When your company has been operating for 100 years and started building injection molding machines to meet its own manufacturing needs, you can make a strong case that your business has always had a Plan A.
In its earliest days, back in 1923, Arburg GmbH + Co. KG founder Arthur Hehl was a self-employed tradesman. He had trained as a precision mechanic and eventually began manufacturing surgical instruments out of the cellar of his house in Lossburg, Germany, with active support from his wife, Maria.
Demand for Hehl's products grew, and his sons, Karl and Eugen, joined the business.
Karl Hehl came up with the company name in 1943, combining the "Ar" in honor of his father and "burg" from their hometown, and production expanded into other goods like metal hairpins, potato baskets and clamping rings for baby bottles.
In 1954, Arburg staff needed to overmold plug contacts on a flashgun. Karl Hehl developed his first injection molding machine to solve the problem.
Two years later, the C-series machine itself went into production and the Hehls had a new line of work. Less than three years later, in 1959, the 1,000th C press was sold.
Eventually, more than 10,000 machines in the C-series were put into production along with tens of thousands of other Arburg models that followed.
Managing Director Juliane Hehl, who oversees global marketing and business development, told Plastics News about the family's century of innovation, plans for the 28th Fakuma trade show event and more.
"The 100-year history of our family company is characterized by inventiveness and daring, flashes of inspiration and business ideas, evolutionary developments and disruptive leaps, people and technology, regional ties and global growth," Hehl said in an email. "Along the way, there have been plenty of technical milestones."
Hehl pointed to the Allrounder invented in the early 1960s, which made it possible to have one machine in various working positions thanks to a pivoting clamping unit and reversible injection unit, and the Selogica-brand control system, which came out in 1982 and set standards in plastics processing.
"We still develop and build our own machine control system to this day," Hehl said.
In 2013, the Arburg portfolio was expanded by the Freeformer, an industrial 3D printer that was the first to additively process standard plastic granules.
Ten years later, the company's motto, "There is only a Plan A," encompasses not only technology but also energy efficiency, sustainability, climate protection, digitalization and the circular economy.
Still, it's Arburg's people, be they family or industry experts, who made "this unique success story" possible, Hehl said, singling out not only Arthur and Maria Hehl and their sons but also "many loyal, committed and expert employees, or rather companions."
"Substance over style was always very important to the founding fathers Arthur, Karl and Eugen Hehl — and certainly one of Arburg's early success factors," Hehl said. "This maxim still holds true today for the managing partners of the third generation, that is, for my cousin Renate Keinath, my brother Michael Hehl and me."
Hehl also told PN about staying true to the Swabian tradition of Germany, managing to avoid even one production stoppage in turbulent times, and how the advances of machine builders to create a circular economy must be supported by the entire industrial sector and society.
Q: In 2021, a big goal for the Fakuma event was simply for everyone to safely gather again during the pandemic. What will make Fakuma 2023 a successful event for Arburg in your view?
Hehl: As always, I'm very much looking forward to Fakuma, which, as you know, is particularly dear to us and has always lived up to our expectations so far. We appreciate the "family" atmosphere and the opportunity to provide visitors to Friedrichshafen with in-depth and personalized support and advice.
Naturally, the quality of the contacts is a crucial factor for a successful trade show. I am sure that our exhibits and innovations will once again strike a chord with trade visitors this year.
We will be continuing our successful communication line "There is only a Plan A" at Fakuma 2023, combined with our celebration of "100 years of the Hehl family company." This enables us to demonstrate that we have always had a "Plan A." This brings together everything we have to offer on important topics such as energy, sustainability, digitalization and automation. And that's quite a lot. We will show our customers how they can benefit from our products, solutions and services — and also from our decades of experience.
The highlight will be the world premiere of the Allrounder 520 H, the next size in our hybrid Hidrive series. Thanks to new machine technology, it is particularly good at saving energy and conserving resources and is efficient in production, user-friendly and reliable. I am also particularly excited about our arburgSOLUTIONworld, where our experts will provide information and advice focused on the meta-topics of energy, efficiency, the shortage of skilled workers and future orientation.
Q: How did past generations view sustainability? Is this generation focused on it more than ever?
Hehl: A look back at the 100-year history of our company shows that the responsible use of resources and energy have always played an important role for us. It has always been true that according to good, thrifty Swabian tradition, we only consume as many resources as we need at any given time. Today, we use modern terms to describe this, such as sustainability, climate protection and circular economy. These ideas were already rooted in Arburg's DNA, which was shaped at an early stage. We have now brought all these activities together in our comprehensive arburgGREENworld program.
For the current generation, sustainability is an important issue. Unfortunately, plastic is often wrongly equated with waste. However, the problem is not plastic itself. Instead, global change is required in the way we handle it. Plastic is a recyclable material that doesn't belong in the trash and certainly not in the environment, but must be sorted by type, collected, processed and reused as often as possible.
Q: What was the early impetus to keep Arburg's supply chain within such close proximity that 72 percent of supplies come from Germany, and 66 percent of them from Baden-Württemberg? Wasn't the company ever tempted by lower prices overseas? Was that a tough discipline or simply sensible business decisions?
Hehl: We have been and continue to be very successful in our strategy of relying on short, stable supply chains. In this respect, price is not the only decision-making criterion for us. We instead also prioritize quality combined with strong, trust-based and long-term partnerships with our suppliers, who have an important role to play, too. This has benefited our customers and us as well — especially in times of material shortages and supply bottlenecks. Thanks to these partnerships, we have had no production stoppages in these recent turbulent years and have been able to deliver at all times.
At the same time, we are continuing to work closely with partners from industry and science to develop our products and processes sustainably — in terms of energy and production efficiency, resource conservation and, of course, the carbon footprint.
Q: What kind of progress do you see being made to achieve a circular economy? Do you think the industry is still taking its first baby steps, as they say? Or do you feel some good progress has been made and the circular economy is coming together and will be achieved?
Hehl: A lot has happened in the past few years. As a machine manufacturer, we have recognized and understood this crucial global problem and are playing our part in finding a solution — with technical solutions for processing recyclates, for example, and for marking and identifying products so that they can be returned to the cycle.
Q: What else needs to happen to create a circular economy in your opinion?
Hehl: Technical solutions alone are not sufficient. To complete the cycle of recyclable materials globally in the best case, and in any case as far as possible, alongside many other factors, an appropriate infrastructure for circular economy is required in the individual countries. Here, we are part of a solution, but part of one that requires strenuous endeavors by society as a whole and by the entire industrial sector.
Q: What does the latest technology offer for injection molding with recyclates?
Hehl: A key question here is how post-industrial and post-consumer recyclates can be processed reliably despite fluctuating material quality. We will be showing machines at Fakuma that are equipped with great hardware and software solutions, such as the recyclate package and the "aXw control RecyclatePilot" control feature, thereby enabling recyclates to be processed reliably.
However, with our expertise, we can not only support our customers in the processing of recyclates and alternative plastics, but ideally also one step earlier, during product development. This is where the topic of design for recycling is becoming increasingly important because the course for a successful product cycle is already set in the design phase.
Q: The hybrid Hidrive, which combines an electric clamping unit with a hydraulic injection unit, launched this year with the 470 H model amid the celebrations of 100 years of the Hehl family company. Now the 520 H is being introduced. In what ways are these hybrid machines a product of a century of Hehl tradition and in what ways have they advanced with Hehl innovations to meet future needs? What applications are they best suited for?
Hehl: At Arburg, we have always developed and brought to market products that already meet tomorrow's requirements today. This is also the case with the new Allrounder H series I mentioned earlier. These hybrid machines with new machine technology significantly reduce acquisition and operating costs as well as the carbon footprint.
The new Allrounder H machines were not developed for specific applications. Rather, they are of interest to companies that are looking for an energy-saving alternative, appreciate an electric clamping unit and know how economical the hydraulic injection unit is.
In a representative survey conducted at the Anniversary Days in March 2023, 96 percent of the more than 300 respondents rated the new Allrounder 470 H machine as extremely attractive as a replacement for hydraulic and also electric machines. Eighty-five percent were convinced right away that the new hybrid Allrounders were a good fit for their particular operational application spectrum. So we have hit the mark.
Q: The Fakuma anniversary exhibition area will have a replica of the C machine in operation. What does this machine mean to Arburg?
Hehl: Since Arburg's success story as an injection molding machine manufacturer began with the C machine, this machine is, of course, an important exhibit in the "100 years of the Hehl family company" area at Fakuma. The first series machine was built in 1956, and the thousandth C machine was sold as early as 1959; over time, the number even exceeded 10,000.
Q: Fakuma will be the closing event of the Hehl family company centennial year, a year that was filled with gatherings and parties all over the world and a well-attended concert. How will this celebration come to a close?
Hehl: There will be no special anniversary celebration at Fakuma itself, as we have already celebrated 100 years of the Hehl family company in grand style with customers and partners at more than 30 events around the world. But we are "closing" our sensational anniversary year mentally, as it were, at this trade show.
Q: What are some of the big opportunities that lie ahead for Arburg in the next 50-100 years?
Hehl: In the future, we will continue to be a market leader and pioneer in important topics, with an even greater international reach while remaining close to our customers. We will continue the fundamental successful concept of the past years: Think, analyze and implement something consistently if we are convinced of it! For us, the customer is always at the center of our considerations. And we want to make it as easy as possible for [them] to do business with us and be successful with our products. This is how our family company has continued to develop and adapt itself and its portfolio over the course of its 100-year history and what we will continue to do in the future — as an independent and strong family company.
Arburg GmbH + Co. KG
Hall A3, Booth 3101