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A passion for automation


Next year will be a year to celebrate: For 50 years, VDL Steelweld has been designing, manufacturing and supplying automated production systems for the global market, aiming to establish itself as the preferred global player within the coming five years.

“We have become a truly European player already, serving the big names in the automotive sector like Ford, Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover, BMW and VDL Nedcar,” says General Director Peter de Vos, who has been working in this position since 2007.

However, Mr. de Vos worked in various other positions for VDL Steelweld before, for instance as purchasing manager, sales manager and vice director before taking over as managing director. “I have always been interested in the mixture of commerce and technology and in producing real products. You either love or hate the automotive industry, its dynamics and its technical challenge. I have always felt a strong bond, and due to my technical education, I have been drawn towards engineering and producing real products,” points out Mr. de Vos.

VDL Steelweld, founded back in 1965, joined VDL Groep in 1995. VDL Groep is an internationally oriented industrial company that is active in the development, manufacturing and distribution of semifinished products, buses and coaches, and other finished products as well as in the assembly of cars.

Despite VDL Steelweld’s new orientation in the past 19 years, it still operates like any other independent company, and so do the other subsidiaries within the group’s network. The past decade has been extremely successful for VDL Steelweld. In 2013, it received the Golden Gazelle Award as best medium-sized company.

Only one year before, in 2012, the company received the Award of Excellence as a supplier of Volvo cars. “This is really an honour and truly unique in machine manufacturing. We are the only machine supplier to have been given this award,” stresses Mr. de Vos. VDL Steelweld went through the crisis of 2009/2010 due to postponed investments of its customers, but being part of a strong group, it managed to keep everyone at work. Its staff worked for other subsidiaries within its group of companies.

“When the crisis ended for us in 2011, we were able to start afresh. We provided excellent services during the crisis and did not skimp on that, so our customers were very much satisfied,” states Mr. de Vos. The result of good and consistent hard work paid off, as in 2013 VDL Steelweld experienced its highest turnover ever, amounting to almost 200 million EUR.

Prospects for 2014 are equally promising. In 2013, the company set up a new engineering company in Romania, which will be followed by the opening of a new subsidiary in Sweden in 2014. Besides its stronghold in automated production lines, VDL Steelweld has been deploying its expertise to other markets as well.

Since 2011, it has been equally focusing on product development and the serial production of mechatronic systems. “In 2011, we developed a prototype for an automated guided vehicle (AGV) for ETC in the port of Rotterdam. In 2012, we delivered and tested it before we were assigned a contract for building 84 vehicles in 2013. This 70 t-capacity AGV drives back and forth between storage facilities and loading cranes and can transport one to two containers. It is in fact the first hybrid AGV in the market,” points out Mr. de Vos.

VDL Steelweld is also a specialist for developing machines for the automated assembly of closure parts to bodies. Apart from its focus on various types of automation, the company is strong in engineering and R&D. “R&D is an integral part of what we do. Everything we build undergoes continued improvement and development,” adds Mr. de Vos. “We also make use of our know-how for other branches, as the hybrid AGV has demonstrated quite impressively. Again this was a good example of product development with the aim to market the resulting products.”

Another example of VDL’s joint attitude is the development of Q-synchro for a company called Diverto. This is a multifunctional machine, boasting properties of a tractor, a loader and an excavating machine. VDL Steelweld built the prototype, and the production of the first series has just started.

Today, VDL Steelweld employs a workforce of 400 people at its headquarters in Breda, plus another 100 staff members at its locations in the United Kingdom, Germany, Romania and Sweden. “Project management, engineering and on-site management are all taken care of locally,” says Mr. de Vos.

For the company, its people are a major asset. “Our people are what has made us so successful over the past decades,” adds Mr. de Vos. “They make the product, they do the engineering and take on production and project management. We appreciate both older specialists with long-standing experience and younger people with enthusiasm and new ideas. We embrace newcomers in the market and people over 55. It is clearly a mistake not to hire older people. Older employees provide stability, while younger ones bring dynamism and fresh thinking into a company. This is a perfect balance.”

VDL Steelweld provides a complete body shop with major turnkey projects to meet customer requirements. It can set up complete automotive factories, which means key investments of 100 million EUR with hundreds of robots. The company supplies customers in Europe, but there are customers in China and in North America as well.

“Customers approach us and ask us to be present in those regions with our own company. Thus, we are planning to set up new subsidiaries in China, India and in the USA like we did in the United Kingdom or in Germany. Local offices with engineering, supported and managed from Europe: This is our formula. The first orientation will be some time this year, and from mid 2014 on, we are going to start setting up new branches,” stresses Mr. de Vos.

About ten years ago, VDL Steelweld had a large customer base. Now, it has decreased the number of customers and has improved its production, as it has got to know its customers better. “We know all specifications and can supply improved and better products. This has helped to set up continuous business with major customers,” states Mr. de Vos.

With many awards and a proven record of first-class products and services, VDL Steelweld is well prepared to tackle growth. Europe is now; the world will be the future.

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