Operations: Where the Constant is Change

Ensto’s operations have undergone dramatic changes over the past year. Niko Helander explains what and why.

Ensto Group’s new strategy, “two businesses, two focuses,” has already had an impact on Ensto factories. The words of the strategy articulate Ensto’s desire to allow employees in both businesses, Ensto DSO and Ensto Building Systems, to focus and specialize, to be more customer- and business centric.

The changes taking place on Ensto factory floors are the actions behind those words.

Dedicated factories

In summer 2020, Porvoo's heater line was moved to Keila, Estonia. Soon, the production of the EnstoNet installation system will also leave Porvoo for Keila. "Our strategy is for the Porvoo factory to focus on pure component manufacturing and highly automated assembly lines," says Niko Helander, Senior Vice President of Ensto Operations. "All the actions we're taking are about identifying the Porvoo plant's core and investing in it."

The investment Helander references is significant. Five million euros will be invested in Porvoo over the next year and a half. "We added a third SLIW [an insulating piercing connector] component machine in September. In November, we added a SLIW automatic assembly line. And we'll add an UNFA automatic screwing machine soon to automatically screw joints and cable lugs." Helander says heat shrink manufacturing is also going to be relocated to Porvoo’s main building. We have an extruder and expander that we'll move them inside after a year. Then we'll add a second expander."

In Keila, an investment of over one million euros will be made to add a second DESMA machine. The DESMA is a silicon joint producing machine. "Add the EnstoNet machine — another million-euro investment — and the heater line, and there will be lots of new production coming out of Keila," says Helander. "Our goal is to begin automating the Keila factory. We've already added an automatic forklift that doesn't require a driver. We are starting to purchase cobots, and will continue to do so over the next five years. Our goal is to have half of production semiautomated by the end of 2025 in Keila.”

The "two businesses, two focuses" strategy, means that Ensto Building Systems (EBS) and Ensto DSO will be using dedicated factories. Larger factories will be solely dedicated to one of the two businesses, and smaller factories, like the St. Petersburg plant, will be separated on the production floor. Ensto's Porvoo factory will become a subcontracting factory, making and selling components for both EBS and Ensto DSO. Ensto factories in France, Spain, and India will also focus on either EBS or Ensto DSO.

Changes are being led by Helander at the group level, as well as for the Ensto DSO business. Ismo Heikkinen leads operations on the EBS side. “Everyone will have a home, either EBS or Ensto DSO,” says Helander. “This way of working gives us focus. We can’t be at our best if we’re handling ten types of production. Splitting the business means focus, focus, focus.”

Corona changes

One recent change that no strategy could have anticipated has been that of Corona. Ensto has been fortunate that the disruptions caused by Corona have been manageable. “If you go back to Corona’s beginning, in February,” says Helander, “we saw problems with the supply chain in China. Tomasz Bilinski and the Procurement team worked very hard to solve issues fast. We needed to use planes, trains and boats to get goods to all factories, but we solved the problems.” Ensto increased its stocks for A-product components, meaning products generating 80 percent of sales.

But this autumn, more than the supply chain was disrupted. Eighteen Corona cases were diagnosed in Keila. "Half had no symptoms at all," says Helander. "The only reason we know is because we had a program to test everyone."

Now close contact has been eliminated and employees wear masks all day. "Kaarel Suuk and his team have done remarkable work," says Helander. "They worked two weeks day and night to stop the spread. We never needed to shut down the factory, though we did close the enclosures department for one week."

Helander says all Ensto factories have also undergone modifications in the name of safety. "Sami Soiramo is testing a program in the Porvoo plant where every worker carries a proximity tracing card in their pocket. If two people come within two meters of each other, the cards start beeping. Come closer than a meter and the card shouts and blinks at you! If someone would get sick, then we can trace any contact they've had."

A highly-skilled future

Although it may seem like the future is automation, nothing will happen without Ensto’s highly-skilled workforce. “In every area people are working extremely well,” says Helander. “We’ve got a new strategy, plus a pandemic, and we’ve had to ask a lot of Ensto operations people. Nobody has complained. Our operations people are truly a great asset who are able to do whatever it takes.”

“Our people are so used to changes,” he says. “If there are no changes they’d wonder if something was wrong. Lean methods teach us to change.”