Bartlett, Ill. — Herrmann Ultraschaltechnik GmbH & Co. KG first brought its technology for ultrasonic welding of plastics to North America 25 years ago.
The Karlsbad, Germany-based company's unit in Bartlett — near Chicago — celebrated the milestone with a special celebration day in September. And the event gave the company an opportunity to show off yet another plastics technology specialty from its homeland: a German-style apprenticeship program.
This year Herrmann Ultrasonics Inc. is participating for the first time in an apprenticeship program with the German American Chambers of Commerce and the Illinois Consortium for Advanced Technical Training. The company selected a student from a local Chicago-area high school who is now receiving training at Herrmann Ultrasonics, plus classes at Harper Community College.
At the end of the program the student will have an associate's degree, three years of training and experience at the company, and full German certification as a maintenance technician.
“That's the gold standard,” and the reason why the apprenticeship is so important, said Mark Tomkins, president and CEO of the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest Inc.
Tomkins attended the Herrmann Ultrasonics 25-year-anniversary celebration on Sept. 10-11.
The commitment from the company is significant. Herrmann Ultrasonics is paying all the tuition costs, plus for all the time and materials necessary for three years of on-the-job training.
Uwe Peregi, executive vice president and general manager of Herrmann Ultrasonics, is personally invested in the program too — he's active on the board that's putting together the local version of the apprenticeship program.
Why is the company's top local official involved in the program? As he explains it, it's because he's sold on the concept.
Maybe that's because he was once a young apprentice himself — in his case in his native Switzerland, not Germany.
“I was the initiator at Herrmann,” Peregi said. “I heard about it and I said, ‘OK, we're on board.' Because that's what happened to me. In Switzerland, I was an apprentice for machine mechanics. I understand the importance of hands-on training.”
Tomkins said the German American Chamber has similar apprentice programs around the United States, and they are open to all manufacturing companies — not just those with a German pedigree, like Herrmann Ultrasonics. Lately there's more interest in the programs because of the widely reported shortage of young workers with technical training, and the looming retirement of the baby boomers who currently hold so many of those jobs.
“There is a strong need for this program. There's nobody new coming into the pipeline, the pool is shrinking,” Tomkins said.
More than 150 customers came to Bartlett on Sept. 10-11 for the Anniversary celebration, which also featured workshops by representatives from Proto Labs, Dow Chemical Co. and Clemson University.
Herrmann Ultrasonics has come a long way in 25 years, starting as a small office headed by Thomas Herrmann — now the president and CEO of the parent company in Germany.
Herrmann Ultraschaltechnik was founded by Walter Herrmann, Thomas Herrmann's father, in 1961.
“He had the vision to make ultrasonic welding robust and useful,” Thomas Herrmann said at the anniversary party in Bartlett.
Thomas Herrmann recalled some of the company's early customers, including Hewlett Packard, which used the machine to sonic weld its ink-jet cartridges, and Motorola, which used sonic welding on the housing of the very thin Micro TAC batteries in the first flip phone.
“How did I win HP? I was able to teach them and really help them understand the process,” Herrmann said. The company has always put a premium on customer training, with seminars scheduled throughout the United States.
Hermann Ultrasonics moved into its current location in Bartlett in 2006. The 20,000-square-foot building has three laboratories and space for assembly, parts and service, and tooling. The company is just about maxed out on space in the plant now, and is preparing to expand, Peregi said. Expect it to announce plans to add up to 10,000 square feet of space in the future.
Some of the current major markets for the company include automotive parts, medical devices and pouches made of flexible film — salad bags are a prime example. Ultrasonic welding has advantages in this application because bits of lettuce can't cause problems - the ultrasonic welder seals bags right through any potential seam contaminant.
Herrmann gave a special mention at the ceremony to his former partner in the United States, John Legat, the founder and owner of Trans Tech America Inc. Herrmann Ultrasonics started as a 50/50 joint venture with Legat, who died in car accident in 1997.
Today Herrmann Ultrasonics is 100 percent family owned and experiencing strong growth. Peregi said the company recorded record sales last year, and is on pace to beat that record in 2015.
“We have seen growth in existing markets and of course in new applications where ultrasonic welding is replacing other technologies,” Peregi said.
More than 150 customers came to Bartlett on Sept. 10-11 for the event, which also featured workshops by representatives from Proto Labs, Dow Chemical Co. and Clemson University.