As the Dutch TV company VPRO put it during an episode of their documentary series Tegenlicht, the Dutch province of Brabant is home to one of the very biggest drivers of technological progress: ASML. This innovative company makes the world’s most advanced lithography machine, designed to make computer chips. The high demand for chips means that chip manufacturers are expanding at lightning speed. So it goes without saying that ASML is scaling up at a similar pace.
At the same time, the company wants to optimize its logistics chain at a single central location, close to production. So reasons enough to opt in 2021 for an almost fully-automated (90%) warehouse. Logistics Operations Director Mark Bergkotte and his team are responsible for the project and CQM have been involved in helping build this 'smart warehouse'. The partnership between ASML and CQM during the project is therefore all about cooperation within the region, connecting talents, and bringing in and making maximum use of expertise.
*This article is written from the perspective of Mark Bergkotte, Logistics Operations Director, ASML
ASML engineers think ahead
“At ASML, you have engineers who think ahead. My colleagues include some of the most creative minds in physics, electrical engineering, mathematics, chemistry, mechatronics, optics, mechanical engineering, computer science and software engineering. And because ASML spends more than €3 billion a year on R&D, our teams have the freedom, support and resources to experiment, test and push the boundaries of technology. They work in close-knit, multidisciplinary teams, and listen to and learn from one another.”
“And that’s exactly the reason I wanted to work with a multidisciplinary team on the construction of our centralised, pretty well fully-automated warehouse. When I started in this role of Logistics Operations Director, we were still busy phasing out and setting up the warehouse flows. Despite the many creative minds we employ, I wanted to carry out an independent validation by an external party. Why? To see if the thinking behind the flows and automation was correct, and to validate how many people and resources we would need per department to carry out the work. Seen from a fresh perspective, not the perspective of a butcher inspecting his own meat, as we say in Holland.
“In addition, I’d been asked to create a single organisation within the warehouse and assign people to different parts of that organisation. So it was useful to know not only how many people would be needed in that set-up, but also the bottlenecks we might encounter. And because they were already known within ASML, I arrived fairly quickly at the decision to use CQM, asking them whether we could create a simulation model to predict these sorts of things.”
Mark Bergkotte (ASML) and Emy Hermens (CQM) @ the latest Smart Warehouse of ASML.
Simulating a situation that doesn’t yet exist
“The fact that the people at CQM are also engineers who think ahead makes it a joy to embark on a process like this. Collaboration is central to this 'Smart Warehousing' project, and it was collaboration that triggered a lot of discussion at a detailed level. And very useful discussions. It was an iterative process, and it helped me and my team enormously in getting a better grip on the overall situation.
“We were going to be simulating a situation that didn’t yet exist, that of a new warehouse. There’s no data available for that. Everything is based on estimates. Estimates about distance, time, human resources, and so on. And that calls for nerve, to dare to make choices; and that nerve was evident on both sides. The simulation model forms the basis of the improvements within the warehouse, and over the coming years we’ll be implementing all the expansion options that it has calculated.”
“I’m really challenged by CQM on the questions we ask as ASML. They also dare to say if they think that some things can be done better. On the other hand, flexibility is very important to me. If CQM were to say the simulation will take five months and I said I need it in 6 weeks, we would always end up somewhere in between, by reviewing the scope together and adjusting it where possible. Together we’ve managed to keep in mind that dot on the horizon: how can we generate the most relevant insights as quickly as possible to optimise our warehouse? Process thinking rather than product thinking and… pushing back boundaries.”
Internal knowledge and external expertise
“Aside from the simulation model that has been successfully delivered, and with which we can make data-driven decisions, it’s really cool to see how two companies, of different sizes and cultures, can blend together beautifully into a fruitful partnership. Following our partnership with CQM we have taken on our own FTE, specialized in simulations and Robotic Process Automation. As a result, we’re now able to make choices ourselves, rather than having to be continuously contacting CQM for simulations or scenario planning. The new warehouse delivers the performance our internal customers expect, and we can now turn the 'what if' knobs to generate the best solution for the future. The collaboration will therefore certainly be continued, as internal knowledge and external expertise really make a multidisciplinary team complete.”
Emy Hermens, responsible Senior Consultant at CQM:
“We’ve also learned a lot from this collaboration with ASML. The unique thing about the project is that we really started something new together. Usually, you simulate a situation that already exists and look at alternatives. With this Digital Twin we started from scratch, so many logistics processes had to be linked up: inbound, outbound, cleanrooms, order picking, use of forklift trucks, you name it. We certainly had good discussions and fortunately ASML also dare to make assumptions, which meant that the solution offered could really be 'next level'.”
“There is a lot of domain knowledge and talent within the company, and without those two things we can never translate a solution into the business. It’s also handy that they’ve appointed an internal specialist who can pick up the thread. It’s how CQM likes to work: transferring knowledge so that internal support is created and the client can continue on their own. Of course, we remain engaged and are always on the lookout for new opportunities. In other words, I think it's really cool to have been able to contribute to what is right now the most advanced, almost fully-automated warehouse."