The financial crisis of the last two years has not only shaken the banking system, but in consequence completely broken through to the manufacturing business. Particularly harsh was the impact on the capital goods business. The automation specialist Hekuma belonging to the Elexis Group did not remain excluded. This made a directional change in the strategic direction of the company necessary. In the implementation, a new management team was appointed. Managing director, Bernhard Rupke, after one year in office, gives a status report as well as an outlook to the future of the company.
Mr Rupke, you took up your position as Hekuma CEO on 1 June 2009, at the worst time of the crisis. How has Hekuma developed since then?
Rupke: Like all companies in the capital goods industry, Hekuma included was affected by the marked economic slump in the years 2008 and 2009. Sales volume loss of around 40% was considered to be manageable. Accordingly, the capacity and cost budget had to be adjusted. In particular, I would like to include in this context the support of our parent company, the Elexis Group, to which Hekuma belongs to since January 2000. They gave us the necessary support and stability during this difficult phase. Hekuma has excellent core competencies in high-performance automation. These were strategically defined to the business areas medical, automotive and consumer goods. Corresponding technology and product development were further advanced for each business.
Can you already give a first indication in which direction the Hekuma range has developed?
Rupke: The main objective was to implement the existing core competencies in the field of robotics, gripper technology, and automation technology in the injected molding automation, with short cycles and high cavitation, in industry-specific and market-driven products.
The emergence of Hekuma is now focusing on the above-mentioned sectors, with an approximate global alignment. The overall strategy of Hekuma applies to innovatively promote the high-performance niches in these industries.
How do you see the market developments in medical technology for Hekuma?
Rupke: The market for medical technology is an ever-growing, for Hekuma, very interesting and important market. In this area we have standardised and modularised more automation solutions, in particular for the production of Petri dishes, pipette tips, wells, and cuvettes. High availability in the production of these challenging products is the demand of our customers. In addition, we complement our range with individual, customised automation solutions. In both cases we want to be a partner to our customers in the necessary qualifications and validations in the medical field.
How important is the automotive sector to the automotive market crisis?
Rupke: Despite the crisis in 2009, Hekuma has implemented a multitude of equipment for the automotive industry in the past 12 months. In particular, the insertion of electrical, electronic and mechanical components in the injection mould constitutes high demands on the precision of the robot and gripper technology. Even the after the injection process required complex assembly and inspection process of the components characterises another core competence of Hekuma. The same applies, based on active customer relationships, to provide new innovations and technologies. Automotive will continue to be an important main pillar of Hekuma.
Is in-mould labeling of continued interest for Hekuma?
Rupke: IML in injection moulding applications has become a widely used standard technology. Especially for us, high-cavitation applications and short cycles are interesting. The core competencies of Hekuma are particularly advantageous. Relatively new is the ‘in-mould labeling’ in thermoforming. Hekuma has in recent years done a lot of development work. Basic tests, up to four-cavity applications, have been tested positive. We are currently working on a system with up to 14 cavities for serial production on the basis of a specific customer order. Since the combination of thermo-forming products, like yogurt cups with in-mould labels, a number of application advantages, such as the provided ability for direct integration of barcodes or RFID transponders, we expect the development in the mid-term to be similar to standard technology, such as the injection IML.
One final question: How will Hekuma advance into the future?
Rupke: The customer requirements in the named sectors will steadily increase in the future and increase in difficulty. This means for us that the partnerships with customers are to be built up more closely and supporting. Especially in the planning phase of our clients, it is important to ensure maximum support to generate the most appropriate and most efficient solution. In the implementation phase, the previously mentioned core competencies of Hekuma are to be translated into customer benefits. The success of our customers, in terms of high availability with zero-defect production in manufacturing everyday life, is the measurable claim. But this not only applies to further expanding the partnership with our customers, but also with other project participants, such as injection moulding manufacturers, and the leading mould manufacturers, in order to demonstrate efficient project work in the sense of our shared customers.