A characteristic “electric” smell floating in the air and the spirit of the Japanese philosophy of kaizen present on every square meter – this is what you first of all pay attention to after entering the premises of the Nidec Motors & Actuators Poland plant in Niepołomice. It produces small electric motors used in passenger cars that are used by the whole world.
Not all drivers are aware that their cars, even of the highest class, have equipment made in Poland. Meanwhile, the NMAP factory in Niepołomice is one of the largest plants of the Nidec automotive division in Europe. The company’s products can be found in most car brands manufactured in Europe, Asia and America. The plant, divided into six independent production areas, produces electric motors for passenger cars of the brands Ford, Peugeot, Citroën, Audi, BMW, VW, Jeep, Fiat, Porsche and even Bentley and Ferrari. Drives produced near Krakow are used in car locks and roof windows, steering gears, as well as for seat adjustment or cooling system fans. Some engines are also used in applications requiring smooth torque management in passenger cars and off-road vehicles.
In the spirit of kaizen
As soon as you cross the gates of the factory in Niepołomice, you can feel the spirit of Japanese technical and organizational thought in the air. The impression is made by perfect order, free parking spaces for guests and employees willing to help. It is a facility where everyone knows their rights and obligations and is happy to fulfill them. After a while in Nidec, I see a piece of an empty, undeveloped hall in my eyes. It turns out that the company has very ambitious development plans for the coming years and is getting ready to build new production lines. Another hall is being built nearby. Such a dynamic development “step by step” is also the guidelines of the Japanese thought kaizen (Japanese kai – change, zen – good) “Improving, changing and improving is a never-ending process. There is always something to be done better, ”says production engineer Sylwia Skalska during my tour of a modern plant. Later this year, new production lines will be launched for torque management motors in 4 × 4 cars and in the new application of electric power steering motors.
Nidec focuses on continuous development, care for employees and the creation of the highest quality products that serve people around the world. It uses its own technology, experience and the latest scientific achievements, and in its activities is guided by a set of company values defined as Nidec Way. The most important of them are passion, enthusiasm and perseverance.
Dynamics of change
Since 2006, when the Polish plant of Valeo Motors & Actuators was taken over by Nidec Corporation, its dynamic development has taken place. In 2009, in the area of the Special Economic Zone, a factory in Niepołomice with an area of 10 thousand square meters was established. This year it was expanded by another 7 thousand square meters. The plant director, Leszek Brzyski, does not hide that he is already thinking about further investments. “Due to the new projects, analyzes of further expansion are already underway, and in a relatively short time. The next two years will be intensive work on increasing the production capacity. In early 2018, the company plans to double the production of seat adjustment motors and automotive sunroofs. According to the plan, by 2020 NMAP sales should reach EUR 150 million (almost 20 million engines produced). Last year, it was EUR 83 million.
Production at the plant is mainly intended for the automotive industry. It is one of the strategic market segments for Nidec. “We all hear about hybrid and electric cars, but not all of us are aware that it involves changing the concept of operation and the use of electric motors for many other tasks. I will only replace the water, oil and brake system pumps”says the director. Globally, however, Nidec focuses on significantly diversifying its production. From the smallest engines installed in computers or cameras, through engines for the automotive industry and industrial applications, to huge power turbines in conventional and wind power plants.
Another strategic goal facing the company this year is the expansion and human resources strengthening of the research and design department. Currently, the main design work is carried out at the headquarters in Japan or Germany, but in the future, the development of new products is to be carried out entirely at the Polish branch of Nidec. The company’s activity is focused on growth in existing industries, as well as on the search for new customers and possible applications for its products. Intensive work is also underway to implement a completely new product for automatic transmissions and the electric clutch.
The potential of brushless motors
Before entering the newest production part of the company, where brushless motors are manufactured, Sylwia gives me protective shoes and a cap. “This is our clean room, it has been operating since 2015. It is a room with the highest cleanliness parameters. We produce electric power steering motors here, he explains and adds: “Customers demand the highest level of cleanliness, not even a hair cannot find a hair in the engine, because the operation of the steering system has a direct impact on the safety of passengers and other road users”.
Electric brushless motors are constructed similarly to brush motors. They consist of magnets and windings – the former are located on the rotor, and the latter are stationary inside the housing. Commutation is electronically controlled, so there is no need to install brushes that wear out over time. This type of electric motors are used in computer disk drives, in modeling, as well as in currently produced cars. According to Leszek Brzyski, brushless motors are the future of electric motors. “The use of this technology allows them to be reduced in weight and size while maintaining the same parameters. It is also an increase in service life and reliability, ”says the director of Nidec, which launched the production of such motors for electric power steering last year. It was one of the biggest challenges the company had to face so far. Today it is the company’s flagship and breakthrough product. “The plant in Niepołomice was selected for the production of these engines as the first and only one in Europe,” says proudly Leszek Brzyski. Adapting to the dynamic growth in this field is currently the greatest challenge for the Polish team. Cars with Nidec products are becoming more and more popular. This forces a significant acceleration of the entire project.
At work like at home
During my visit to the plant in Niepołomice, I do not notice a single dissatisfied employee. Everyone easily adjusts to the Japanese philosophy of order and organization prevailing in the Polish plant. They like to be at their workplace and feel almost at home there. Such things are possible when the company constantly cares about the development of employees, not just talks about it. “We offer a range of training and internal promotion opportunities. We are proud that currently around 30% of our employees in engineering and office positions are people who started their adventure with Nidec as an operator” says the plant director. Nidec has flexible working hours and breaks longer than the code stipulated. Employees can also count on the support of their sports passions. The company’s football team is achieving better and better results in local competitions, and a group of runners regularly meet at runs organized in Małopolska and Silesia.
Currently, the plant employs over 600 people and this number is regularly increasing. Recruitment is ongoing. They are looking for employees for production positions, but dynamic development also requires increasing the company’s resources in other departments such as research and development, production technology, quality, logistics and purchases. Nidec is especially open to candidates who are ready for new challenges and development in an exceptionally dynamic environment. For many years, the company has also run a student internship program enabling young people to gain valuable practical experience in the automotive industry. It employs the best apprentices and cares about their continuous development. Employee satisfaction and the balance between work and private life are extremely important in the company.
An interview with Leszek Brzyski, director of the Nidec Motors plant in Niepołomice
In May this year, the president of Nidec Corporation, Shigenobu Nagamori, announced his intention to make another investment in Niepołomice within the next three years and to increase the number of employees to 1,000 people. What does this mean for the Polish plant?
This is great news, because it means that the team in Niepołomice met one hundred percent of the very ambitious goals set for them some time ago. We have confirmed that we are able to produce top-shelf products. Bet on Poland and Niepołomice was a very good choice. For our team, this means continuation of the current strategy and further dynamic development. We are already number one in our product division in Europe, but what prevents us from being number one in the world?
Perhaps the only barrier may be the market factors, which are sometimes beyond our control.
Fortunately, the automotive industry in Poland is developing very well. Of course, it cannot be denied that we are grappling with problems common to all developing enterprises. One of them is the growing problem with finding qualified employees. So far, we are coping well with it, but due to the dynamic development and increasing employment in the near future, it may be a problem for us.
What new technological solutions are you currently working on?
We have several products that will revolutionize the market. Unfortunately, for patent reasons and because of the competition that is awake, you will let us keep it a secret at this point. I can only assure you that in the near future we, drivers, will face some revolutionary changes related to our products.
You are about to start the assembly of the production line for the so-called compact motors, i.e. motors for torque management mainly in four-wheel drive cars. Is the market demand for this type of products growing?
Yes. The market started to grow quite rapidly. We started working on this product 10 years ago, but then it was quite niche, although technologically very advanced. With time, it turned out that the demand for this type of engines is growing, because more and more 4 × 4 cars are sold on the market. In these cars, it is important to disengage one drive axle when driving on a normal road, not off-road. The system, by disconnecting the rear axle of the vehicle, allows to reduce fuel consumption, and thus – CO2 emissions. Two years ago, we won two large contracts: one for delivery to GKN, where the end customer is the Fiat group, and the other for ZF, where the end customer is Mercedes. To this end, we are increasing our production capacity and will be installing these lines as early as August this year.
There is a belief that the more electrics in cars, the greater the likelihood of their failure. How does Nidec ensure that the products used in the automotive industry are durable and safe?
This is not only the point of view of the end-users, but also of car manufacturers and their suppliers. From the creation of the concept of a new product, through its design, research and testing, preventing defects or defects is an absolute priority. New product validation is an extremely important process. It is much more demanding on the product than its normal use by the end customer. Similar principles are applied to the design and development of the production process and quality control of the finished product.
How to be competitive in a market where countries such as China apply an aggressive pricing policy?
Design a motor that is relatively simple and cheap to produce, while meeting all technical requirements. Currently, a lot of emphasis is placed on size, weight and noise. The cabins in cars are becoming more and more quiet, a very important criterion is the noise level, and some of our engines are mounted in a short distance from the driver, for example in the seats or in the sunroof.
Nidec has many suppliers all over the world. What determines their choice?
The most important criterion is quality, although I must admit that in the current competition, price also plays a significant role. I encourage Polish companies to contact us and establish cooperation. Our purchasing strategy assumes the location of suppliers where it is possible. On the other hand, a good supplier has the chance to become a global supplier and deliver not only to our plant, but to Nidec plants around the world. We already have such examples, and we want more of them.
In the case of a Polish plant belonging to a foreign concern, can we speak of a Polish industry in the automotive industry?
Taking into account the statistics, the automotive industry is one of the key elements of the GDP product when it comes to Poland, so – in my opinion – it is a very important element of the economy. If we are a supplier and we produce engines in Poland that can be found in cars of many popular brands, it means that we are a very important, if not a key element of the international puzzle, which is the automotive industry. Many people work in it. Not only us, but also our suppliers. We are trying to look for suppliers of components on the local market, so this “pyramid” is growing dynamically and it will certainly continue to do so.