Self organisation improves innovation capacity at DSM Anti-infectives

2011- In 2000 DSM in Delft (the Netherlands) built a new plant for the production of antibiotics. This plant had  to be the most efficient plant in the world due to technological innovations (new enzymatic processes) and self-steering teams. Up to now new processes and work place innovations are implemented to make the difference in the global competition. Each day the personnel in the plant in Delft fight to prevent that DSM replaces the production of these antibiotics to China.

About the DSM antibioticsplant
In two units (ZOR-F and the Enzyme plant) operators produce enzymes needed for the production of antibiotics. The 10 production teams, each consisting of  five operators manage themselves that the two units produce 7 x 24 hours. There are two Operation experts and four process Engineers working close to the process. Besides there are one Operations manager, a Maintenance manager and a Plant manager.  The Operations manager communicates directly with the operators. There is no management layer in between.

Implementation strategy
In the beginning the self-steering teams did not function very well; however  the management did not drop the concept but  on the contrary improved it by organizational innovations. They used sociotechnical theory, in particular the concept of the delegated tasks (Van Amelsvoort e.a., 2003). The ‘delegated task’ is  a role for an operator in one of the supporting processes (quality, logistics, technique, personnel….). The operator with a delegated task stays in contact with all other teams and with staff memebers and management on the topic of his/her  concern and brings the information back to his teammates. Besides four operators were kept out off the schedules; these ‘Operation experts’ got a role in coaching the operators and controlling the planning, safety and hygiene (they got the nick name: ‘oilman’,  the man who is walking around to oil the machine…). The Process engineers work literally in the room opposite to the control room and they take part in the daily morning consultation.

The Plant manager and Operation manager state that the success is depending of the attitude of the management : ‘how much do you trust your personnel. You have to dare to let go of and sit on your hands even if it seems to go wrong. You have to allow  the operators their moments of learning.’

Self organisation
The two units are managed by 3 – 5 men each. In the nights only these men are there. The production teams function without a team leader. The operators are supported in their daily work by the Operation expert. The Proces engineers are part of the departement Operations;  they collaborate intensively with the operators while optimizing or innovating the processes. Operators and engineers report directly to the Operation manager. This manager is responsible for the two units.

The success is to be seen from the fact that in 2011 the plant in Delft  still produces enzymes better and cheaper than any other plant in the world. In 2007 it was shown that the plant produced one and a half times as much volume with half the staffing compared to what was planned at the time of building the plant in 2000.