R&D Department: improvement and innovation
Improvement and innovation. These are the keywords for the Research and Development Department of Moba. This department is tasked with improving existing equipment and developing new products and solutions. Director R&D, Maarten Buijs, explains the work that is done by his department and how Moba stays innovative, even with continuous market changes and future developments.
Moba relies on a major R&D Department. 125 people work at the head office in Barneveld, along with a small R&D department in the US. The US department focuses mainly on the washing and drying of eggs, an important aspect for our American customers. They also focus on the support of existing Diamond machines. Maarten joined Moba two years ago as director of the R&D Department. The vision of Moba is to enable producers worldwide to feed a growing world population that has continuously developed food preferences with safe, high-quality, tasty, affordable, egg-based food. R&D plays a key role in this. Maarten explains: “In collaboration with other departments we have to find ways to stay leading in our part of the egg industry.”
Improve and develop
“We at R&D focus on three different aspects of the business”, Maarten continues. “Firtsly, the existing equipment. Even when the equipment is already in the field, we continue to investigate solutions to improve the way it can be produced or serviced. Feedback from internal and external customers is key to this process.”
Important questions to be worked out are: What amount is invested in the development? When do we recoup this investment?
Not only does R&D focus on improvements for equipment already in the field, they also develop new products. Collaboration is paramount according to Maarten: “Firstly, R&D cooperates with the Product Managers. They stay in close contact with our customers and the Sales and Service departments and understand what their (future) needs might be. Those ideas are discussed and together we think about how we can develop them into products. Important questions to be worked out are: What amount is invested in the development? When do we recoup this investment? Typically, if the business case is profitable within two years, we get the green light to start development.”
The R&D Department has to consider the whole process: from idea to reality. What kind of controls are required? Which materials and construction should be utilized? How should the software function? Can this machine be installed easily? Will it be easy to maintain? Maarten: “Every detail needs to be considered. Of course, ideas are important, but to turn those ideas into real products, that is a painstaking process.”
After every phase we evaluate work that has been done. Only when all conditions of the phase are met, will we go to the next phase
Step by step
A new product is developed in phases. First R&D makes a design, which also takes account of how the product can be made, installed and serviced. This is based on the input from the Operations and Service departments. This design is used to build a prototype. The prototype helps to see if the idea on paper actually works. If there are any problems, the design will be adjusted. The next step is a field test: the new product will be installed at the site of a customer who knows that the product is still in the test phase. This gives Moba the opportunity to investigate any problems a customer might encounter during actual operation. This information is used to improve the machine. After that, several so-called seed machines will be installed at customer sites, not only to ensure everything works, but also for commercial reasons. Finally, a zero-test is done, where about ten machines are installed at customer sites. Two important aspects in this phase are that the supply chain is fully set up and that the Service department is able to install the product without support from R&D. Maarten: “After every phase we evaluate work that has been done. Only when all conditions of the phase are met, will we go to the next phase.” When the development project is finished, the Operations and Service departments should be able to produce, install and service the product without support from R&D.
Not all solutions for our customers can be assembled from standard products. Many customers require tailor-made solutions. In order to provide for these one-off requests, the PE group of R&D has all the skills in-house to adjust existing modules and products or to design one-off modules from scratch. PE then also makes sure that these are combined into a total solution as part of the large customer projects, which are assembled at our customer sites under the direction of the Project Management department.
My task is to make sure that we have the best, motivated people; now and in the future. People with a vision for this company. And that they have the best working conditions to ensure that R&D delivers on its obligations so that Moba can keep its commitments to our customers.
Moba is market leader, but to stay on top is not easy. Being innovative is essential. As Maarten explains: “At R&D we do that in two distinctive ways. One is more evolutionary, where we elaborate on existing machines and processes. For the second one you have to start thinking about trends and developments far into the future.” There are no fortunetellers working at Moba. Still, predicting the future of the egg market is essential for R&D. Currently, two people within R&D are tasked with charting this territory. Maarten explains the challenge they are facing: “They have to imagine what the egg industry will look like in ten, twenty years. Which trends that we see nowadays could be essential? Examples are environmental issues, animal welfare, vegetable proteins, larger variety, and home delivery. What kind of technology may be available in the future and what does this mean for us? Examples include robotics, AGVs, artificial intelligence and integrated sensors. Who will our customers be? The two researchers need to think about what could be the next breakthrough that can change the industry. Of course, we want to be the first to think about it so that we can maintain our leadership position. This also means that we have to keep a sharp eye on our competitors and protect all intellectual property we generate in this process.”
Everyone working at the R&D Department has their own task. Maarten: “My task is to make sure that we have the best, motivated people; now and in the future. People with a vision for this company. And that they have the best working conditions to ensure that R&D delivers on its obligations so that Moba can keep its commitments to our customers. We make calculated risks to stay innovative in the egg industry, so that we can keep delivering the best possible value to our customers.”