The leaders of family-owned auxiliary equipment and robotics supplier Wittmann KunststoffgerÃ¤te GmbH gave an upbeat account of a strong 2004 business year and an update on their China manufacturing plans, during an Oct. 24 news conference at K 2004 in Dusseldorf.
President Werner Wittmann predicts sales for the 650-employee firm will increase 12-15 percent this year compared with 2003, to about 120 million euros ($155 million). Robots make up the biggest percentage of sales, but Wittmann said its materials-handling equipment is gaining ground. The Vienna, Austria-based firm will make about 5,000 mold-temperature controllers in 2004, and there is a growing trend toward use of screenless granulators, especially for specialty resins such as glass-fiber-filled materials, Wittmann said.
This year U.S. sales will increase about 15 percent, he said. Sales in Asia will leap by 50 percent, driven by growth in China, though the region accounts for only about 10 percent of group sales, Wittmann said. That mix is about to change, though, as the firm gears up to begin production by February at a wholly owned, $6 million plant in Kunshan, China. The 53,800-square-foot plant will start with about 50 employees and make three product lines: two types of robots; its basic mold-temperature controllers; and smaller granulators, including its screenless model.
``We see a general trend for robots,'' Wittmann said, ``one high-end line for flexible, large production, and also a basic line.'' The higher-end version is the W711 three-axis, linear servo robot with a payload of 11 pounds. The simpler, economical model, designed for Asia, is the W710, an electric-pneumatic linear robot with a similar payload that is used for basic parts removal and secondary operations. Both models feature a fixed kick stroke, which is unusual for Wittmann.
General Manger Michael Wittmann, Werner Wittmann's son, said foreign-owned manufacturers will account for about 80 percent of its sales in China initially. But it also plans to supply the more-international, Chinese-owned firms, especially those serving the automotive industry.
``We're gearing up for making complete automation in China,'' he said. ``We may be the first Western supplier to do so.''
The new plant will do assembly and metal bending and will have machining centers. Its owners said they are assessing local purchasing options carefully, and already have hired a Chinese general manager. Werner Wittmann, who is spearheading the Asian thrust, said he spends one week a month in China on average. Wittmann also has operations in Singapore and earlier this year opened a subsidiary in Bangkok, Thailand.
Beyond Asia, another central theme of Wittmann's K show booth was interconnectivity.
``Our vision,'' Michael Wittmann said, ``is to connect all units [on the factory floor] together via our WittLink program.'' WittLink is the firm's network communication program, designed to allow processors to connect all auxiliary equipment to a central computer and to view operations via a commercially available Web browser.
Michael Wittmann - who ran Wittmann Inc. in Torrington, Conn., for seven years but now is based in Vienna - said WittLink is an open network that can accommodate competitors' equipment.
``Our vision is that all peripheral equipment will be interconnected, like personal computers today.''