How Henk sorts 7,500 bolts perfectly for KLM

It’s a sunny Tuesday morning. We’re in Leiden with a team from KLM Engine Services. A KLM aircraft cuts across the bright, blue sky overhead, making its descent towards Schiphol. Henk points at it and shouts enthusiastically: “Look, there go my bolts!”

Henk isn’t the kind of employee you’d usually expect to find in a cutting-edge, strictly-regulated aviation maintenance setting. He works for DZB Leiden, which employs people who might otherwise be unable to find work. DZB provides a sheltered workplace where Henk and his colleagues make many small contributions to the maintenance of KLM’s aircraft engines.

Exactly what we need

When an aircraft engine is overhauled, you end up with loads of leftover nuts and bolts. Once they’ve been cleaned, our inspectors check to see if these components can be reused. But before this inspection takes place, the nuts and bolts are counted and sorted according to engine type and module. This is precise and time-consuming work, exactly the kind of repetitive, high-precision, high-concentration task that Henk and his DZB team are very good at. In fact, the team is specially trained and certified to carry out this painstaking labour. In practice, they work so accurately that they are almost 100% error-free, which was almost impossible to achieve in the past. In short, they put their valuable talents to excellent use!

Let’s celebrate

We met the team at an informal celebration where the partnership between DZB Leiden and KLM Engine Services was sealed. We saw how they have developed super-efficient procedures, using the Lean method, to dispense with all unnecessary actions. The members of the team were so enthusiastic about their work that we couldn’t help but take a fresh look at the 7,500 nuts and bolts arriving neatly packed in the correct compartments. It was also wonderful to see the pride the DZB team takes in helping to keep our “blue birds” in the air! And when Henk explained how the DZB team had spotted and corrected a “wrong bolt” on the KLM sample board, we all beamed with pride.

Moving your world

Working for KLM, you sometimes find yourself showing prominent politicians around, shaking hands with members of the royal family, or meeting CEOs from the world’s biggest corporations. That is all pretty special, but we were no less impressed by our meeting with the DZB team. In fact, this may be one of my favourite work visits ever!

After our meeting, we drove back to Schiphol and saw another KLM aircraft coming in to land. Now we know for certain that all those bolts keeping our aircraft aloft are in safe hands with Henk and his colleagues!

Note: If you know DZB and its staff, “Henk” is symbolic of the whole team; a semi-fictional person, who inspired this blog. However, our enthusiasm for the work he and his colleagues do is 100% genuine!