The Manufacturer sits down with Dirk Villé, general manager of Atlas Copco Compressors UK.
You started at Atlas Copco Group in 1994, how has the organisation developed during your tenure?
It’s remarkable to think that I joined Atlas Copco 21 years ago. We have grown so much since then and, by focusing on our customers’ needs, we have a much greater focus on energy management.
During the past two decades, we’ve seen rising energy costs and growing awareness of environmental concerns.
That’s why the introduction of variable speed drives (VSDs) into compressors, which Atlas Copco pioneered in the same year that I joined, has been so important.
In one year alone, we calculated that our customers saved 16.5 million kWh of energy by using our VSD compressors. The impact has been huge.
The firm is proud of its achievements in innovation. How do you foster a culture of innovation and what potential areas exist that the company might move into next?
The quest for continuous improvement in energy efficiency is the biggest driver of innovation within Atlas Copco.
This applies not only to compressors, but also vacuum pumps, and we are exploiting synergies between these two product groups, which can be seen as the yin and yang of air movement.
Monitoring and control is an area where we expect to see significant innovation in the coming years.
What is the greatest challenge facing the firm right now?
Our biggest challenge is to develop the next generation of technicians, engineers and specialist support staff.
We are fortunate to have a highly experienced workforce, but it is an ageing workforce and so we must find a new generation of young people to succeed them.
It is a challenge for many industrial businesses in the UK, but what is important is that each plays their part.
We run open days for local schools and colleges, a thriving apprenticeship scheme and an excellent graduate programme.
What has the greatest achievement been since you became general manager?
When I joined in 2013, this was already a very strong organisation in the UK.
However, I am proud to have brought vacuum pumps into our product portfolio, which has been very well received by our customers.
Another achievement was the introduction last year of activity-based working (ABW) at our headquarters in Hemel Hempstead.
It has transformed the look and feel of our workspace and encouraged greater teamwork and collaboration. It is now recognised as a template for Atlas Copco offices globally.
In addition, earlier this year we expanded our Systems Hemel Hempstead workshop, providing customised air and gas packages for customers in demanding industries all over the world. It is truly a centre of excellence.
What does the future hold for both you and the company?
The only constant at Atlas Copco is change. Continuous improvement is embedded in our company philosophy, that there is always a better way.
We will continue to introduce new technologies to meet the needs of our customers in manufacturing, helping them to increase productivity while also making gains in energy efficiency.
We see this role as vitally important as the UK economy returns to growth in a highly competitive global marketplace.
Like our customers, however, we must also grow in a sustainable way, by adopting ever more efficient and effective practices.