NOM looks back: Scania from Meppel rose like a phoenix from the ashes
How are the companies NOM has worked with in the past actually doing? In this column, together with entrepreneurs, we look back at developments between then and now.
Scania's paint factory in Meppel is working on a major expansion. No soul had predicted that earlier this century. In 2002, the Swedish truck brand was still diligently trying to get rid of the vacant factory.
Resurrected like a phoenix. It could have been the title of a book about the history of Scania in Meppel. Around the turn of the century no one gave a penny for the site where cabs for trucks had been assembled and painted in color since 1964. The management in Sweden decided to close the Meppel plant as early as 1994.
It took until November 2002 before the last cabin rolled off the bench and 'Meppel' became redundant. Some of the personnel were able to move to the assembly plant in Zwolle and the Meppel site was put on display by estate agents. Scania seemed to be leaving Drenthe for good. Anyone who drives up to the building today can hardly imagine it. Trucks drive in and out, the employee parking lots are full, the Scania logo shines life-size on the facade. Scania Meppel is 'just like before' the largest industrial employer in the area. About 550 employees earn their living there.
Will, idea, cooperation and a little luck
'It is a beautiful story, which is connected with a strong will, a good idea, fine cooperation and fine calculations and a little bit of luck,' says plant manager Erik de Gilde. First, the strong will. De Gilde, who was working at Scania in Zwolle at the time, saw it happen from a distance. The then management in Meppel decided to do everything possible to keep the factory, or at least the jobs, in the city in Drenthe. In doing so, it found NOM on its side.
NOM project manager Gerard Lenstra remembers those days well. 'We got involved the moment Scania was looking for a buyer for the building and the site. Because we naturally also stand for maintaining jobs in the region, we did our best. But the factory proved impossible to sell. Too specifically set up for other parties.'
It is a beautiful story, which is related to a strong will, a good idea, fine cooperation and fine calculations and a little bit of luck.
Erik de Gilde, Scania plant manager
In retrospect, you could call that a bit of luck. Because the difficult sale allowed time to come up with a good idea. De Gilde: "Around that time we saw that the company was buying in more and more painted parts. Roof parts, spoilers, parts like that. The number of colors desired was rapidly increasing and with it the complexity of the logistical process. That raised the question of whether it wouldn't be good to start doing that work ourselves.'
Time for the fancy calculations. These showed that insourcing would first of all be beneficial for the quality of the paintwork. It would also reduce costs for Scania. That is great, but that did not save Meppel. Scania owns several factories in Europe where such a "paint factory" could be set up.
De Gilde: 'That was pure lobbying. We reasoned that the factory in Meppel was empty anyway and could be made suitable. Moreover, the location is favorable for the market in Western and Central Europe. Add to that the flexibility of the staff and the good morale of the employees, which was recognised by Sweden, and in the end we won.'
In trying to keep Scania for Meppel, the fine cooperation came in handy. With the NOM, for example. Gerard Lenstra: 'We were mainly involved in lobbying at a higher level, such as with the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency. Through the Ministry we looked for investment grants, for all the ways to ensure that Sweden would say 'yes'. Our argument was the employment for hundreds of people in the region.'
The ball was rolling. In 2004, Scania decided to withdraw the plant from sale and convert it. De Gilde: "Feel free to call it renovation. A complete, modern, automatic paint line was installed. Parts of the factory building were built from scratch.' NOM interfered with the circus of permits necessary for this type of factory. In 2005 the machines were running again in Meppel, three years after the closure. A year and a half later the first painted parts rolled off the production line.
New production line
Since then, things have been going great for Scania in Meppel, which slowly but surely saw more and more production shifted to it. Now the parts slide through the automatic paint line day in and day out. Assembly is also back in-house on a small scale. An efficiently equipped control and finishing department makes top-quality products. Erik de Gilde: "We get better every year. We have to, to continuously provide convincing evidence that reopening Meppel was a good move.'
Today, techniques involving big data and machine learning are being used to continue to optimize the production process. Efficiency is key. With that, the story of Scania Meppel seems complete. But it continues. It seems as if history is repeating itself, but differently. Erik de Gilde and his men are bringing a completely new department to Drenthe. The parts to be painted in Meppel are now mainly bought primed. Couldn't Scania just do that itself?
So yes. The business case proved good again, the new line is coming. The model of the new building is finished; after the summer the spade will go into the ground. The new factory will be completely CO2 free (no more connection to the natural gas grid). Via an ingenious bridge across the road, the new building will be integrated into the existing production line on the other side. Erik de Gilde is convinced it will be another success. 'We will become more efficient as a whole. We can do this, we have proven that over the past 15 years.'