Bridge builder Groot Lemmer of Heerenveen is at the forefront after the crisis now that the infrastructure market is picking up. Their secret? Where competitors survived mainly by winning work at any price, Groot Lemmer focused on quality, sustainability and innovation. Now it is time to capitalize on that innovative strength.
It was director-owner Eugène Dekker who initiated a substantial change of direction after he took over the company in 2010. In doing so, he purposefully guided the company through the crisis to a broader focus and innovative approach.
Yet in this interview Dekker speaks emphatically on behalf of the entire company. 'It is our team of professionals that has made this change within Groot Lemmer possible,' says Dekker. 'Everyone contributes to what we get done as a company; we really do it together here.'
Dekker appreciates the go-getter mentality in Friesland. He himself is from The Hague and worked for years in the financial sector in Rotterdam, where there is also a down-to-earth work ethic. In the Northern Netherlands I experience the same atmosphere of 'don't bullshit, but clean up'. Quality and reliability are important values here and I can relate to them. Looking at our working area, an office in the middle of the Netherlands would be more logical, but the advantages of Friesland definitely outweigh the logistical disadvantages.
From tanker to sailing ship
Thanks to its Northern Netherlands strength, Groot Lemmer will be retained for the region even after the upcoming move. Indeed, the company is moving just one parcel up the Innovatielaan in Heerenveen. 'We don't need to move bigger; moving is mainly a great opportunity for us to further improve the machinery and efficiency,' Dekker explains.
With this renovation in the production hall and storage, Groot Lemmer is also putting the finishing touches to an important innovation in its accommodation. A stroke that transformed the company from a relatively cumbersome tanker into a much more maneuverable sailing ship.
We have deliberately broadened our focus from wood only to working with wood, composite, steel or a combination of these materials. From this material-independent position, we at Groot Lemmer are able to give honest advice and move more easily with the demand from the market.
Each material has certain properties that are more or less suited to a situation. We look at the purpose, the requirements and the environment to come to a suitable recommendation. Ultimately, of course, it is the client who decides. Sometimes costs outweigh the wishes of local residents, while other times durability or maintenance are the deciding factors.'
Notable examples include steel bridges clad in wood for an authentic look.
Moreover, the British - there is also a branch of Groot Lemmer in England - choose wooden bridges by default in any natural setting.'We ourselves still appreciate the aesthetic beauty of wood and, with almost a century of experience, we have everything we need to make smart structures that promote longevity. Yet working with steel and composite in particular has put us back into the innovation gear in recent years. It allows us to play more with form and offers yet other advantages over wood, both in engineering and in longevity.'
The focus on innovation means that at Groot Lemmer, software is at least as important as machinery and technical skills. 'Smart use of ICT and data is also a point where we distinguish ourselves in the market,' Dekker says. 'Via built-in sensors, we collect data on the 'behavior' of bridges, for example when temperatures or loads change.
This provides insights to further improvements in engineering and contributes to appropriate maintenance and a longer service life. In engineering, too, we focus on an advanced ICT environment so that we can exchange as much relevant data as possible between the chain and clients.'
NOM, investment manager Ruud van Dijk
Even during the crisis years, Groot Lemmer continued to focus on quality, sustainability and innovation. Now that the market is recovering, this is the perfect momentum to be at the forefront of the infra and housing construction market. With our funding, the company has the space it needs to press ahead.
Eye for the market
Groot Lemmer exports bridges and lock gates to all surrounding countries in Europe. Now that the infrastructure market is picking up, the company is at the forefront as a player in ground, road and hydraulic engineering. 'Although we are also setting our sights again on decking and galleries for Dutch residential construction, as that market is also picking up considerably.
The steps needed to cash in on our innovative power - from marketing and sales to material procurement, stock management and a flexible team - are partly made possible by funding from NOM. A partner who, as a connector in the Northern Netherlands, fits the way we want to realize our goals: down-to-earth, decisive and with an eye for movements in the market.'
BRIDGE BUILDER WITH WOODEN HEART
Today, Groot Lemmer is best known as a bridge builder, but the company began almost one hundred years ago as a hardwood specialist in Amsterdam. The company moved to Friesland in the 1960s and decided to add value to their timber by building their own bridges.
Still wooden bicycle and pedestrian bridges are a specialty of Groot Lemmer; although the company now also builds quality bridges for light traffic made of composite, steel or a combination of materials. Moreover, in 2018 the company's own hardwood wholesale business also enjoys plenty of fame for its high-quality pre-treatment for the construction industry.