Quality every day - Aarbakke AS

Quality every day

THINK is Aarbakke’s programme for improving HSE and quality. Each quarter we have a new topic that is important in our work to continuously improve. This quarter will be called Quality.

Quality is often quantified in graphs, figures, elaborate formulations and fancy wording. It is something that we measure, but can be difficult to actually see. In THINK, therefore, it was decided to carry out an expedition to hunt for this elusive notion of quality — the kind the client wants and which Aarbakke promises
to deliver. It does exist, but is well-camouflaged among day-to-day duties and tasks. In other words, ensuring quality every day can get lost among the everyday.

“We believe that Aarbakke’s future success depends upon many factors, but in our view, the quality of our deliveries is the most crucial. Delivering high quality once is one thing, but doing it every day, every time, is quite another. A stable level of quality requires engaged employees, good procedures, pride in one’s work, and knowledge,” explains THINK’s ambassador, Hans Olav Frette.

This article depicts the expedition’s journey into the heart of Aarbakke’s factory landscape, where we encounter employees who do quality work, every day.

The gatekeeper

The Aarbakke factory in Håland looms over the flat landscape of Jæren. Outside, it is a chilly autumn, but inside, it is warm and cosy. Deep inside the facility, at the end of a pathway with Mazak machines and devoted CNC operators, sits one man.

Øyvind Simonsen is a kind of gatekeeper. He has a chair and a desk just across the corridor from the welders. Here, by the window, he has strict control over which materials are taken in and out.

“There’s a huge difference between a 316 bolt and a 307 bolt, to put it that way,” he explains. “If I allow the wrong material to pass through at this point, it can cause critical problems further down the line.”

He points to his computer screen, where we see things like lot number, part number, test number and heat number. There’s a logic to this, Øyvind explains, a work language, a language he speaks fluently after five years as the gatekeeper in Håland.

The task is to receive and check materials that are either on their way in or on their way out of the factory. Øyvind describes the control systems at Aarbakke as good, but the most important factor the personal qualities of a good colleague.

“The computer is of course an important tool, but the core of this job is being alert, having an eye for details, being systematic and orderly. And when it gets busy, you need a colleague who can check on you and reach out a helping hand.

Øyvind is originally from Karmøy, and has lived in Jæren the last 20 years. He is certified in foundry work and patternmaking, and is familiar with the different types of material. This serves him well on the job.

“I am familiar with the chemical processes and the different mixture ratios within most kinds of metal, at least at an overall level. This gives me a certain sense of security when I read the work orders.”

He clacks away on his keyboard. He just received an email from Ragnhild containing a number that has a bold, red ring around it.

“See, this is what it’s all about,” he says. “We look after each other, work as a team, and do not hesitate to make the other person aware of something. Here, Ragnhild is notifying me that the number 4 is missing. This is what quality is all about: catching the small details like this one, which could have led to a significant error.”

“Thanks,” writes Øyvind in his reply.

Cut out for the job

image002Right across the corridor is where the welders are working. In the little, enclosed space hangs the odour of hot tungsten, sweat and old Evergood coffee over the workers who are deep in concentration. Jan Rune Gjertsen turns up between two automatised weld machines as he pops chewing gum in his mouth.

A faint whiff of strawberries drifts through the air as he says, “Things can quickly get a little cramped in here. We use a lot of propane to heat parts up, which consumes much of the oxygen. Want some gum?”

Jan Rune is a new hire, but no newbie. He’s worked with welding and sheet-metal work for 29 years. Normally, he is a welder at the factory facilities in Vardheia, but he is now helping out colleagues in Håland. These are busy times.

“Right now, when there is so much to do, it is important to keep up one’s level of precision. We manage processes that demand a high degree of concentration and exactness. Here, we place great emphasis on good communication: that we talk to each other as well as how we talk to each other,” he explains.

He is convinced that a good weld comes from good communication, trust and cooperation between colleagues, along with a great amount of respect and love for the discipline.

For welding is no fun and games. Jan Rune is reminiscent of a chemistry teacher when he explains how different materials have to be heated to different temperatures, and how weld overlays are applied by the millimetre.

Each assignment has a kind of user manual, called a Welding Procedure Specification (WPS), which must be read and followed to the letter, Jan Rune explains.

“We make things that have to bear enormous loads over long periods of time. It’s self-evident that we have to get the job right. Always think in terms of quality. Like making a fine cigar,” he says with a smile.

That’s right. When Jan Rune is not welding or driving his kids to handball practice in Austrått, Cuban cigars are on his mind. He is a devoted member of the Rogaland Cigar Forum and sees a clear connection between his love of cigars and his welding career.

“Fidel Castro once said that he knew of nothing so laborious and demanding as being on the Cuban cigar production line. In many ways I feel the same about welding. It’s also extremely demanding — a true craft,” he says.

And with that, it’s time for lunch.

Cooking to perfection

Picture of Hilde Hansen320 hungry stomachs. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night snacks. Every day. Hilde Hansen Refsnes is responsible for mealtimes at Aarbakke.

Hilde is not satisfied with imitations. That’s why she makes her roast beef dish from scratch. It’s more work, but the results taste so much better, she says. And she knows whereof she speaks. 17 years’ experience as a cook has given her the experience to distinguish between good and bad food, between quality and rubbish.

“My principle is to have a taste of all the food I serve,” she explains. “Obviously, I would never ask anyone else to eat something I wouldn’t eat myself.”

In addition to preparing food, her passions are baking cakes and interior design, two hobbies that suit her well. She likes good ingredients, precision, originality, and quality — the four principles that guide her as a cook.

At the same time, she admits that with high standards come high expectations. Often, Hilde and the rest of the kitchen crew have to shift to a higher gear.

“At times we are very busy, but we hang in there so that we can ensure good quality and selection. And we enjoy it, too. We want to do our best. For me, it’s about loyalty. I am employed by Aarbakke and part of the team. That means a lot. I think the fact that the kitchen stands behind the food it makes is an important part of achieving quality.”

Hilde has worked for Aarbakke for six years and has gotten to know her colleagues quite well. So well, in fact, that she has a good idea of employees’ eating habits and who likes what.

“As a cook, I think it is a privilege to get to know the ones you are making food for. It means that we are in a sort of continuous dialogue with the customer and always getting feedback. This helps us deliver a quality product that satisfies a wide number of people.”

Minister of Trade

Picture of Synnøve VeienFrom her office in Forum Jæren in Bryne, Synnøve Veien has a nice view over Jæren, train passengers embarking and disembarking, and arriving shipments for Aarbakke.

Synnøve works with materials procurement: parts small and large, this and that. A seller or planner notifies her of a need, and she sounds out the market, finds the right quality and obtains offers. Then, she places orders.

“The entire world is our workplace, and we must locate ourselves within an international market. We must always weigh time and price. I like this dynamic and to be able to provide this service for my colleagues,” Synnøve says.

A steady stream of need is always coming. Every morning the procurement team meets to divide the orders among themselves. Synnøve has nothing but praise for the prevailing team spirit.

“We are members of a team that complement each other quite well. Some of us have a university degree, while others have an apprenticeship certificate and long work experience in the industry. This mix makes us professionally robust and positions us to make the right decisions.”

Synnøve has university credits in marketing, finance and leadership, and tourism, all of which serve her well. But according to her, the most important quality in this job is the ability to provide service. She prioritises being a good partner and problem solver.

“Often it is simply a matter of being available and responding quickly to an incident, whether you are able to help or not. The worst thing is to keep the person on the other end waiting. I was especially concerned with responding quickly after we moved from the facilities at Håland. Having to sit and wait a long time for an email causes frustration, and can in the worst case affect the quality of our final product.”

Synnøve lives in Nærbø and makes the drive to Bryne every day. But sometimes she has to travel even further, for an important part of her job is the inspection of suppliers. She regularly visits the most important suppliers across Europe.

“The face-to-face meetings are extremely important. They ensure dialogue and serve to clarify mutual expectations. We can of course come a long way by telephone and email, but the best dialogue is always face-to-face.”

And she does miss the faces of colleagues at Håland.

 “I won’t deny that the distance between Håland and Forum Jæren feels a bit long at times. Fortunately, I can see the factory from the top of the high rise, which is better than nothing, she adds with a smile.


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