Rene van Rhee has a long history with the technical side of Sofis products, even long before Netherlocks Safety Systems and Smith Flow Control merged into Sofis, under the umbrella of the Halma group of companies. In 1991, he started his career at CEF Safety Systems, a Halma company specialising in valve locking as well as machine guarding devices. “In all, we sold the brands Castel, Fortress, Ellis, Armguard and Crowcon,” says Rene. “When Halma decided to put the Ellis brand, a valve locking product, under the flag of Smith Flow Control, we also brought Smith valve interlocks to the Dutch market. Technically speaking, that is when my technical knowledge and experience with valve safety devices really took off.” Over time, Rene explains, Smith interlocks became the preferred valve interlock brand within CEF’s brand portfolio. “At some point, our customers associated us with Smith interlocks, more than any brand, so that’s why they changed the name to Smith Flow Control, Netherlands”.
Installation and inspection of Smith interlocks
After picking up on the installation of Smith interlocks in The Netherlands, Rene was quickly deployed all over the world to (pre-)install and inspect Smith interlocks, for a wide variety of valve systems. “Inspections of valve interlock systems were common in those days, and they were carried out on a yearly basis, as standard.” Over time however, he has experienced that many companies have cut down on annual inspections of their valve interlocks, to save on maintenance costs. A dangerous development, he reckons. “Valve interlocks are often the last line of defence when it comes to preventing accidents” he explains. “They are important safety devices and should be visually checked on a regular basis, to guarantee their functionality. Apart from the lock itself, the brackets, keys and hand wheels should also be checked, to ensure a perfect fit of the interlock onto the valve” he explains. Moreover, keys can get lost and valve end positions can change due to wear and tear of the valve. In that case, the valve interlock needs to be reset, to allow it to function properly again”.
Strong familiarity with Netherlocks products
Before their merger in 2016, Smith Flow Control and Netherlocks independently supplied valve interlocks and were the international leading brands in the market. “There were technical differences between the products and by nature there was a difference in culture between the two companies” admits Rene. For him, however, this never posed a problem at all when the two companies merged into Sofis. “In fact, I was already quite familiar with the Netherlocks product range, even long before 2016. I even carried out maintenance and repair of Netherlocks interlocks, on a regular basis”.
Service Project Engineer
After the two companies merged into Sofis and being faced with physical problems, which prevented him from going on-site for installing Sofis products, Rene got offered an opportunity to use his vast knowledge and experience in a new position. As a Service Project Engineer, he got involved in organising the installation and maintenance of Sofis products. “Based on inspection reports of our engineers, it was my responsibility to check all measurements and pre-installation activities, to guarantee the right design and on-time delivery of the right materials, all to ensure swift and correct reparations of valve interlocking systems on-site”.
Technical support of QHSE Manager
With the arrival of a new QHSE (Quality, Health, Safety and Environment) Manager, the Sofis Management Team agreed to temporarily assign Rene to support the QHSE manager on assuring technical quality of all Sofis products. “Month became years and so here I am, the technical right hand of our QHSE Manager, and I’ve been given the explicit assignment not to resign for a period of ten years” Rene adds with a smile. “To me, that’s a huge compliment, which I highly appreciate”.
As a Quality Engineer, Rene starts with checking all incoming Non-Conformity Reports (NCR). “NCRs are being registered in Bizzmine, the workflow software tool that we use to simplify our quality management system and streamline all our QMS processes in one platform” Rene explains. “We have introduced this platform at the beginning of 2022, and it allows us to register, share and filter NCR’s. We are now better able to check if an NCR is related to Sofis or Sofis products. When I decide this is the case, I will investigate at which Sofis department the NCR originated and why. As a result, I will receive feedback from the department on what has happened and how this can be prevented in the future.”
Direct technical support
Apart from keeping NCR’s as low as possible, Rene also provides technical support for the Sofis operations team, while being available for direct technical support to nearly all Sofis departments and even Sofis partners. “I’m even approached for ‘special actions’” Rene adds. “For instance, when last minute adjustments of production must be realised, or when non-standard welding techniques must be applied. In fact, that’s what I really like, helping people to solve practical issues.”
Involvement in product development
Over the years, Rene has accumulated a vast amount of technical knowledge on the Sofis product range. That is why he is approached by the Sofis product development team on a regular basis. This way, practical knowledge on how Sofis products function on-site and how they are used by operators, is incorporated in the design of new products. Several Sofis partners who used to work closely with Rene, are still reaching out to him for consultation. “My knowledge and experience are being appreciated, even outside Sofis, and frankly, that makes me really proud.”
True spirit of collaboration
What Rene really likes about Sofis, is the cooperation with all Sofis colleagues. “I don’t know what happens behind my back of course” he jokes, “but on a personal level, I get along very well with everybody within Sofis, with no exception. There is a true spirit of collaboration here at Sofis and for me, that is a huge motivator. Being an internationally orientated company, there is a wide variety of people with different cultural backgrounds. We accept each other fully, which makes working for Sofis quite rewarding”.
Busy as a bee
After work, Rene likes to do jobs in and around his caravan on a camping site in The Netherlands. He also owns a small fishing boat, and he likes to explore nature on his mountain bike. “I’m busy as a bee, so to speak” Rene concludes. “For me, it is impossible to sit still, and I always need to be engaged in doing something. In a way, it resembles what I do at Sofis, only not during working hours.”