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Mr. Uwe Thönniss, CEO of Brückner Technology (Suzhou) Co., Ltd.
Mr. Uwe Thönniss, CEO of Brückner Technology (Suzhou) Co., Ltd.

Uwe Thönniss (谭礼文), with a background in aerospace engineering, joined the Brückner Group in 2001. He was the managing director of one of the group’s lead divisions – Brückner Servtec – before being appointed as the CEO of Brückner Technology (Suzhou) Co., Ltd. in China last year.

He shares with us about the company’s development directions, the potential of key market segments, and the important corporate values that help the company to achieve stable growth.

Uwe Thönniss has set a clear direction for his work when he flew into China to take up a new position as the CEO of Brückner Technology (Suzhou) Co., Ltd. early last year – to support the different divisions of the Brückner Group, which he has worked for and cooperated with since 2001, in the vibrant China market.

He will ensure the close cooperation between the division managers in Germany and local managers in China, and bring the new setup of the Chinese subsidiary to the next level.

“China is for Brückner Group the biggest and the most important market. Some lead companies like Brückner Maschinenbau have been selling to China since the 1960s. We had established our own entity in China in 2004 with a workshop in Jiangyin and a sales office in Shanghai, and later in 2012 we moved to Suzhou, where we brought everything together,” he recalls.

“Now we have a big hall, 5,700 square meters of workshop space, and 2,700 square meters of office space. Central purchasing, financial control, human resources, quality control…all these activities are centralised, doing services for the divisions. Together we’re a flexible and also strong company.”

Expansion of Brückner Group

The 57-year-old Brückner Group, which is
headquartered in Siegsdorf, Bavaria, in Germany, comprises a number of independent machine building companies and has grown over the decades into an international enterprise, with more than 2,400 employees and about Euro 600 million in turnover this year.

Brückner Technology (Suzhou) plays the important role as a sales and service center of Brückner Group in China, and also provides a sourcing and quality assurance platform as well as sub-assembly of components. The company now has a workforce of 150, supporting the group’s four lead companies, namely Brückner Maschinenbau, Brückner Servtec, Kiefel Technologies and Packsys Global. 

According to Thönniss, Brückner’s history has a background in textile machinery and Brückner Maschinenbau was formed in 1960 to develop film stretching technologies, using some technologies from the textile industry to stretch new plastic materials – like Polypropylene at the time – to make the materials thinner for films and increase their tensile strength.

“Almost everything you touch in the supermarkets today has at least this kind of film for packaging, and about 60% of its production is being served by Brückner machines,” he says.

In 2007, as Brückner expanded into new areas, it acquired Kiefel Technologies, which has a strong presence in the packaging, automotive, appliance and medical fields.

In Brückner Maschinenbau’s business, more than 50% of Kiefel machines are designed and built for packaging. As Thönniss describes: “It is impossible to spend a day without touching products that were not made by a machine from one of the companies of the Brückner Group – from the toothpaste tube in the morning, the interior of the fridge, the plastic box for eggs, the yogurt cup, the inside door panel of a car, the screens in laptops and smartphones …”.

Packaging, automotive, appliance and medical

In fact, Kiefel sees potential in all the four applications that it has focused on, and expects China to follow the footsteps of the western countries in many respects, including lifestyle and quality living, in its course of development and boost the demand for plastic products.

Thönniss points out that a lot of materials – such as thermoform materials used in fruit trays – are based on western lifestyle. “People don’t have much time to prepare food at home anymore, and have a lot of food for the go. This is supporting the demand,” he says.

Besides, most of the boxes for packing food are still made by injection molding and the material used is much thicker, so there is a huge potential for saving materials and cost.

Automotive is another core market. Almost all the big automotive companies are now in China, while local companies are also developing well.

On appliance, about 37% of the productions of appliances take place in China, and Thönniss estimates the figure to be about 47% for refrigerators, as companies like Haier and Midea are going out to the world market with their Chinese products.

As for medical, which Thönniss describes as a market being determined by the standards being set for the public medical and health care sector, it is expected that demand would increase as medical care in China improves, triggering new investments in the future.

Automation and AI

Thönniss
says Brückner is not looking for new applications which it is not familiar with, but will improve in serving existing customers by giving them better solutions. It is also looking specifically at automation, which is a strong trend in Europe at the moment, especially downstream automation.

“It means handling packaging products without the hands of people. If you buy a yogurt cup, you don’t want to see people touching them with their hands. The top brands focus on higher level of automation. To avoid the problem of hygiene issues in the food industry, downstream automation is very important.”

Consumers in China will certainly raise their expectations on hygiene and quality when it comes to food, and they are prepared to pay a higher price for that while their disposable income also increased.

A daughter company of Kiefel, Mould & Matic, for example, specialises in downstream automation, and Brückner will be looking for similar companies that can contribute to the solution approach – not just supplying the machines.

It will also go on building more intelligent machines, which will accumulate the expertise and know-how, so companies can retain their product quality even when there is a fluctuation of the machine operators.

Thönniss believes customers in China can catch up with the automation trend very well, despite being “a young nation in terms of technology”.

“China has during the last 20 years made a development which took other countries 100 years to attain. For example, many people have never used a hand dial phone, they had completely skipped the old mechanical phones. Their ability to learn to accept new things is much higher,” he says.

“Therefore, I think it’s easier to find acceptance for new technology in China. I also think it is necessary because the labour cost is rising fast and China is not the cheapest country anymore when it comes to manufacturing.”

Finding and retaining talent

As the plastics industry continues to upgrade its technology and services, even large corporations like Brückner are finding it hard to recruit enough good personnel, who are needed everywhere in the growing economy.

Human resource has therefore become the biggest concern if the companies are to advance with stability.

“When I talked to the managing directors of some European companies about their main concern in China, it is always about finding the right people and how to keep them,” Thönniss says.


“Good people are so rare because the industry is growing and absorbing them. So it is a top priority to keep and develop employees. Fluctuation of personnel would cost a company a lot of money.”


Would salary increases help?
Thönniss does not think so. Money has to be “Okay”, he says, but more important are respect and opportunities for the employees.

He also says people sometimes need to be allowed to make mistakes because “we learn more from failure.”

“What I believe and what we haven’t done often enough is: we have to challenge people. They not only need to be supported but also challenged. If people never learn to explore their potential, they’re not satisfied.”

He says a lot of people would join a company for reasons other than money.

“People are saying: hey, wait a minute, I want to be flexible. If I become a father, I’d like to work only nine months a year. Is that possible? And they ask that already during interview.”

Brückner runs a kindergarten in Germany for its staff, and Thönniss says such arrangements are more important than money because they mean life quality.

“You can have a lot of money but no time for your family. Some job candidates would ask where the nearest sports club is to the company. In 10 years, China will be the same.”

Passion, commitment and family spirit

It sounds so good for people hoping to join the Brückner Group, which cares about its employees, but it is not without criteria. First of all, those who change jobs regularly may not be considered suitable, as the company looks for consistency and achievement records. Besides, they need to match the company’s corporate culture, which values passion and commitment, as well as a family spirit.

“Passion means there should be fire within yourself to explore and discover new things and new technology, and to try something new when the old ways don’t work,” Thönniss explains.

“And commitment goes in two directions. You support the company and the company supports you. Also, commitment to our customers is very important. If we do not supply the right equipment, it’d hurt the customer and us. It’s like in a marriage – it has to work.”

As a family-owned group, Brückner encourages its staff to support each other like a family to ensure quality and maintain a good reputation.

Thönniss says the corporate values are being taught with a top-down approach. “I think it is easy to convey the idea of family (Jiā), which is an important term in Chinese culture. People should know that our number one focus is quality. Otherwise, there will be no credibility.”

SharpFormer – machine for the appliance industry

During the 3rd Edition CPRJ Plastics in Appliance / 3C Electronics conference held recently in Shunde, China, on September 21, Thönniss introduced to the audience the SharpFormer machine by Kiefel, with the theme: “SharpFormer – Thermoforming at its excellence”.

 The SharpFormer machine by Kiefel.According to him, the word “Sharp” represents five features of the machine:

  • Speed – dry cycle of 24 seconds
  • High efficiency – machine availability > 95%
  • Accurate – exact repeatability
  • Reliable – proven machine concept
  • Pressure forming – sharp contours

The machine is also installed with the new CAT Software (Computer Assisted Teaching”) for fast production start. With a “Step by Step” program guide, the software enables pre-selection of product shapes and parameters, and saving of run-up time by 85% compared with conventional standard machine software.

Kiefel Technologies
was founded five years earlier than Brückner Group in 1955 in Freilassing, Bavaria. It specializes in machines for joining and forming plastics, and has more than 900 employees worldwide.

Kiefel came under the Brückner Group in 2007, and has acquired companies with different expertise in the past four years to strengthen its market position. The bought companies include Bosch Sprang Technologies, Mould & Matic Technologies, Paragon Molds and SWA Technologies.

“Kiefel has acquired very high quality tool makers in Europe and the USA – having outstanding reputation and good know-how in the market,” says Thönniss.

Now we not only sell the machines to the customer but a solution to his product. For example, when a company wants to make a new type of coffee capsules, they don’t have to talk to different people – the tool maker and the machine maker – anymore and hope that everything would work. They now get the solution for the finished product out of one hand by Kiefel.”



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