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Made in Brittany

Inside manufacturing 2018-01-25 Louise Nordström Audrey Bardou

Thanks to a willingness to take risks, an entrepreneurial management and early-adopter philosophy to new technology, French company SMPL has grown from a small, local precision mechanics workshop to a company making its mark on the world.

​On the edge of France’s western coast, at the entrance to the world-famous Gulf of Morbihan, lies the tiny village of Rochefort-en-Terre. Perched on a hilltop, the village of 700 residents is known for its 12th century castle, narrow cobblestoned streets and, above all, its skilled artisans and entrepreneurial spirit.
SMPL (La Société de Mécanique du Pays de Lanvaux), situated a stone’s throw from the village, epitomizes these qualities. The 2,000-square-meter (approx. 21,527 sq. ft.) precision mechanics workshop, founded in 1980, is a regional success story: In the past decade alone, it has doubled its revenues, tripled its staff and quadrupled its workspace. It now serves as a test pilot for Sandvik Coromant’s latest tools and makes customized machine pieces for everything from the agricultural industry to the aeronautics sector. And it has gone from being a local market in Brittany to a company with its sights on the world, shipping to such countries as China, Brazil and South Africa.
The transformation can be credited to Olivier Goëtinck, a dynamic young entrepreneur from a nearby village. Goëtinck knew about mechanical workshops. He bought his first one when he was 32. SMPL was his second, bought two years later. He incorporated a third shortly afterwards.

​“When I came along, SMPL was just a cutting workshop with 12 staff,” recalls Goëtinck, now director as well as owner. “The owners were retiring, and the company wasn’t growing anymore or renewing. If we had continued in the same way, we wouldn’t be here today.”
SMPL’s turnaround began with a risk. “I’ve always taken risks and it’s paid off,” Goëtinck explains. “If you don’t take them, you won’t get anywhere.” But this risk almost backfired.
About five years ago, a company that specialized in robot cells – and one of the market leaders in deburring cast parts for world-famous automobile brands such as Renault and Peugeot – offered SMPL a major deal. SMPL accepted – the company was eager to break into a new market – but soon things got complicated.
“It was so much work,” Goëtinck’s right-hand man and technical chief, Gérard Jobin, recalls. “We were losing rather than making money because we were spending at least 15 man-hours on each piece. It was hopeless.”

​Not wanting to walk out of the deal, the SMPL team turned to Sandvik Coromant, a brand name they had heard buzzing among competitors, and invested in the group’s Silent Tools range.
“It changed everything,” Jobin says. “All of a sudden we spent just 10 hours on each piece, and the finish was perfect – to the micron.”
The experience marked the start of a significant collaboration between SMPL and Sandvik Coromant. SMPL’s eagerness to try new tools, along with its “early adopter” profile, would eventually result in it becoming a Sandvik Coromant product-testing partner for many systems, including the CoroCut QD, CoroTurn 300, CoroTurn Prime and, most recently, the CoroTurn QDY, which hit the market on October 1, 2017.
“I couldn’t believe it when I first saw the CoroTurn Prime’s prime turning at work,” Jobin says, describing its capacity to turn in all directions. He was so impressed, in fact, that he made a video and posted it online two weeks before the tool’s official launch. By launch day, it had garnered more than 11,000 views.
Josselin Blanchet, of Sandvik Coromant’s French branch, says the SMPL-Sandvik Coromant collaboration is invaluable. “Our partnership is based on a huge amount of confidence and a real exchange of expertise,” Blanchet says. “We’re extremely lucky.”

 

 

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