A generation change has taken place at BEKUM, the German blow molding machinery supplier. Michael Mehnert, the youngest son of the company's founder Gottfried Mehnert, is appointed as CEO in 2016 spring.
How will he bring BEKUM forward?
How will you approach your new position? What are your plans?
Mr. Mehnert: The technological impetus from BEKUM is something that I naturally want to push on with. When you consider our patented C-frames, the electric blow molding machine generation EBLOW, multi-layer technology, spiral mandrel distributor heads or the Up-Down calibration, to name only a few of our innovations – you can see that we are already in a leadership role, but we have to push on.
Our strategic direction is something we have continuously developed and implemented. I will set out a specific time frame in which to present our future strategy with the leading managers. However, there is no question about it for me, continuity, quality commitment and speed of innovation – along with, in particular, a sense of proportion will be my aspirational principles.
What could that mean, in specific terms?
Mr. Mehnert: Here's one example, although there are many: With 18,000 machines shipped worldwide, the BEKUM Group has achieved by far the largest population of blow molding machines of any brand. Somewhere around the globe a used, but still production-ready BEKUM machine is probably up for offer. Retrofits and services are topics that have a vital bearing on our future. We will be expanding our service functions.
What about technologically?
Mr. Mehnert: Our market is an established market. Bona fide innovations, something we have always been capable of, are becoming increasingly more difficult to realize. However, development potential is out there, particularly in the areas of energy efficiency, automation, in software and the optimization of algorithms, the coordination of a production system or in the sensitive creation of process parameters using sensor technology.
The use of camera systems, in other words sensor technology for hose blisters, is still in its infancy. In the complicated world of "Industry 4.0" we have a wide range of optimization options to contend with.
At K 2016 you exhibited an electric EBLOW 37. Is the future an electric one?
Mr. Mehnert: The future is electric, hybrid or even hydraulic. It depends. Our EBLOW 37 is electrically powered. However, from a technical point-of-view, it is practical to realize the final 10mm of the closing movement and the pressure build-up using a servo-hydraulic pressure pad. This controlled movement at a high force with a build-up in closing force within 135ms enables us to process sensitive materials, while also providing extremely precise seams on the end product.
In strict terms, this means that EBLOW 37 is a hybrid machine: the brief build-up in closing force could only be purely electric if significantly larger drives were used – but this would, of course, be in conflict with our goal of achieving energy efficiency. This is a unique selling point for us.
What was behind the decision to base production in Traismauer, Austria, along with the plant already in the US and not to open another production plant in Asia or China?
Mr. Mehnert: Our machine technology requires an extremely high quality standard. This also means: We want to manufacture specific core components such as our blower heads ourselves. This requires a great deal of know-how and employees with many years of experience behind them. We also work with established suppliers geared towards providing top quality. This is not really something that we could simply transfer at the drop of a hat to other sites around the globe.
Not forgetting either, that we are a classical special-purpose mechanical engineering company. Each machine is specifically adapted to meet customer requirements and intended application. This requires engineering on site and, in particular, an extremely high level of flexibility in the production area. The concentration of the production in Traismauer has had an extremely positive effect here. In the US, BEKUM America is also present in a highly-developed market.
How do you see the future of this traditional brand?
Mr. Mehnert: For me, tradition also means having the courage to change and adapt to meet the requirements placed on us by the market or by our customers. Since the 1990s, market power and raw-material costs in the PET industry have piled on the pressure in the area of packaging applications. BEKUM has systematically continued to develop the extrusion blow molding method, trimming it to reach maximum performance without any losses in quality with the addition of the tandem-blow and multi-cavity technology.
This is where our strengths lie: In the automotive area we have acquired further customers and projects for the production of co-extruded plastic fuel tanks, thereby helping us to gain an outstanding market position. Today, we generate 60% of the turnover with packaging and roughly 40% in the automotive sector.