The drive of... Harm van Boekel

Operational Excellence (OPEX) is in our genes. Every system, every process, every technology: we take a close look at them all to find out how to make them better, faster or more efficient. Or ideally: how to make them excellent. Our Operational Excellence Engineer Harm van Boekel has a big part to play in that effort.


It must be a multi-faceted position...

“Yes, it is, because OPEX affects every part of our company. One minute I’ll be hard at work on the development and implementation of an IT system that will give us real-time insight into a line’s performance. The next I’ll be helping to improve our logistical process, from a delivery via cross docks to direct delivery.”


Insiders also call it VOPEX. What do they mean by that?

“We added the V for Vetipak, because we’ve developed our own work methods. We don’t focus blindly on specific tools; instead, we first consider the essence of a challenge. We also make it clear to the entire organization how important a change is, and how it will help us. That’s the only way to book long-term results.”


What is your main job in a process like that?

“Every location has suggestions for improvements, and my job is to keep an eye on the big picture of Vetipak’s interests. Like our people and machines, initiatives have to be interchangeable between the various locations. We want to avoid creating individual ‘islands’. The main advantage to that is that a good suggestion from one location can help make improvements at other locations as well.”


“De lijntjes zijn kort en de energie is voelbaar hier”

‘Like our people and machines, initiatives

have to be interchangeable between different locations’

Harm van Boekel,
operational excellence engineer


Can you give an example?

“One great example is the palletizer robot. The need for it arose at one specific location, but if we do things right the robot will have added value for every location. That’s why we’ve joined with several internal departments and a supplier to look for a modular structure that’s also easy to expand if necessary.”


Do the different locations feed you with initiatives?

“They can indeed. When they do, the first thing I do is study their question in more detail. Then I form a project team, and we draw up the specifications. We then conduct a GAP analysis to identify the difference between the current situation and the desired situation. Then we ‘fill’ that gap. And of course, the board and the plant managers also provide lots of suggestions for initiatives too.”


So do you, right?

“Absolutely! During my rounds along the locations, I talk to a lot of our colleagues, and I keep my eyes and ears open to find out what could use some improvement. For example, we still perform some processes manually, but I’m convinced that it’s possible for us to automate them. I’m also responsible for IT, which plays an increasingly important role throughout the chain. After all, we can automate the office just as we do the production floor. I’m constantly working on the next steps: I keep an eye on trends and collect and share insights.”


What skills do you need as an Operational Excellence Engineer?

“The most important ones are that you need to draw energy from improvements, you need to be driven, and you need to recognize opportunities. Then you have to turn those opportunities into concrete projects for improvement. But you also need to be able to deal with stress, because you have to keep quite a few balls in the air at the same time. And finally, good communication is essential.”


‘The combination of technology, people and innovation

is a perfect fit with my passions’

When do you go home with the satisfaction of a job well done?

“Just about every day. The combination of technology, people and innovation is a perfect fit with my passions. But the really great days for me are when we complete an implementation, because then we can see the results that the project team has worked for so long and hard to achieve.”


And finally: what jobs are you itching to get started?

“The pace of technological development is lightning fast here, in part because of robotization. I find that fascinating. I’d really like to get to work with the latest technologies and to automate as much as possible in a new location, because I love it when processes and systems come together!”