Quo vadis? So, where is BEKUM heading now, Mr. Mehnert?
Interview with Michael Mehnert, Managing Partner of BEKUM
Berlin (Germany), 11/16/2016: A generational change has taken place at the blow-moulding machine manufacturer BEKUM. Michael Mehnert (34), the youngest son of company founder Gottfried Mehnert, is assuming responsibility for the Group as the second-generation owner. Dipl.-Ing. Michael Mehnert carried out various functions at BEKUM after successfully graduating as a mechanical engineer in Aachen. In the spring of 2016, Michael Mehnert was appointed to CEO of BEKUM Maschinenfabrik Traismauer GesmbH (A-3133 Traismauer; www.BEKUM.com). In 2016, the European production operation was centralised in Traismauer. We spoke to Michael Mehnert at the K 2016 trade fair about the current market position and the company’s prospects.
Editor: BEKUM has been a leading figure in the world of extrusion blow-moulding since 1959. Your father has now put you in charge. How do you feel about this?
Michael Mehnert: Well, it really is a tremendous challenge for me, after all my father has shaped the world of extrusion blow-moulding like nobody else in the sector. He’s certainly set the bar very high. Having said that, I also see it as an opportunity to make my own mark in continuing the successful history of the company. It is without doubt an exhilarating remit involving a great deal of responsibility and creative freedom.
Editor: How will you approach this? What are your plans?
Michael Mehnert: Thankfully, I don't have to reinvent the extrusion blow-moulding method. The technological basis at BEKUM is perfect at the moment. In our role as technological leader in the industry, it is up to us to show the way forward. In a nutshell, this is where our greatest responsibility lies. Bearing this in mind, I can count on an experienced management team that has been involved at BEKUM for many years now, the members of which provide valuable input. I have also taken the opportunity to prepare myself for my task by being involved with various functions at BEKUM. 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-moulding machine generation EBLOW, multilayer 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.
Editor: What could that mean, in specific terms?
Michael Mehnert: Look – 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-moulding machines of any brand. Somewhere around the globe a used, but still production-ready BEKUM machine is probably up for offer. Each of these machines has an expected service life of 20 years and achieves the highest resale values in the sector. Retrofits and services are topics that have a vital bearing on our future. We will be expanding our service functions:
Editor: … what about technologically?
Michael Mehnert: Our market is an established market. Bona fide innovations, something we have always been capable of, are becoming increasingly more difficult to realise. However, development potential is out there, particularly in the areas of energy efficiency, automation, in software and the optimisation 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 optimisation options to contend with.
Editor: At K 2016 you exhibited an electric EBLOW 37. Is the future an electric one?
Michael Mehnert: The future is electric, hybrid or even hydraulic. It depends. All these concepts are viable. Our EBLOW 37 is electrically powered. However, from a technical point-of-view, it is practical to realise the final 10 mm 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 135 ms 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.
Editor: What was behind the decision to base production in Traismauer, along with the plant already in the USA and not to open another production plant in Asia or China?
Michael 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 USA, BEKUM America is also present in a highly-developed market. And this applies for both Europe and the USA: We need employees and suppliers with long-standing experience, local engineering and – more than anything else – flexibility.
Editor: BEKUM has endured its highs and lows. How do you see the future of this traditional brand?
Michael 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. As a mechanical engineering company for extrusion blow-moulding, we are exposed to the same market mechanisms as our competitors. 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-moulding 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. Last, but not least, at K 2016 we demonstrated the innovation capability of our EBLOW 37.
Editor: What do you intend to change first?
Michael Mehnert: The BEKUM brand stands for commitment to quality. I won’t change anything about that, but in future I want to ensure that it continues to be backed up by all our employees and our know-how.
Editor: Thank you for talking to us.
Bekum at Interpack 2017: Hall 5 D 37
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