Celebrating 40 years at Operational Group
This month, Operational Group celebrates its 40th birthday.
We talked to Hans Van Collenburg, Managing Director of Operational Benelux BV and Operational Deutschland GmBh to share the story of Operational, how the company has evolved, and what the plans are for the next forty years.
How was Operational founded?
In June 1982, a Dutch engineer called Joop Rolfe founded Operational. It was a time when air conditioning was relatively new and the company was helping manufacturing sites to fix and improve their heating and cooling systems.
When I joined in 2002, the company was doing some regular maintenance for one of the HVAC systems for our clients and they asked us “If you have knowledge of air, can you take a look at our Dryer?”
We wanted to give it a try as no other business was doing this.
Our team are engineers, so we did a lot of research into drying, nozzle speeds, optimising the angle of how you blow air onto a film, nozzle velocity, the pressure in dryers. Dryer Optimisation is essentially all about creating good turbulence in the Dryer.
After this initial project was a success, we started to get referrals from other customers asking us to do Dryer Optimisation. So that’s how our business evolved to offering Dryer Optimisation too.
How has your role evolved?
I’m a mechanical engineer. The first four years at Operational I set up the Spanish operation. Then I worked in France for three years, before going back to the Netherlands. I am now the Managing Director for Benelux and Germany. Germany is the biggest industrial country in Europe so it is a growing market opportunity for us, especially because high energy prices are driving manufacturers to look for savings opportunities.
We relocated our German office last year and have been growing our team. I make sure we’ve got the right people on the job.
It’s been an exciting company to be part of as there are constantly new requirements. While we are quite niche, there are always new customers in new industries asking us to help them to optimise their operations.
What’s it like to work at Operational?
I’ve been at Operational for 22 years. It doesn’t seem that long because there are always new challenges and opportunities. That makes it diverse. It’s a very exciting place to work because we’re at the cutting edge of industry and led by a consultative approach that we have with our clients.
First project you worked on?
It was a big project in France for a company which is now part of the Amcor Group who provide packaging solutions. I was asked to come over from Spain to help engineers on a dryer optimisation project.
Dryer optimisation isn’t something you learn at University. It’s about climbing up machines, drilling holes, measuring air balance, getting your hands dirty, and looking at the air balance of the machine.
That’s how I’ve built my knowledge. As Engineers, we applied the principles of physics to look at the dryer performance and reviewed the entire process and ask why was it operating in a particular way? Then we found we could optimise production speeds and improve quality. Dryer Optimisation is all about creating good turbulence in the Dryer.
How have Operational’s services evolved?
After Operational started in the flexible packaging industry doing Dryer Optimisation, we then started helping with Air Pollution Control systems. This was partially led by tightening regulations, for example, the European Union specified that evaporated solvents cannot be emitted into the atmosphere, so we developed our expertise to help industrial companies to implement the environmental controls they need to be compliant with legislation.
We now offer a range of services for manufacturers. As well as Dryer Optimisation, we create energy savings on the presses, we do central XL systems, complete RTOs, abatement systems, and even complete service and maintenance on every project which we’ve run.
We stay close to our customers and hold our business accountable for the systems working, which means we build sustained, successful relationships and continually evolve our solutions.
How has industry changed?
In recent years, everything is about monitoring efficiency, productivity, output, and traceability. When a machine is standing still, it’s not profitable. With Industry 4.0, systems are intelligent. When you monitor the performance of your dryers and your systems, then you can use it to implement a preventive maintenance process.
Operational helps to solve problems faster by looking at the historic performance of a machine and process. For example, if we know it will run for 8,000 hours per year, we can schedule maintenance before there are any issues and expensive downtime.
Traceability is also important. Every piece of packaging has a barcode on it that is traceable. If there is something wrong with the packaging, you can trace exactly where the mistake happened.
Monitoring, quality, and production speed is much higher than ever.
Where do you see the industry going?
Every business is focused on energy savings. The situation in Russia is increasing energy prices and this is acting as a catalyst to decarbonise industry. Energy costs, combined with pressure from regulations and consumers to reduce environmental impact can all achieved by optimising dryers and improving production speeds of dryers. Operational will be central to helping businesses to reduce their energy costs.
Why do businesses choose Operational to plan and implement their Heat Recovery, Dryer Optimisation, and Air Pollution Control systems?
It all comes down to trust. Over the past 40 years, we have built a reputation for being the best in the industry at what we do. And that’s how we’ve grown – by referral from our happy customers.