Meet the Bata Awards “Innovation” Finalist from Bata Netherlands

This week, as Bata employees continue to vote for their favorite projects in the Bata Awards, BWN is presenting the finalists in the “Innovation” category. We talked about the Walkline project with Frank Stoeldraaijers of Bata Industrials Europe in the Netherlands.

What is Walkline, and how did the project start?

Walkline is a biomechanical concept for a Bata Industrials safety footwear collection and at the same time it became the project name for a modular and functional safety footwear collection.

The project started with market research. This research showed us that next to providing safety, the market is also looking more and more to health effects, and employers are caring more and more about the health of their valuable employees. So providing biomechanically superior footwear is very important. At the same time this market research was showing that it is much better to gear safety footwear to specific work environments rather than offering general safety footwear to all our different customers around the world. Sometimes safety footwear is made in such a way that it is in accordance with safety standards but in conflict with some specific ergonomic features. These products then cause health problems for the users, from painful feet to serious bone and ligament problems.

In close cooperation with an external expert in biomechanics, Mr. Terje Haugaa, we started up the Walkline project, and from Day One we have tried to bring all-important biomechanical features to our safety footwear, of course without making any concessions on safety. At the same time we started up the development of all different components for all the different work environments in such a way that they are interchangeable, which is the basis for the modular production system.

Tell us about how the project was developed.

We started the market research in 2009, and in 2011 we showed our ideas to a lot of our customers by presenting the concept in part at the most important fair for safety footwear: the A+A in Düsseldorf. The reactions were very positive, and from that day we were 100 percent sure that we were on the right track.

Since we were going to change our entire collection, we involved all the departments in our company. The main goal was providing our customers functional and biomechanically correct safety footwear, but at the same time we wanted to take the opportunity to improve our delivery performance, production, quality, collection management, finished products stock control and material/semi-finished product management.

One of the major obstacles to overcome was to make sure that we would achieve a smooth transition from the “old collections” to one complete new collection. Another obstacle was an internal one: we had to make sure that all departments — from sales to production, from logistics to quality, etc. — were moving in the same direction. Every department has is “own specific requirements,” and the challenge was to please them all as much as possible.

Besides the internal wishes, of course the requirements of our customers, the external wishes, were always the most important requirements. It was very interesting to collect all those requirements into a big basket and create the best possible solutions for the entire company. But above all we were mainly guided by our customers’ needs.

But the biggest obstacle — we prefer to call it a challenge — was to convince all our customers that biomechanical and functionally correct safety footwear is the best choice for them, instead of buying safety footwear only based on design, price and/or weight. In the past footwear was quite often selected by our customers for reasons of perception. Now we have test results which prove the quality of our product and test results which help our customers select the best possible type of safety footwear for their work environments. This “new way of thinking” had to be transferred into the market, which was — and is — not always that easy.

But when we get the chance to explain the concept and show the results, we always convince and satisfy our customers with our concept and way of thinking. Nowadays we even see that some of our main competitors have followed us by focusing more and more on biomechanics and providing functional instead of general safety footwear. Of course Bata Industrials Europe leads the way and showed again that we are innovative and always working to improve our products.

What kind of results have you seen from the project?

The biomechanical concept that we integrated into our safety footwear was tested at every step of the process. From the beginning we have collected very positive test results, mainly thanks to the input of Mr. Terje Haugaa, who has been studying biomechanics for decades. Mr. Haugaa brought in the biomechanical demands, and we thought about innovative ways to produce them and combine those demands with the already existing requirements for safety footwear. The most important result which proves that we did a good job is the fact that we tested the Walkline footwear for a long period in real life, at companies in Scandinavia and Holland, where in the end we saw a reduction of foot, leg and knee problems by over 50 percent. And these results were coming from responses completed by the users themselves, which shows that they really feel the difference.

Do you think this idea can be implemented at other Bata companies?

For sure the Walkline concept can be implemented at other Bata companies. We believe it should even be more or less the basis for all types of footwear to be biomechanically correct — as much as possible without conflicting with the main functionality of the footwear. And the nice thing about Walkline is that it is suitable for all types of footwear, especially when you have the knowledge about your product and production process. Walkline shoes are still shoes, but only constructed smarter, always with the well-being of the user in mind.

Lastly, why should your Bata colleagues around the world vote for the Walkline project?

If our Bata colleagues like our main idea — to deliver our customers the best possible biomechanical and functional footwear — and if they like our approach — involving an external expert, involving all departments of our company and above all surveying our customers’ needs — it would be great if they showed this by voting for the Walkline project.

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