24 (119) 2016
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British Investment

GKN – a global force in manufacturing, developing strongly in Poland

by Mariusz Karolewski – plant director, GKN Driveline Polska
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Every day, GKN drives the wheels of hundreds of millions of cars, helps thousands of aircraft to fly, and delivers the power to move earth and harvest crops.

GKN makes essential components for industries that touch lives around the world.

The story of GKN was forged in the first fires of the Industrial Revolution over 250 years ago. It is a story of change and innovation taking in the birth of rail, the invention of the car, the development of flight and man’s adventures in space. It is the story of how a single ironworks in South Wales became a global giant spanning more than 30 countries.

In 1759, as the first pints of Guinness were being poured, the Dowlais ironworks opened. Over the past 257 years, the company has changed shape and direction many times, but has always maintained its place at the forefront of engineering.

GKN – the initials come from the three founders, Messrs Guest, Keen and Nettlefold – has spread its wings geographically, too. As the balance of economic growth has shifted, from Britain in the 18th and early-19th centuries to America, Western Europe and Japan in the 20th and on to the emerging economic powers of Asia, Latin America and Central & Eastern Europe today, GKN has moved with it. Today, GKN is a truly global corporate citizen – with a remarkable history.  

It’s been 20 years now since GKN decided to open one of its Driveline division’s plants in Poland. In the beginning GKN operated from rented buildings, but the company soon started looking for a permanent home as the automotive market grew. Three years later, on 13 July 1999 – GKN’s first permanent Polish plant was opened in Oleśnica. That marked just the beginning of story of continuous improvement.

Since that day, the facility’s production area has been enlarged four times. In 2020 the production area was extended, followed by the opening of a new forging plant in 2005. A logistic centre and tool room opened in 2013, and a new extension was added three years ago, along with a reorganisation of the production facilities.

This year sees the opening of a second GKN facility in Oleśnica, as well as the start of a recruitment programme that will increase the workforce by around 40% over the next four years. The new 14,280m² facility will bring the latest automotive production techniques to Poland. Over 200 new production machines will significantly expand GKN’s capabilities in this market.

Olesnica was also chosen as a location for advanced technology R&D, with outstanding potential engineers and scientists available from excellent local universities. If all plans are realised, the R&D team will grow from a small number of people today to approximately 50 in future years.  

GKN’s history in Poland is the result of the dedication of many great people – open minded and visionary leaders whose dreams and plans extended beyond regular expectations, people who supported us many times (with special thanks to the British Embassy in Poland and BPCC for sharing our passion) and last but not least – to the GKN management who recognised Poland’s potential and decided to invest here.

GKN’s strength has always been based on the engagement of its employees. Without them, our dream could not come true. At GKN, employees don’t see their career paths limited by their current role and the company encourages workers to strive for promotion and self-improvement.  Work experience, knowledge and commitment to the job are the three criteria that open doors for new opportunities.

GKN not only believes in the sense of the development of current employees but also wants to train a new cadre of specialists. The company provides the possibility of internships for student from Wroclaw University of Technology. Often they return after graduation and receive employment. This relationship is mutually profitable – GKN obtains employees trained for its needs and the University has places for internships and contact with business. Since last year, GKN has started to work with vocational school pupils. Vocational education is seen by manufacturing industry in Poland as being increasingly important in the future. In September 2015, the first class under GKN’s patronage started at the Technical School in Oleśnica. Its graduates will have the possibility of working at the Oleśnica plant and have priority in recruitment for production positions.

GKN today is established as one of the world’s leading technology and engineering companies: a key supplier of components for everything from cars to F-18 fighter jets, and even the Space Shuttle. It employs 50,000 people in 30 countries and supplies the world’s leading automotive, aerospace and off-highway companies. Its rich and varied history has resulted in a modern company with a unique reputation for innovation and quality – GKN is the only non-Japanese company to be named Toyota’s best supplier three times.

Over the centuries, GKN has welcomed change, not feared it. It has never been afraid to innovate. It has always been practical: it has always been a proud company, but the pride has always been tempered by an immense realism. That is why it is still here. That is why GKN occupies a unique place in mankind’s industrial history.

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