The Northern Productivity Alliance, NPAL for short, is 10 years old. What once began as a project under the flag of the NOM has grown into an independent network organization that it is impossible to imagine the Northern Netherlands without. Bringing companies from different industries together to learn from each other and become stronger together, that's what it's all about.
Folkert van der Meulen, founder and director of NPAL, firmly believes in the importance of northern Dutch industry, especially the larger manufacturing companies and technical service providers. 'I think we should be very proud of this type of industry. They may not always be the sexiest companies, but they are all working, every day, to maintain employment, in an increasingly complex world. That is sometimes forgotten.'
The "NPAL Method.
The idea behind NPAL is as clever as it is simple. In fact, it is nothing more than listening carefully to each other and learning from each other. After all, many companies are struggling with the same issues, for example in terms of their production process, safety or sustainable employability.
KIEK (Looking into each other's Kitchen) was one of the first new programs developed by NPAL. Joost Bogers, now director of IG Design Group from Hoogeveen, was, together with Van der Meulen, at the cradle of the project, which is the basis for the approach NPAL still uses. During KIEK, directors of different companies went two days deep into each other's kitchens to examine each other's companies. Each time they spoke to about 25 employees.
For Bogers in particular, it was an eye-opener that you learn much more by watching others than when your own company is vetted. 'For example, when I was talking to a planner from another company, the same problems came up that the planners from my company run into. But because you are a guest there, and not the director, such a person is much more open. After all, you don't have to solve anything, whereas within your company a solution is often expected of you. This provides very useful insights.'
Keeping your own pants on
We are now 10 years on and since 2013 NPAL is an independent network organization with nearly 100 participating companies. Productivity improvement, that's still what it's all about. Van der Meulen: 'The companies participate because they want to improve themselves. They have to, in an increasingly international market.'
As director (now commissioner) of IJssel Technology and chairman of FME Oost-Nederland, Rien Slingerland was a great supporter of NPAL from the start. 'I especially appreciate the fact that NPAL has developed into an independent network for the industry of the Northern Netherlands, purely financed by the participating companies.' Slingerland praises the mutual openness between companies participating in NPAL. 'It is learning together. Different clusters have been created. We are a knowledge company, so we have contributed knowledge: as a participant but also as a quartermaster. It is then very important that you trust each other and that knowledge and experience are shared. That way everyone benefits.
This also applies to his own company, which is focused on improving production processes. 'We also learn again from the producing companies in such a cluster. That interaction, that's what it's all about.'
Van der Meulen predicts that NPAL will continue to play this role in the coming years. 'It is very difficult to meet the increasingly international challenges as an individual company. You do have to work together. We have topics at the forefront that are very important for this industry, and where companies do not get in each other's way.'
The NPAL founder sees three major trends for the coming years: labor market tightness, sustainability and how new technology can be used to find solutions to these issues. 'New technology is playing in all clusters. Artificial intelligence, robots and data can enable new improvements. And we would like to contribute to that.'
NPAL will continue to do so by putting topics on the agenda, organizing improvement clusters, and, above all, getting companies talking to each other to learn from each other. Because, Van der Meulen emphasizes, the regional industry deserves it. 'NPAL is and remains of and for industry, unique in the Northern Netherlands. And I am very proud of that!'