“There is nothing loud or pretentious about us. We simply make CNC machines with a great deal of passion.”
My Unisign story: Gijs Hermans (37) manages our Control & Automation department. He joined Unisign 11 1/2 years ago, after completing a degree in mechatronics at a university of applied sciences.
‘My degree programme took us for a tour at Unisign once,’ says Gijs. ‘So I already knew a little about the company. When a position for a start-up technician came up, I knew straightaway it was the right thing to do – an excellent challenge and a perfect fit for my degree. I got through my interview and was asked to start right away.’
First role: start-up technician
Gijs: ‘As a start-up technician I worked in the electrical installation department. This role includes making adjustments to tool changers and axes on the CNC machines, essentially starting the machine for the very first time. When I first became a father in 2014, I was able to progress to the position of software engineer. I had indicated this was an ambition of mine, and Unisign had taken this on board. It was brilliant to be given the opportunity.’
Gijs now manages the Control & Automation department, where he has 6 engineers working alongside him – 4 software engineers and 2 electrical engineers. Together they have responsibility for the hardware and control software that is in every Unisign machine. Gijs: ‘The control software we use is from Siemens and Heidenhain. This forms the basis, which we add our unique Unisign touch to. Naturally, there is a very close working relationship with these vendors, as it is important for us to stay on top of all the developments at their end. We are currently implementing a new generation of Siemens controls. That is a first in my career. We need keep up to make sure we comply with current standards and guidelines. Customers should rightly expect us to do so.’
Unisign offers a challenge
Gijs has now been with Unisign for almost 12 years and was given new opportunities throughout that time. Gijs: ‘I definitely look for plenty of challenge from my work. Being offered those chances to progress meant that the challenge was always there. For me, work is not about showing up to do 8 hours of the same thing over and over again. I don’t want to fall into a routine. Luckily, that’s never the case at Unisign. My daily schedule is pretty unpredictable, in the positive sense of the word.’
Gijs experienced personal growth at Unisign against a backdrop of changes within the company itself. Gijs: ‘Our footprint was more compact when I first started. In 2013, a new production building was completed and the set-up of the departments changed too. There was also greater emphasis on building standard machines in the beginning. Now our focus is much more on targeting specific niche markets with unique dedicated CNC machines. These are in high demand.’
Technology and culture
Gijs: ‘I am incredibly inspired by the products we make. They’re also why it’s so fascinating to work at Unisign. All of our contributions together result in a machine that will ultimately be used by a client. The Unisign corporate culture is also a good fit for me. We’re very informal and approachable, everyone speaks to everyone. Even though we all have our own specialist area and responsibilities, we also have short lines of communication between the various departments and experts. We seek each other out to share knowledge and reinforce each other.’
What is it that makes Unisign Unisign? Gijs smiles. ‘It’s hard to say, but ultimately everyone who works here has very similar qualities. We are down to earth, hardworking, modest and, above all, immensely passionate about technology. Another thing I think we share is that we all relish a challenge. We set the bar high for ourselves because that is how Unisign delivers its quality. We don’t shy away from complex challenges. We love to combine our efforts and tackle them together to achieve the best result for our customers.’
‘Another thing that is typically Unisign: we get the job done together, even in times of setback. We will get a machine out to our customer, one way or another. The successive crises in recent years and their impact on our work have made this hard, but we never give up that easily.’
The year 2011
Gijs joined Unisign on 15 August 2011. This was a tumultuous year across the globe, with the uprisings of the Arab Spring, a tsunami in Japan and terror attacks in Norway. 2011 was also the year when the motorway speed limit was increased to 130 km/h in the Netherlands. Famous people who died in 2011 include Steve Jobs and Amy Winehouse.
Projects you never forget
After a little reflection, Gijs says: ‘A customer asked us to build a new machine that also needed to run their old machine’s control programmes. Tests showed that some programmes weren’t working correctly. We eventually found the cause after a long search. One of the axes in the new machine was turning in the opposite direction compared with the old machine. This had been specified in the mechanical design. But we wouldn’t be Unisign if we hadn’t come up with a solution. It took a lot of hard graft but we did it in the end.’
What advice does Gijs have for soon-to-be technology graduates? Jobs seem to be there for the taking, so why choose Unisign? Gijs: ‘Unisign has all technical disciplines under one roof. You’ll be up close to the entire process, from engineering to installation, and there are lots of ways for you to make your mark, whether you want to get hands-on or be involved in developing the electrical system or the controls. The opportunities here are endless. Ultimately, the CNC machines we build are a team effort. Our engineers are also very close to the shop floor. So you can come and help build your own design. Or talk to the service engineers and hear their suggestions for improving the control cabinet you designed. That’s another thing that makes Unisign so appealing. If you’ve got the drive, there are lots of opportunities for you here.’
What’s the secret behind 50 years of Unisign?
Gijs: ‘I’d say it’s the quality we deliver and the high customer satisfaction this brings. Rather than standard products from a catalogue, our machines are one-of-a-kind custom solutions, tailored precisely to each customer. Our machines help customers to increase their productivity. That is unique.’
14 March 2023