Top Babcock artisans rewarded with a trip to Sweden

For the second year running, Babcock has rewarded the top four artisans from its Equipment business with a trip to visit Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE) factories and facilities in Sweden. The selection criterion was based on the annual survey-based test compiled by the national technical department for artisans within Babcock’s Equipment business.

Started in 2023, the initiative is aimed at promoting continuous product knowledge improvement among artisans. Corno DeJager, national technical manager – Equipment at Babcock, says skilled artisans are the ‘fuel’ that keeps customer fleets running. Their technical knowhow, adds DeJager, builds trust and ensures excellent customer service.

“The idea behind this initiative is to encourage artisans to keep themselves at the top of their game by continuously sharpening their product knowledge. Technical aptitude of our artisans is key to high levels of customer service and support,” says DeJager. “Affording them the opportunity to see how the machine-production process unfolds at Volvo CE is our way of giving back to our hardworking artisans.”

The inaugural test in 2023 was aimed at testing the artisans’ ability to utilise information from various Babcock systems such as workshop and parts manuals, as well as diagnostic guides, to solve problems. It was also a general knowledge test on all Volvo CE products supplied and supported by Babcock.

The 2024 test, explains product specialist Werner Lourens, was formulated with a different goal in mind. “The second examination was designed to test the artisans’ ability to think out of the box and find solutions to real-life case studies from our branches located  in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. These scenarios allowed artisans to self-assess their problem-solving capabilities and recognise areas for improvement ,” says Lourens.

Ultimately, Dewald Esterhuizen, Johan Leeuwner, Johannes Steenkamp and Jonathan Newman outscored everyone else to secure their seats on the trip to Sweden. Accompanied by supervisor Vincent Botha, the artisans embarked on a five-day trip, which entailed visits to the Volvo CE Braås and Skövde factories as well as the Volvo CE Customer Centre in Eskilstuna.

The Braås location is where the complete range of Volvo articulated haulers is manufactured. The Skövde plant is a world class production facility supplying the Volvo Group with diesel engines and components. The main processes at Skövde are foundry, machining and assembly. At the Customer Centre, the group had a chance to put several Volvo CE products through their paces.

Dewald Esterhuizen, an earthmoving equipment mechanic based at Babcock’s Bartlett facility in Johannesburg, is grateful for what he says was a ‘lifetime experience’ to visit Volvo CE’s facility and witness the processes involved in the manufacture and assembly of machines. “It was a great opportunity that will encourage me to work even harder in my field of work,” says Esterhuizen.

For Bloemfontein-based Johan Leeuwner, witnessing the strides made in electromobility was quite an eye-opener. “From cars charging up on the streets to earthmoving equipment moving dirt on construction sites, electric solutions have become a reality in the developed world and I believe it is just a matter of time before we follow suit,” says Leeuwner. “It was also amazing to see the level of automation in the Volvo factories and the resultant levels of production. For example, at the engine factory, they produce more than 120 engines per shift and the whole sub-assembly is manned by a robot, with no human interference.”

For Middelburg-based Johannes Steenkamp, the visit to Sweden represented his first ever trip outside of South Africa. A key takeaway for him was the high level of quality control throughout the manufacturing process at the Volvo CE factories to maintain the desired level of excellence. “It was thrilling to see the systematic approach to consistently enhance processes to achieve higher efficiency, effectiveness and quality,” says Steenkamp.

Johannesburg-based Jonathan Newman, who has been with Babcock since 2004, commends Babcock’s national technical department for encouraging innovative thinking among artisans. This year’s test, he says, not only focused on knowledge of products, but also tested artisans’ ability to think on their feet.

Commenting on the trip to Sweden, he says: “Visiting the factories revealed to me why Volvo CE is a premium brand; it starts right at the factory where premium processes are the order of the day,” says Newman. “The trip was for me a team building session with colleagues from other branches. We have established a knowledge-sharing platform where we can now consult with each other and exchange ideas.”

Leading this group of artisans to Sweden was an exciting adventure for Vincent Botha, service manager at Babcock. Botha particularly appreciated the friendly nature of the Swedes and the beauty of the country, characterised by the picturesque landscapes and rich history.

“A key takeaway for me is the systematic approach with which the Volvo CE teams work. They streamline processes, thus cultivating a culture of continuous improvement. As teams become aware of areas of improvement, they foster a proactive mindset capable of driving further innovation and efficiency in their day-to-day operations,” concludes Botha.

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