Partners in development

At Tembo in Kampen VSE worked on a project with the mythical name Ceres. In myth this is the name of the goddess of arable farming. At Tembo this is how they named a fridge-size machine that provides fast-track packaging with a tax seal.

With tax seals, accuracy is of the utmost importance. Harro Hokse is interim manager of the project management department and worked together with Stefan Lekkerkerker of VSE, among others, in the execution of the project. He recalls the challenges and solutions, the collaboration and the current situation for Tembo in these trying times.

"We are a machine builder and usually we develop and build machines for very specific purposes, one offs, hardly ever series. In the Netherlands we work a lot on first designs and prototypes, serial production is mainly done at one of our companies in Poland. But we've built more than forty examples of the Ceres here, so you could say it's a bit of an odd one out for us. Here in Kampen, traditionally we have had a strong tobacco industry. The company distinguished itself very early on by applying extensive automation, for example when filling shag packs. We were involved in the development and overhaul of machines and thus grew into the specialist we are today."

The sealing 'refrigerator' was not conceived by the company itself but was taken over as IP from another company. "At that time VSE was already involved in the project. Because we had to get started right away, we did not have the time or the capactity for extensive knowledge transfer. That is why we immediately started off working with VSE. As a matter of fact, we simply bought capacity and knowledge that we didn't have ourselves at that time. And although we had adopted the IP, we immediately implemented a number of drastic changes. For example, we made huge reduction on the footprint of the machine. And naturally, the software had to be altered along with that. As a result of this development, the collaboration was a very intensive one, right from the start".

The machines found their way all over the world. And VSE was involved in all installations in the field. "We built and installed many machines in a short time span. Due to a change in European regulations, the tax stamps had to be stuck on the packages on a different position. The health warning had to be given a more prominent place. As a result, all manufacturers for the European market had to convert their machinery in the shortest amount of time. All of a sudden we had a very large project on our hands. The strength of our machine was a small footprint and fast turnovers. And we were one of the few who could handle the demand. So we supplied quite a few of these machines."

Fast and precise
The machine had to be able to process up to five hundred packets per minute. Including quality control using a camera. "In a slightly later phase, other aspects such as top folding and side folding were added. Under all circumstances, the seal must remain neat and taut, so the adhesive must dry quickly. Our strength is that we are able to develop and build a completely new machine in a short period of time. This allowed us to quickly develop and further improve this existing machine, together with VSE. We did the mechanical engineering and VSE took care of the motion, the controllers and the software."

And all of this had to be realized under enormous time pressure, because of those new European rules. As a result, production and development ran simultaneously. "The previous builder had already built and delivered four machines. So there were three tracks running at the same time. The construction, the redevelopment and the feedback from the field from the first deliveries. That made it quite a complex process. In an ideal world you would first build a prototype, then a zero series and then a series. But in this situation everything was coming in at the same time and of partly mixed. That was a tough job for us as well as for VSE. But I am really very satisfied with the cooperation. Without VSE we would not have managed. In the busiest period we shipped two machines a week and that is very demanding task for our organization, we are not equipped for that." He laughs and says: "We were almost a business unit of our own. We didn't have the capacity for that in-house and VSE proactively co-developed and helped us to be able to meet demand."

Time for other projects
The stamp sticker is now almost a refrigerated project, because apart from a few possible countries outside Europe, the market is now saturated. VSE still provides support, but delivery of new machines will soon be finished, Harro expects. And yet it is busier than ever at Tembo. With e-cigarettes? "No, at the moment it is not clear what the future of e-cigarettes looks like. We are now mainly developing and marketing high quality machinery for the global production of sustainable consumer products. Liquid tabs and paper straws are just two examples. We have set up a temporary factory hall for a major project and are also building a factory for which we are developing the machines ourselves for a product that, once again, is required by European regulations to be delivered in no time. Paper straws. We are working in two shifts, a morning shift and an afternoon shift, so that we can comply with the corona measures and still make optimal use of our production capacity."

There are many initiatives that pass by. "Every initiative actually means a machine. That is narrowing out, but it does require big investments. Tembo is a very dynamic and fun organization, a traditional Dutch family business.


Tembo means elephant in Swahili. This name refers to the cigar factory in Kampen at the beginning of the 20th century, the origin of today's Tembo. The elephant is a symbol of the company's values: strong family ties. Elephants learn from each other, protect each other and take care of each other. At the same time, they have an innovative spirit, are playful and excellent problem solvers. Elephants are energetic, powerful and persistent.

Tembo is a group of no less than fourteen family businesses with different activities, from designing machines to designing products. Specialists in paper products or in adhesives, or experts in producing precise machine parts, for customers in various industries.

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