GEA Grasso is nearing completion of its piston compressor factory in s-Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch) in the Netherlands.
FoodProductionDaily got an exclusive tour of the factory, which originally opened in 1913. It was designated a listed building in 2001 and is owned by the municipality of s-Hertogenbosch.
The plant has undergone a complete transformation thanks to a jointly funded project by GEA and the local Government.
The former executive building has closed but it retains a central hall with a stained-glass window in honour of Grasso’s centenary. This will be sold as sub-let to another firm to use as office space.
The main building now houses three areas; Hall 1, which looks after incoming goods, spare parts , quality and measuring, packing and shipping.
1858: Willem Grasso starts a forge aged 25. His company runs well, he makes machine parts, steam engines and machinery for the margarine industry.
1894: Son Henri Grasso takes over the business. He continues his father's activities and focuses more on refrigeration.
1910: Grasso produces the first ammonia refrigeration compressor.
1913: Grasso opens a factory at the Parallelweg in 's-Hertogenbosch.
1914: After the First World War Grasso manages to avoid going bankrupt.
1937: After difficult years Henri Grasso sells his business to the brothers van Heijst, manufacturer of radiators and boilers. They seek to expand their production. The end of Grasso seems imminent. Eventually they decide to continue with the production of compressors.
1945: During the liberation Grasso comes under fire. The factory was badly damaged. After the War the Grasso staff single-handedly rebuilds the factory.
1947: The first welded compressor is introduced.
1973: Louis van Heijst says his goodbye to Grasso. Meanwhile, 1,300 employees work in the Netherlands for Grasso.
1992: Grasso is acquired by GEA. A new era begins, product and product innovation are central themes in the organization. All compressors are redesigned and put into production.
2010: GEA Grasso introduces the GEA Grasso V series.
2013: Opening of the completely renovated factory. GEA Grasso has started producing under the Lean principle.
Hall 2 comprises package building and welding and Hall 3 is the mechanical department and compressor-assembly.
Danny Heuvelmans, director product management, sales and marketing support, GEA Grasso, has worked for nearly seven years at the company and is responsible for sales support, marketing, product management and services.
The firm employs 100 full time employees and 30 flexible staff.
“We wanted to completely renovate the whole factory inside and out and it reopened last November with minor adjustments still to be made,” he said.
“We retained some historical elements on the outside and we upgraded the production and assembly process by adapting it to the latest standards inside. With these big changes GEA Grasso is ready for the future.”
Heuvelmans said the company worked on the factory development over the last three years to prepare for future growth.
“The renovation is a combination of GEA and the local Government which has spent millions. We had to take care of the internal part so that we can run a modern factory. That’s where GEA invested the money. It’s back to how it looked 100 years ago which is great.”
He added the company has decided to change its production system into Lean manufacturing where all compressors will be made in a flow production according to Lean principles eliminating waste.
“Unnecessary inventory, movements and variations are gradually eliminated. By adopting this method we are able to increase the quality of our products, shorten the delivery time and reduce the costs,” said Heuvelmans.
“The challenge in renovating the three halls was continuing operations on rotation as each division was stripped down. We installed a new concrete floor and electricity was turned off.
“Now there are some small things left like a machining centre that has been torn down in the last two weeks and we have to finish the last part of the concrete floor and a reorganization of Hall 1 then we are 100% finished.”
The Grasso factory at Parallelweg, is a listed building that dates from 1913. It is a characteristic building with brickwork facades, high windows and spacious workshops. It was the first industrial building west of the railway and marks an important step in the development of s-Hertogenbosch.
When it became known that the founder Henri Grasso was looking for a new location for his business the city council persuaded the entrepreneur his company would be the first to be given the opportunity to buy a piece of land on the west side of the railway yard to build a factory.
The head office and factory buildings were designed by Tilburg architect Frans de Beer. During the liberation at the end of the Second World War the building suffered heavy damage. It was repaired after the war, but traces of the damage, such as bullet holes, can still be seen today.
The completed renovation was announced in November 2013 to coincide with its 100-year anniversary. The 150th anniversary of the company was in 2008.