“Offering tailor made solutions is our core business. That’s also how we look at our working environment: tailor made for our employees”
ZAANDAM – They had never imagined the colossal success it turned out to be. René van het Kaar, Marco Ootes and Cees Hus started their company on May 14th, 1996, out of sheer necessity. But despite that, their industrial automation firm hit an upward trend straight away. Twenty years have passed and CoNet now has two branches, 45 employees and a client list filled with prestigious names. “This may sound weird to you”, Ootes says, “but to us this feels like it is just the beginning…”
It all started twenty years ago. Marco Ootes and Cees Hus were working in René van het Kaar’s machine factory. The company built cigarette packing machines that were sold the world over. “When the company started struggling, I came up with the idea of starting my own business”, Ootes tells us. “So, I founded MoCoNet, which was short for ‘Marco Ootes Control systems and Networks’. But René asked me to stay on a bit longer. The company finally went belly up in 1996, but it was also when we received a new a very promising commission from Hoogovens (now called Tata Steel). What should we do? The three of us decided to take on the challenge. MoCoNet became CoNet.”
This first job was followed by many others. “We soon found out that we were quite good at this, and that maybe we had the potential to become the best in Factory Automation, also known as FA. So, we set ourselves a goal; to become one of the best industrial installers in the Netherlands. Think of Imtech, GTI, Croon, these companies employ thousands. We wanted to match them. Better yet: we wanted to beat them! But how? By specializing. And what was it we could specialize in? The product called Siemens. Because we already had years of experience working with Siemens.”
No sooner said than done. And we reached our goal within four years. “At a presentation by Siemens on the subject of partner models our name was mentioned along with the ones I just talked about.” Right from the start CoNet doubled its turnover every year. We hired more people. We moved a few times. From an office above the local cobbler, to a traditional warehouse in the Zaan region to an industrial space inside the former Verkade chocolate factory…We had the wind in our sails most of the time. But of course, we hit a few snags along the way too. Ootes: “After becoming a Siemens FA-partner, they decided to pay us a visit in order to discuss further perspectives in the partnership. The subject was the PCS 7 process control system. At the time we were still in the office above the cobbler’s store, they were flabbergasted. ‘What in god’s name are you still doing at this location?’ they said. ‘It is far too small and does not convey professionalism!’ Well… with PCS 7 process control the entire plant sort of is in your hands. You don’t simply trust five guys in a cramped office over a store with such an important task… We missed out on the Siemens PCS 7 partnership.”
Certified PCS 7 specialist
CoNet wouldn’t be CoNet though, if they did not have the ability to come back from behind; because the partnership worked out in the end. By closely monitoring technological developments CoNet slowly but surely evolved into the industrial automation company it is today. “We kept growing, investing and specializing”, tells us Ootes. “At the moment we are a certified Siemens partner in terms of Factory Automation and Process Automation. We are also the only company in the Netherlands that is a certified PCS 7 Process Safety Specialist and we are also the first Siemens COMOS partner. In the Netherlands we are by far the biggest and best with respect to PCS 7, we put in some 40 to 50 K hours of engineering annually.”
In order to keep up with the company’s robust growth, CoNet moved to the former Verkade chocolate factory in Zaandam in 2006; a beautiful piece of industrial heritage and CoNet’s owners enjoy doing their part in keeping it alive. An extra floor was rented recently, and it will be fully equipped; right up to the shower stalls and table tennis tables for the sporty engineers. This is, by the way, also true of the Rotterdam site in the former Van Nelle plant. This is as beautiful an industrial feelgood environment. It clearly is a place where young engineers feel comfortable. That is really convenient, because the need for specialists is great. The new and ever more ambitious projects – both domestic and international – keep arriving on our desks, and they are all mouthwatering projects to our technician.
Tech companies need to always anticipate. It was clear ten years ago that sustainability was going to be an important issue. Corporate social responsibility, green energy, blue energy… subjects that CoNet has mastered a long time ago. “Groningen is a nice example”, Ootes explains. “As a result of the gas scandal, a lot of people received subsidies on solar panels. At one point there were so many solar panels that power supply was higher than the demand. This caused the power grid to get confused. The solution to this problem is called Smart Grid. It is an energy network that has a measuring and control system added to it. The advantage of this measuring and control system is that supply and demand of different types of energy can be optimally coordinated. And it is in the field of measuring and control systems that we offer added value. Think, for instance, about offshore wind farms, in several areas worldwide. We would like to play a role there. Speaking in terms of objectives: we aim to become the best and biggest in the Netherlands, even Europe.”
Verkade and CoNet
At first glance these names do not have a lot in common. CoNet, a company that develops and optimizes industrial production processes and installations on the one hand. And on the other hand, Verkade, one of the first to build a Bread and Biscuit factory, back in 1886.
Nevertheless, there are a lot of similarities. By always innovating, investing and expanding, Verkade became a global player in all things chocolate and cake. CoNet, founded in 1996, also has that drive to innovate and improve in its DNA. The company experienced strong growth over the past twenty years, in almost every field: turnover, staff, housing, client portfolio, knowledge, skills and more. National clients led to international clients, small projects turned into mega projects. In the year 2016 CoNet has become the market leader when it comes to Siemens PCS 7 Process Automation.
Another striking similarity is that both companies have strong ties to the “Zaanstreek”. This is where Verkade, over the course of a century, built an industrial complex that is today one of the most beautifully preserved examples of industrial heritage in the Netherlands. And it is in this exact spot, the former Verkade factory, that CoNet made its home base. This unique industrial site meets all the conditions that will allow CoNet to become a global market leader in the field of process automation.
“There are several reasons why this Verkade factory is the perfect location for our company”, CoNet’s Marco Ootes explains. “First of all, because we hold dear the industrial activities that are still left in the Netherlands. Even better: thanks to efficient automation, which is what we do, factories, that would have otherwise relocated to lower wage countries, can now remain here and active. ‘Keep The Dutch Industry Alive’ is a movement that we wholeheartedly underwrite. By establishing our main base inside a piece of industrial heritage we really put our money where our mouths are. And of course, we do not like to be run of the mill. Offering tailor made solutions is our core business. That’s also how we look at our working environment: tailor made for our employees. CoNet in a standard office building… I don’t even want to consider it for one second. Young professionals today like to work in an inspiring place. Well, we certainly have one!”