Quick Response Manufacturing in Dutch and Belgian SMEs in the manufacturing industry:

Significance & impact on human capital

2021 – In an Interregg project (project QRM 4.0), employees of the Employability professorship of Zuyd Hoge School, the Netherlands and Workitect in Belgium conducted a study into Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM) in the Dutch and Belgian SME manufacturing industry.



Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM) aims to shorten lead times in production environments that are characterized by a high variety of products and customization. By focusing on lead time instead of production efficiency, a redesign of the organization is needed, aimed at shortening the lead time.


Goals QRM 4.0

The QRM 4.0 project is based on three complementary approaches: QRM (lead time reduction), Industry 4.0 (digitization) and sociotechnical theory (human aspects).

The aim of this research is twofold. 1. gain insight into the way in which QRM 4.0 is implemented in the Dutch and Belgian SME manufacturing industry; 2. gain insight into the competencies required of employees when they work in an SME manufacturing company that works according to the QRM principles.



A literature study and a qualitative study were carried out. In the qualitative research, semi-structured interviews were used to explore what directors (business owners and/or board members) of SMEs in the manufacturing industry see as QRM.

During the interviews, questions were also asked about the impact of QRM on the human capital of the organization and the employability of employees.



In summary, 6 results came out of the study:

  1. A changing environment arouses the interest of SME entrepreneurs in QRM. Many entrepreneurs keep track of those changes.
  2. There is now interest in QRM, but most do not (yet) consider the drastic changes that it entails necessary.
  3. QRM entails high expectations with regard to competences and competence building. Employees must become multi-deployable or all-round.
  4. QRM changes the nature of the work as well as the involvement. There is involvement with the product from start to finish and the work is more varied.
  5. QRM goes well with digitization aimed at reducing the high administrative pressure on employees,
  6. The change from work to all-round positions makes employees more employable internally and externally. Attention is needed, however, for people who are not or cannot be broadly deployable.


Conclusions & Recommendations

QRM is potentially interesting for many SME manufacturing companies. However, not many companies use it. One reason not to choose QRM is the investment it requires compared to the potential return. The promised savings and shorter lead times are not always easy to achieve in practice.

The literature suggests that SMEs still make insufficient use of the available methods and instruments to achieve the desired reduction in lead time.

The training and education of employees is seen as important by the interviewed companies.

Despite the high employability of trained employees, they are happy to continue working (loyalty) for the company that trained them. Investing in the employability of human capital therefore pays off.

This and previous research shows that QRM’s focus on lead time is difficult to adopt for managers and employees who are trained to pay attention to productivity, low costs and delivery time.

By focusing on changing this mindset during training, QRM can be better implemented. When it comes to technology, the pertinent question is: which technology supports improving lead time?



Ilse Schrijver, Dominique Nijssen, Sander Smouts, Rik Loffeld, Tom Brandsma, Jol Stoffers: ‘Quick Response Manufacturing in Dutch and Belgian SMEs in the manufacturing industry:

Significance & impact on human capital.’ 2021, Employability Lectorate of Zuyd Hogeschool & Workitect