Project Manager Joep Braam: "Working with many customers and products is varied and challenging".

  • June 30, 2014
  • Frank Steeghs

With 22 years of employment under his belt, Joep Braam is one of the veterans at ACE. The project manager describes the possibility of working for a wide range of clients via this engineering and consultancy firm: "From DAF to Philips and from Océ to ASML. A valuable fact is: you do not need to know everything there is to know about televisions to work for Philips. You can learn as you go."

Exhaust systems and clothing hangers

"I started working for DAF via ACE Geldrop in 1992. I delivered the work to our customers and created enough subsequent orders. I also used a CAD system to draw components for new HGVs. Examples include exhaust systems or the control mechanism for a new gear box. That work stopped when DAF was taken over by Paccar," Joep concludes. "I then started working on site at Mega Limburg. This energy distribution company for gas and electricity is now called Essent. The department where I worked advised larger customers about energy-saving options. I visited companies and looked at what they used the energy for and whether there was technology in place to recycle the waste flow that was created in the process. This allowed them to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions. I had an advisory role, I performed calculations and drafted reports. My day sometimes involved visiting an industrial baker in the morning and a manufacturer of clothing hangers in the afternoon, meaning that I saw a lot of different companies. Although I started as the only hired worker, I was soon working closely with three others from ACE," the project manager continues.

Bulky televisions

"After all that work in the world of energy, I wanted to try something new and Philips Sittard became my ordering customer. They were working on the introduction of an electron gun in televisions. These were the old, bulky televisions with a cathode ray tube at the back. The tip of that tube contains the electron gun. It consists of an agglomeration of plates welded together by lasers. The gun acts as a pair of binoculars: a lens effect bundles the electrons and focuses them on the screen. At the time, Philips was developing its own production machines in order to produce a new generation of electron guns. I helped to design various components." Joep emphasises with satisfaction: "The great thing is: you do not need to know everything about televisions when you start working for a customer like Philips. You learn as you go. You quickly learn to devise solutions to the customer's problems."

From pipe tobacco to spring rolls

"My work at ACE is extremely varied. For example, I worked for Lareka on the modernisation of a machine that puts pipe tobacco in plastic pockets, but I also helped to develop a spring roll production line for Mora. Mora wanted to produce spring rolls with vegetables that are fresh and crunchy, but with sufficient seasoning. Up to that point, all the filling was thrown into a grinder and a bag of herbs was added. The resulting mixture was deposited into the spring roll via a funnel. Not very artisanal. We discovered that there was a weighing and dosing machine that would leave the vegetables intact and not sticking to the seasoning. We also experimented, for example with a plexiglass tube that we blew air into whilst the seasoning was added. Each team member worked on his own part of the machine and eventually we constructed an installation in which all these components came together." Joep concludes: "Something that is special about my job is that I can work with a large number of products: from pipe tobacco to spring rolls. I do not have any specific preference for a product, I do not need to work with aeroplanes or cars, because there is something interesting in every product. To me, the challenge is more important than the design itself."

Glass factory Philips Aachen (1999-2002)

"The wide-screen television became a hype around 1999. Philips Aachen wanted to jump on the bandwagon, but they needed more glass factories to do so. Therefore, we worked from ACE Maastricht to develop a mechanism that holds the glass in place when a television screen is extruded and a scissor mechanism that cuts glass drops. I was assigned the role of project manager, but I was also leading a group of about five people within ACE. I had to reach agreements about the price and the delivery deadline, but I also had to check whether the work was technically up to scratch and whether everything could be delivered on time." The project manager continues: "At a certain point, the policy at Philips changed and we also had to start supplying products. We won an order to modernise installations that were used in the regeneration of polishing liquids. We contacted construction companies for the delivery of sixteen systems. They made the products, parallel to our design. That was a new experience for me."

Persuasion and empathy

‘At the end of 2002 I switched to Océ . Océ is known for its photocopiers, but the production of the toner is a bigger source of income. I worked for the Equipment Engineering department, they provided the correct equipment in the factory so that toners could be manufactured on a large scale. I played an organisational role: I had to ensure that the process synchronised between several parties. For example, for the purchasing of a large oven installation, I worked with the Purchasing department to determine where we could purchase the best installation and I spoke to the factory managers about their wishes and requirements. I also had to monitor the budget and ensure that everything went according to plan. Meanwhile, everything in the Océ factory had to be prepared and installed and technical issues needed to be resolved. To ensure that such a process runs smoothly requires a great deal of persuasion and empathy,
because all the parties have their own role to play and speak their own language. Some think that you can simply switch the factory on and off and change something in the meantime. It doesn't work like that. So you need to create a good inventory of the problems and explain clearly what everyone's role is in the process. Ultimately you have to arrive at a single product that everyone is happy with. When the correct equipment is delivered after a year of hard work, when the equipment is connected and working without problems, then I am quite satisfied that I guided the entire process!", Joep explains modestly.

At Océ I learned to work together well with others. When you work for a customer, you have a first point of contact there, a coach. Often he/she is a group leader. I had a lot of sparring sessions with my coach at Océ, for example: "I had a meeting with a manufacturer, but they do not understand my point of view. We can't seem to agree. How can I solve this?". I learned that you can view a manager as a superior who monitors your work, but also as an instrument to achieve your goal. This is what I want to tell my colleagues at ACE too: the people above you want to help you, but you have to explain to them what the problem is. You then decide together how best to solve that problem."

Stirring the soup

"I wanted something new. It was the start of 2008. My colleagues who are reading this will laugh, but I said at the time that I want the opportunity to stir the soup," Joep explains cheerfully. "I knew that our people could do more than we thought and that we could achieve more than we were doing, but I needed more of a say in the company. This is why I have been a Project Manager at the High Tech Systems business unit since 2010. I work for ASML from our office in Eindhoven. ASML produces lithographic equipment; the most important step in the production of chips. I work together with sixteen colleagues from ACE. It is important that we tailor our solutions to the ASML organisation, so that they can be implemented in the machines."
"Looking back, I gained knowledge from every order that I can use to my benefit. I am proud of the fact that we have colleagues from Poland and Portugal working here. We consult and coordinate well together. The customer is satisfied and that is important to me. What I have done needs to function properly and others need to be satisfied with it. That's in my nature. I appreciate it when he client ask us to perform more work or more complicated work. I also like involving more people in projects. I look at who wants to make the calculations and who wants to do the drawing work; who likes organising things and who prefers to work on the technology. By putting the right people on the right job, we can convince the customers that we can do more than they think. This is how we can generate more work."

Zuidelijke haven (Southern harbour)

Joep Braam has worked for ACE in locations including Maastricht and Born. He has been located in Eindhoven since 2010, but he still calls Limburg home. He lives there of a mini farm with two small horses. The farm yard also houses an old off-road vehicle, which Joep spends his free time working on: "It failed the inspection because of rust problems. I took it apart, reproduced the components that were no longer in working order and welded it together. That is who I am: If something needs fixing, I want to be able to do it myself. When I retire, I would help people with handiwork. For example, paving a driveway or taking on a second off-road vehicle," he jokes. "I love horse riding, going out for a meal or going to the city. Sometimes it's hard to find a balance between hobbies, work and the other things that need to be done. For the time being I am more than satisfied with my role as Project Manager at ACE," he concludes with a smile of satisfaction.

Written by: Emma Broekhuizen


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