Cars Gent to align with the Ford Production System (FPS). After thorough analysis and benchmarking different Ford plants, it appeared quite quickly that Volvo Cars Gent had a big lead in different manufacturing techniques. But there was one big problem: the Volvo approach was not uniform within different establishments of Volvo Cars. The Volvo Cars Manufacturing System (VCMS) was created to make the Volvo approach identical throughout Volvo Cars. The responsibility of this initiative was to collect best practices and roll them out uniformly. Mainnovation, which created the Value Driven Maintenance® (VDM) methodology, supported Volvo Cars in shaping VCMS maintenance. VDM was used as a central model to collect all best practices from the different Volvo manufacturing factories and make them uniform. Based on these best practices, a common maintenance process was established, maintenance tools were introduced and training was initiated. Creating added value with maintenance was getting more and more important as time progressed. This model was used continuously to determine whether the dominant value driver should be availability or costs. The processes, IT tools, data and maintenance performance indicators were refined and adjusted to Volvo’s needs.

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Figure 2: The four value drivers of the VDM model.

A crucial adjustment was made in the maintenance organization. The decentralized maintenance organization was completely integrated into production during the TPM period, but it appeared to be too expensive and the exchange of experience within the overall organization was labor-intensive. Most companies have cycles of centralizing and decentralizing the maintenance organization where they usually embrace either extreme. But Volvo Cars Gent didn’t make this mistake and chose a hybrid maintenance organization. The “own maintenance activities” (maintenance executed by production operators) and corrective maintenance stayed within the production organization. All remaining maintenance was centralized into a governing maintenance department. This department is responsible for all preventive maintenance activities, modifications and long-term asset management. I was responsible for leading this department and am a permanent member of the plant management team.

Since 2010, Volvo Cars has been part of the Chinese automotive manufacturing company, Geely. This company has the ambition to grow Volvo Cars into a world player in the premium segment. Geely wishes to target the development of new models and new manufacturing facilities in China. The production volumes will have to double within a couple of years, but this growth plan only can be realized by utilizing the current models and managing the current facilities more efficiently. Maintenance plays a crucial role. It delivers high availability against the lowest possible costs. If this is successful, mass production in Europe gets another chance.

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Figure 3: Automation will only work if maintenance can manage it

In the elections for Maintenance Manager of the Year 2013, I competed with Stora Enso’s maintenance managers, Katrien Bouckaert and Peter Heyndrickx. The election is organized by BEMAS. I won the election and was praised by the jury. Focusing on deriving value through maintenance over a number of years certainly brought success! Of course, I did not achieve this award by myself. A team of more than 300 associates with a strong passion for maintenance helped me realize my goals.

The figures are impressive. More than 8,000 assets, 828 robots and 9.8 miles of conveyor belts produce a whopping 250,000 cars per year. Technical availability is 98.7 percent. This truly makes Volvo Cars Gent a top tier performer in the worldwide car manufacturing industry.

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