Düsseldorf, Germany — A small blow molding machine built in 1958 by Gottfried Mehnert put Bekum Maschinenfabriken GmbH (Hall 14/C3) on the path to success in its founding year with the world's first neck-rim calibration, which helped produce perfect plastic bottles.
Numerous patents and developments followed, changing the industry and solidifying the Berlin-based company's position as a pioneer in extrusion blow molding technology.
Now almost 60 years later, the distinguished inventor's youngest son, 34-year-old Michael Mehnert, is getting ready to make his mark on the company that has grown to 300 employees and almost 100 million euros of annual sales.
Appointed to managing partner in the spring, Michael Mehnert took over management of the company's facility in Austria and became shareholder of the group. He talked about his new role in the family business at the Bekum booth, where that early machine, the BA90, is on display alongside the Eblow 37 — a new hybrid for packaging, particularly canisters at the rate of 240 pieces per hour for 20-liter containers.
It's a fitting contrast. Preserving tradition while bringing momentum to the company is at the forefront of Michael Mehnert's agenda.
“I grew up with the company so the product is not new to me, but the situation changes when you have the responsibilities,” Mehnert said, describing the difference between K 2016 and the past shows he has attended pretty much since he could walk.
“I want to keep the tradition of Bekum going, and its long customer relations and the knowledge and experience in the company,” he added. “You can't make a lot of fancy changes very fast.”
Taking a hard look at the future strategy of the company in terms of what range of machines it offersand where it does business will be among the main issues on Mehnert's agenda for the next year to 18 months.
“We're still in the process to define our strategy, and it's my goal to have a look at where the best opportunities are,” he said. “That's the first step before we start with any action in the field. Of course, I have some ideas for the future, but you can't do everything at once. We have this restructuring now, and we have to do everything step by step.”
Last year, Bekum moved its production of packaging machines from Berlin to Traismauer, Austria, where the automotive and industrial machine side of the business has been located since 1968. The floor of the 16,000-square-meter facility was reconfigured to make room for the packaging unit, and about 50 people were hired for a total of 120 as part of a 6 million euro investment to modernize and streamline operations.
“It provides us flexibility and allows us to scale our workload better,” Mehnert said, adding that generally the company deals 60 percent in packaging and 40 percent in automotive. “But it depends year to year, and that's what I meant about the scale of the workload. Now it's much easier.”
Having grown up in a family where shop talk was common at home and then studying mechanical engineering, Mehnert said he has seen the blow molding machine market become very mature.
“It takes little details and specialties to get your machines even faster and more energy efficient,” he said. “Also, going forward, progress lies with software. It's not always as obvious as the machine. The design for the machine gets more important now. That may be an area where I take on a bigger eye than my father.”