Firms welcome innovative ideas

SOME COMPANIES understand that no one knows the production processes in their workplaces better than the workers themselves and for that reason they motivate their employees to come up with innovative ideas to improve production processes, to save energy or materials or to better protect the environment. Soliciting these good ideas does not only bring benefits such as a better working environment or higher productivity, some companies also offer financial rewards to their employees.

SOME COMPANIES understand that no one knows the production processes in their workplaces better than the workers themselves and for that reason they motivate their employees to come up with innovative ideas to improve production processes, to save energy or materials or to better protect the environment. Soliciting these good ideas does not only bring benefits such as a better working environment or higher productivity, some companies also offer financial rewards to their employees.

The Slovak Spectator spoke with Ján Bača, spokesperson of U.S. Steel Košice, Vladimír Machalík, spokesperson for Volkswagen Slovakia, Dušan Dvořák, head of the public relations team at Kia Motors Slovakia, Anton Molnár, head of corporate communications at the Slovnaft oil refinery and Flemming B. Bjöernslev, CEO of Lanxess Central Eastern Europe about how their companies support the development of innovative ideas.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): How does your company support proposals for improvements, innovations and patents coming from your employees or customers?
Ján Bača (JB):
In the past 10 years alone more than 1,000 improvement proposals have been put forward and about the same number of employees have been involved in developing improvements and inventions. The Department of the Director for Centres of Excellence has a team of experts on intellectual property who in turn provide the methodology for 15 specialists for inventions in the individual division plants.

Vladimír Machalík (VM): We are motivating employees to come with ideas for improvements within our management of ideas and continuous improvement process. Last year inventive employees at Volkswagen Slovakia helped to save more than €7.3 million, 1.3 million KWh of electricity, 262,000 cubic metres of natural gas and 752 tons of CO2. A total of 2,049 employees submitted 6,154 proposals for improvement.

Dušan Dvořák (DD): At Kia Motors Slovakia we have implemented IPAS – Idea Proposal Activity System – which all employees can join. Its purpose is not only financial savings and increases in productivity or quality but also improvement of working conditions and environmental protection. This creates space for employees’ self-realisation through which they can further develop their skills and abilities.

Anton Molnár (AM): MOL group, of which Slovnaft is a member, has implemented the Eiffel programme, through which ideas for improvements are collected directly from employees, assessed and implemented. The aim of the Eiffel programme is to not leave processes running without analyses, criticisms and proposals for changes. This supports employees’ independent thinking, the ability to propose innovations and to force their implementation. Our company expects and rewards such an attitude. The submission of proposals is very simple and without bureaucracy and useless formalities.

Flemming B. Bjöernslev (FBB): Lanxess uses different approaches to fully employ the creativity potential of its employees. In a separate "Innovation Process", the company consciously enters the dialogue with its employees on specific, innovative subjects. The goal is to get on the common discussion to a specific, meaningful and actionable product idea. A second approach is the so-called idea management.

At Lanxess in Germany only the employees submitted last year 3,218 creative proposals - more than ever before. Those submitted ideas created at the same time an utility value of €3.4 million.

TSS: Please provide an example of successful innovation or an improvement that came from employees or customers.
One of the successful technical solutions was an invention called the ‘Production method for finish-type isotropic sheets and strips for electrical appliances with universal magnetic polarisation’. Just as successful was an improvement proposal for a ‘Clip to hold the top cover grill on steel dual-panel radiator units’. There are many similar examples and the economic benefits of the proposals which have been accepted and implemented can be calculated in millions of euros.

VM: One of the workers at the paint shop at Volkswagen Slovakia had an idea for how to improve the cleaning of large paint baths into which car bodies are dipped. These baths have to be cleaned each Thursday with chemicals. The follow-up processing of the chemicals was demanding. He came up with an idea for using the chemical substance, originally used only for one bath, several times. This idea has saved the company as much as 48 tonnes of chemicals annually as well as electricity which would be enough for 1.5 hours’ operation of the whole company. The employee was rewarded for his excellent idea.

DD: One of our maintenance experts for engine production proposed an automated system for calling for maintenance, achieving significant annual savings. He was rewarded for it. The new system has not only brought financial benefits. Now maintenance workers know about a new failure within seconds and are able to respond quickly. Also they can re-distribute their tasks and proceed to remove problems according to the relevance of failures.

AM: A change in the system for handling remnants of phenol samples is one example. Remnants of phenol samples used to be left in the sample container and then they solidified. Afterwards they were collected and liquidated as dangerous waste. Based on an idea from an employee at a related department the remnants of the samples are now being poured into one vessel before they solidify. The material collected in this way is not liquidated as waste but is returned to the production unit where it is further processed. The idea was implemented in 2010 and on the basis of assembled data the reduction in annual waste comes to 1.24 tonnes.

TSS: Does your company have a department for science, research, technology transfer or innovation? If so, tell us about its size and focus.
Research and development has a long tradition as part of the Košice steelworks’ organisational structure and this year the department celebrates the 43rd anniversary of its establishment. The staff of the U.S. Steel Europe Research and Development deals primarily with applied research focused on solving the needs of operational divisions through the whole technology process in the European plants of U.S. Steel Corporation which are located in Slovakia and Serbia. The R&D staff also provides technical support to the production plants, develop and optimise production technologies and product properties, and develop new grades of steel for various industrial applications in line with our customers’ requirements. U.S. Steel Corporation has implemented the concept of Centres of Excellence through which the best solutions are shared throughout the corporation. U.S. Steel Europe Research and Development has five such excellence centres, while others provide services based within U.S. Steel Research Munhall in Pennsylvania, USA. There is close cooperation and sharing of knowledge and experience between our European and American research teams.

VM: In Volkswagen Slovakia the department of industrial engineering and management of ideas is dealing with improvements. It has some tens of employees.

When introducing new production we always ponder the latest technologies. For example, Volkswagen Slovakia will be the first company in the world to implement the technology of the dry separation of elements in the paint shop for serial car production. It will be used in the production of the New Small Family cars and it will reduce emissions by 90 percent and reduce energy consumption by up to 80 percent.

DD: Kia Motors Slovakia does not have its own research and development department as it focuses on car manufacturing. Our parent company Kia Motors Corporations has development and research centres in South Korea, Japan, the USA and Europe. The ‘central’ office for research was launched in the Korean town of Namyang in 1995. At the European research and development centre in Rüsselsheim, launched in 2003, Kia concentrates on the whole development of diesel engines as well as on development of cars designed for European customers.

AM: The extensive scope of activities of Slovnaft and the complexity of the industrial branch in which it operates have led to the creation of several departments dealing with science, research, technology transfer and innovations. Each of them is devoted to specialised research and innovation for a specific field: downstream development – research and development in the segment of fuels and lubricants; renewable resources – research into bio-fuels; and the Research Institute for Crude Oil and Hydrocarbon Gases – research and development in the processing of crude oil and the petrochemical industry.

FBB: For now Lanxess does not have any research and development department in Slovakia. The Lanxess’s major research and development units are located at Leverkusen, Krefeld-Uerdingen, Dormagen (all in Germany), London (Canada) and Qingdao and Wuxi (China). The core of Lanxess' research and development department consists of approximately 600 professionals.

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