Martin Baumann has been president of Arburg Inc., a subsidiary of the family-owned, Germany-based injection molding machine builder, for about six months.
The subsidiary supports customers in the United States, Canada and the border region of Mexico from a headquarters site in Rocky Hill, Conn., which also is the home of one of three technology centers.
The other two tech centers are located in Elgin, Ill., and Irvine, Calif., to support customers in those regions.
Baumann took over June 1 from Friedrich Kanz, who retired after 23 years. During his short time at the helm, Baumann said he has learned customers need presses that are "more than a machine" and that with his breadth of experience in the plastics and recycling industries he's like Arburg's Allrounder product line.
Baumann explained that and more to Plastics News' senior reporter Catherine Kavanaugh.
Q: What kind of subsidiary are you taking over? How would you describe business at the moment for Arburg Inc.?
Baumann: As for business at the moment, orders in the USA have slowed down in 2023 from unprecedented peak demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first half of the year, we saw lower demand for standard machines, but we were still busy with more complex, technical projects and turnkey systems. We had a slow summer but new-project activity is higher now.
Q: What markets, trends and products are doing best?
Baumann: As mentioned, we see that project-specific machines and turnkey systems are doing well. Otherwise, our customers seem to be focused on keeping existing machines running well, so our after-sales business has been steady.
The demand for service and support is up, and employee training and skills development is a topic that I discuss at every customer visit. Our service and application engineering team helps and we conduct regular training programs in our technology centers. We also help alleviate problems associated with the shortage of skilled and unskilled workers with our arburgXworld customer portal, assistance packages that simplify set-up and operation of our machines, and our controller is also able to provide guidance to operators right as machine-side.
Q: What are incoming orders like compared to recent quarters for the subsidiary?
Baumann: We see increased demand for turnkey (automation) systems. Customers are taking advantage of our ability to help engineer, source and qualify these systems outside of their production environment, without taking up valuable production space or tying up personnel. We have an advantage in this due to the large number of systems Arburg has executed in recent years. This represents a tremendous amount of experience available to molders. The still-critical labor situation in the USA is one driver for increased automation.
Q: Is there anything in particular that has been a top priority, for you?
Baumann: Job One has been to get to know the team and learn the Arburg technology. I took over a very motivated and professional team and it is why we are able to win over so many new customers while retaining existing ones. It's been important for me to get to know all of them personally.
I have also already spent a significant amount of time traveling to meet customers, to get feedback on where we need to be as we head into the future and where we need to further improve. The feedback I've received has been excellent … very positive. But you also can never rest on your laurels.
I have to say that many customers not only congratulated me on my new position, but they congratulated me, specifically, for the fact that that I joined a world-class company. That was very cool to hear.
Q: Are customers or employees noticing any changes?
Baumann: Of course, employees see a change. I think that is normal and actually a good thing, since no two leaders are alike. Customers, on the other hand, mostly see our service techs and our sales managers, and those relationships have always been very stable. We have a great reputation for customer support. That hasn't changed and won't under my leadership.
Q: What do you see as the biggest opportunities for Arburg Inc.?
Baumann: I think our biggest opportunities arise from the fact that today's injection molder needs more than a machine. Arburg machines will always provide world-class performance, but it is very clear to me that our customers will need more — not less — help and support in the future, as experienced employees retire and problems persist with finding younger people who want to work in manufacturing. We will have to keep innovating not only in machine technologies but, just as importantly, in how we deliver services and how we support our customers.
Q: What challenges do you and the U.S. subsidiary face?
Baumann: The USA is generally in a good position to capitalize on the investments that are being made to boost manufacturing at home. There are a variety of reasons for this. Reshoring is real. But on the other hand, the plastics industry does have a negative image with many people and, while we provide interesting and high-tech jobs, working in manufacturing is not on the top of list of career choices for parents and kids graduating high school. That is something we need to work on, and we are doing our part by providing a progressive and attractive workplace.
Q: You have worked for a number of European machinery and equipment companies. In Europe, the development trend is towards more automation, 4.0-ready and energy efficient machinery. Are these the same trends in the U.S.? Are they as strong?
Baumann: In the U.S., we see a definite trend toward increasing automation. Energy efficiency in machinery comes up on occasion but it is not as big of a driver as it is in Europe where energy is much more expensive. At the same time, I do think most people agree that it is important to continue developing energy-efficient machines because, in the long run, the savings add up.
With our new hybrid Allrounder H machines we have taken an important step towards the future. Thanks to the perfect combination of electric clamping unit and hydraulic injection unit, they combine the advantages of both worlds: electrical precision and energy efficiency combined with hydraulic dynamics and all this at a — resulting from this combination — favorable price.
Interest in Industry 4.0 among U.S. molders is increasing, but it is not at quite the same level it is in Europe. Still, I must point out that Arburg offers the same comprehensive portfolio of digital products and services in the U.S. as it does in Europe and that all of our machines are 4.0-ready. We can easily support our U.S. customers wherever they are on the road to Industry 4.0.
Q: You have two patents and have held various positions in the plastics industry at Maag Group, Erema Engineering and Recycling and Husky Injection Molding Systems. How did these experiences help shape you to be president of Arburg Inc.? What take-aways in terms of skills, ideals and mindset do you bring with you from some or all of these positions?
Baumann: I believe a career is an accumulation of experiences and I have worked for three world-class companies prior to joining Arburg (another world-class company). I would describe myself as an Allrounder, so you can see how this fits well with Arburg. In addition, having spent the past seven years outside of injection molding I've gained an additional perspective about our industry. Especially working for three years in recycling with Erema has opened my eyes about how much work we still need to do as an industry to make plastics more circular.
I will also add that there is one basic principle that I have learned throughout my career — that is that it is still people that make the difference. We can have the best machines, but it is still people that design, service, communicate, provide solutions to our customers and those people make the difference.
Q: What are your goals for Arburg Inc.?
Baumann: Keep providing our customers with the best services and support, with machines and systems that perform at an exceptional level. Growth will follow if we do that well.
Q: How about outside of work? What do you like to do in your spare time?
Baumann: I very much enjoy the outdoors. In summer that means running and in the winter, it's skiing or snowshoeing. With four kids in the family, my life isn't just busy at work. There is always something going on at home too.