Strategic choices have been good for Stertil

In the past summer, Valk Welding installed the 10th Panasonic welding robot at Stertil, a manufacturer of dock levellers and lifting bridge systems. The installation forms the completion of a modernisation and improvement campaign, which the manufacturer begun 10 years ago. With this, Stertil also says farewell to the old method of construction.
As a result of the new method, the company is now less dependent on specialised personnel, the duty cycle of the welding robots is increased considerably, the number of factory operators has been halved and sales has increased. We asked CEO Ulbe Bijlsma and Operations Director Jan Bosch which strategy formed the basis for this success.

The Stertil Group with its head office in the Frisian town of Kootstertille develops and builds dock levellers under the Stertil Dock Products name and lifting bridge systems under the Stertil Koni brand. The products are sold worldwide through eight sales offices plus their own production facilities in the USA and China as well as a dealer network.

Limited efficiency during welding production

When the current CEO took over the management of Stertil around 14 years ago, the company was writing red figures. “It was time to develop a clear strategy. On the basis of thorough market research and a business analysis, we set up a new organization and put together a new management team. One of the first weak points we encountered in production was the limited efficiency in (welding) production. The components for the dock levellers and lifting bridge systems are built in a multitude of types and sizes, in which a separate tacking and welding fixture was used for each type and dimension. The existing robots always had to wait until the fixture had been changed and the workpiece had been tacked. As a result, these robots were forced to stand idle for a long time. Efficiency had to be increased considerably,” Ulbe Bijlsma explains.

To a modular structure

One of the initiatives was the implementation of a modular product design for the dock levellers. Then, on the basis of this, an optimal method of production was examined. “We had developed an automatically adjustable fixture, in which we could quickly switch between the different models. By having the tacking process run parallel with the welding robot, the robot additionally was not forced to wait for the tacking, therefore it was possible to double the duty cycle. With this, we said farewell to the old method of working”, Jan Bosch explains.

To modern technology

Jan Bosch, “We experienced various malfunctions with the previous robots and were confronted with outdated technology and inefficient methods of programming. By moving to a modular structure, we have also made a step towards modernisation. The Panasonic welding robots are lighter and faster, can be programmed offline and all components are 100% tuned to each other within Panasonic’s all-in-one concept and communicate 1-to-1 with the robot controller. Ten years ago, we started with the replacement of the first three robots and since then have gradually replaced the subsequent units. This year, with the 10th unit, we have replaced all existing robots with the modern Panasonic welding robots. Furthermore, an additional amount has been ordered for the production of newly developed products.”

Strategic choice

“Until mid-2005, we manufactured lifting bridges for both passenger cars as well as for the heavier segment. The former market is large, but also features a large number of suppliers. The latter, heavier segment provides more opportunity for distinction. We made the decision to only continue in that segment and have set ourselves the goal of becoming the best in this market”, Ulbe Bijlsma explains. “In the meanwhile, we have become the world’s market leader in the heavier segment with a dedicated production facility in the USA and an assembly facility in China. Our lifting bridges for the lighter segment are today almost only sold in the Netherlands.”

Improved cycle

“We have considerably improved the entire cycle of tacking, welding and cleaning by means of the modularisation of the product design, automation effort, offline programming and modern welding fixtures. Since we have performed these improvements both with the production of the dock levellers as well as the lifting bridge systems, both departments are no longer strictly separated, but instead employees work on components for both product groups. Furthermore, the first welding robot installation of Valk Welding has already been taken into operation in our USA branch. The programs, which were created and used in the Netherlands, can be applied one-to-one, without any correcyions due to the calibration of the systems” Jan Bosch explains.

Improve output further

“The replacement of the first welding robot was a nerve-racking event; both the new method as well as the new technology first had to prove itself. However, everyone quickly saw the benefits, as a result of which the new method and the new welding robots were rapidly accepted. In the meanwhile, we have become a key account at Valk Welding. We are happy to benefit from their knowledge and points for improvement are quickly implemented and we are able to continuously raise the bar. In this manner, Valk Welding helps us in improving the output further,” Ulbe Bijlsma states.


 Operations Director Jan Bosch and CEO Ulbe Bijlsma


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