I had the opportunity to chat with the worldwide CEO of igus, Frank Blase, while at the Hannover Fair in Germany last month, and as usual, Blase was direct and willing to discuss anything and everything.
Blase has previously told me about his company’s “contact to claim,” program when I’d last seen him in 2015. The program was a corporate plan to connect all its data from the first point of contact with a customer all the way through to the end. I asked him how the plan was proceeding.
“The costs have grown exponentially,” he said, but indicated that igus was still pursuing the goal at full speed. “We say [in] the future, an igus product is only an igus product when it can be configured online, have its lifetime calculated, and after that, processed automatically or digitally supported through the whole chain, through the whole steps, from order-taking to production, assembly, and then shipping and claim. Contact to claim.”
Blase said they have perfected the blueprint for the product in the past year and have achieved some successes. “We’ve had some failures in what we’ve tried, but then we know what will not work.” He explained that while the company goal is to have the whole program completed and designed in three years, his hope was that it might be sooner. In fact, he said that in 18 months, he felt it would be 80% complete.
Blase went on to talk about igus’ plans in the Americas vs Europe vs Asia Pacific. The company, he said, has similar goals in these different markets. He stressed that if they don’t invest in each area of the world, they they will not be competitive.
“It may be investments in different things at different times,” he said. “In one country, it may be a large logistics investment, production logistics, and the sales force has already been expanded. In others, it may be the other way around—but we still see a huge future for motion plastics [everywhere] if we do that.”
Predictive maintenance is another area where igus is moving quickly. The company has a comprehensive R&D center at its Cologne headquarters location, and Blase said the enormous amount of data that they’ve collected allows them to estimate lifecycles of various products. Embedded chips in the plastic materials make the process even easier.
“Our idea is to give customers information that will tell them exactly how long [the products] are going to live … it’s very easy to link those smart products to the customer. We can monitor and we can automate the retrofit processes for the customer. I think that this, in combination with all the products we’re developing, in two or three years time, it could be a very powerful tool in the eyes of the customer.”
Blase feels this is key, because in the minds of some customers, plastics are still an unreliable entity, and igus is all about proving that idea wrong.
In the last fiscal year, igus increased sales by 18% to about $630 million. The company sells more than 100,000 motion plastics products, including individual parts such as bearings. However, the great majority of orders are for individually configured modules—such as an assembled energy chain with 500 individual components. Every day, around 20,000 different product versions and configurations are dispatched to customers. The company has considerably expanded its worldwide production and storage capacity in North America, Asia and Europe; there are now 14 storage and assembly/installation centers worldwide.