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Marel Manufacturing System Drives Speed and Quality Throughout its Global Operations

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How does a multinational organization made up of 4,000 employees of different cultures who speak different languages and perform different functions at sites in 30 countries develop a dominant, enterprise wide, unifying strategy that is understood and embraced by all?

Marel, which designs and manufactures highly customized food-processing equipment, faced that challenge after nearly three decades of expanding through acquisitions. It purchased Stork Food Systems in 2008, a firm with U.S. roots dating to the 1850s that had its own blend of acquisitions, history, culture and manufacturing practices. Equal in size to what Marel had become, Stork introduced even greater diversity into the parent company’s operations and culture. With the acquisition of Stork, Marel’s international profile now includes, in addition to multiple sales offices and its Iceland headquarters, 17 manufacturing sites in Iceland and the United States, the Netherlands, Brazil, China, Singapore, the UK, Spain, Denmark, Norway and Slovakia. The global economic crisis of 2008–09 led to changes in Marel’s top management. Aligning the sales function to achieve one consistent image, one identity, one “voice” to the customer emerged as a primary goal. “Customers saw us as a conglomeration of different companies,” says Global Manufacturing Director Fred Vijverstra. A parallel goal was to effectively capitalize on synergies within and among Marel’s various facilities. Each had developed its own unique operational process improvements, but there had never been a structured way for those to be shared. Netherlands-based Vijverstra, a 20-year Marel veteran who holds a degree in mechanical engineering, was charged with helping to integrate the conglomerate’s strengths through the design, implementation and oversight of a new manufacturing strategy that would help meld Marel’s disparate cultures and processes. He brought together an equal number of representatives from Marel and Stork; they agreed that the focus had to change from the organization’s differences to a new vision that recognized the organization’s similarities. It took until 2010 to formulate and formalize what was to become the Marel Manufacturing System, or MMS, and until 2011 to be ready to introduce and roll out the new approach to its 17 manufacturing facilities.  

Varied customer base means varied customer needs and equipment

Examining Marel’s customer base and order history made clear that because of the company’s high-mix, low-volume production, attempting to capitalize on economies of scale wouldn’t make sense. Although some food-processing equipment has fairly standard characteristics, most is highly customized. One machine, for example, might simply sanitize and section poultry or remove bones from meat. Other equipment might perform more-precise operations: laser-slicing of meat to deli-thin specifications, for example, or creating fish, chicken or beef portions of an exact weight and shape. One Marel customer might need a piece of equipment that constitutes just one phase of overall processing. Another might want Marel to design and manufacture a complete food-processing system that integrates multiple machines customized to perform a series of sequential steps from cleaning, to deboning, to sectioning, to grinding, to weighing, to packaging and labeling. Marel also produces complex stand-alone machines that can perform a variety of functions. For example, Marel designed a “floating factory” for seagoing vessels that cleans, debones, and forms fish into portions of a prescribed weight — all accomplished with a singular piece of equipment that has an extremely compact footprint.

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