With no acquisitions, the growth is organic thanks to packaging and specialty markets. Kautex's automotive business also remains strong, and the company is watching closely to see whether demand for electric cars will ever take over combustion engine cars, which use plastic fuel tanks. CEO Olaf Weiland noted Kautex also makes other parts, such as blow-molded rear end spoilers and bumper enclosures. And, he said, hybrid cars may have smaller fuel tanks but they are more sophisticated.
“This gives us even a better chance to leverage our technology,” Weiland said.
In addition to other sources of energy for cars, Kautex watches out for stationary fuel applications, such as the development of high-pressure composite vessels for liquid petroleum gas (LPG) beyond cooking and heating, as well as compressed natural gas (CNG). The company opened a composite center in Germany two years ago to make prototypes for pressure vessels and test materials.
“This is still a fairly new technology, and our investment is based on our confidence that we will see this technology growing in the future,” Weiland said, pointing to the potential demand for high-pressure air containers for truck brake systems instead of corrosive steel.
“It's a long road all to be based on a blow-molded liner combined with a reinforcement of carbon fiber structure,” he added. “There's a lot of variety of cars and materials and processes, and a lot of learning is needed. That's the reason for us to invest in the technical end of it.”
The need for a lighter, safer material also is driving the conversion of pressure vessels from steel to plastics. Kautex officials are urging K 2016 attendees to go to YouTube and see what happens when plastic and steel bottles are exposed to fire.
“In many countries LPG is the main source of energy for cooking. People have to carry these cylinders around once a week or whatever,” Farrant said. “The plastic tank is half the weight. It makes it much easier for people to transport them around but the key is safety. The tank doesn't corrode like a steel tank so you don't have the problem of weakness coming through corrosion and it will withstand a higher temperature. Look at the videos where you put a steel tank in a fire. It explodes. The composite tank doesn't, so in terms of safety in the home it's a much better prospect.”
Kautex also sees growth coming in its 20-year-old suction blow molding machine business, which prompted the launch of its KSB10 machine. The company says it takes up 50 percent less floor space than the previous model and offers a fast, five-minute change of head tooling.
“For customers that produce many parts with a small lot size it's very important to change tools and products very quickly,” said Markus Holbach, a technical director at Kautex.