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Groz-Beckert - Building for the Future

German textile engineering powerhouse Groz-Beckert opened its highly impressive Technology & Development Centre (TEZ) here in Albstadt on Friday confirming its status as one of the most successful and forward thinking textile engineering businesses in the world. Set in Baden-Württemberg, one of Germany’s wealthiest regions, which borders France to the west and Switzerland to the south, the town of Albstadt is the centre

23rd July 2010

Innovation in Textiles
 |  Albstadt

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Groz-BeckertGerman textile engineering powerhouse Groz-Beckert opened its highly impressive Technology & Development Centre (TEZ) here in Albstadt on Friday confirming its status as one of the most successful and forward thinking textile engineering businesses in the world.

Set in Baden-Württemberg, one of Germany’s wealthiest regions, which borders France to the west and Switzerland to the south, the town of Albstadt is the centre of the world’s needle and element manufacturing centre for nonwovens felting, weaving, tufting, sewing and knitting machines, thanks to Groz-Beckert.  The town is also home to circular knitting machine builder Mayer & Cie. and the region is also home to famous textile machinery businesses such as flat knitting machine builder H. Stoll in Reutlingen.

Around 500 guests were given guided tours’ of Groz-Beckert’s huge new TEZ facility on Friday and entertained in the evening together with various dignitaries including, Minister-President Mappus of Baden-Württemberg, State Parliament Member Haller, District Administrator Pauli and Lord Mayer Gneveckow. Visitors were also treated to an inspiring after dinner speech by Groz-Beckert’s Chairman Dr. Thomas Lindner and on Saturday the company expected up to 3000 visitors as it opened the gleaming glass doors of TEZ to its staff and their families and friends.

Centre for innovation

TEZ at nightGroz-Beckert had the idea of building a centre for innovation several years ago and after well known Munich based architect Henn and its building contractors completed construction in 2007 the company held a fairly low key topping-out party. Friday’s official opening event however seemed very well timed as the textile manufacturing industry in the region and elsewhere begins to recover from the global economic crisis.

The total area covered by the TEZ comprises of 25,000 m², 14,000 m² of which is useable space. The building blends in well with its surroundings and existing Groz-Beckert buildings with the four striking gables making a strong architectural statement. Glass is used extensively both inside and outside and the building’s attractive grounds are mirrored by the numerous garden areas on the first floor. TEZ is said to exceed the already strict energy saving regulations and materials were said to have been selected for both environmental compatibility and durability.

Investment of 70 million Euros

Groz-Beckert has invested approximately 70 million Euros in TEZ at a time when the European textile machinery industry has experienced probably the worst period in its history. The company which has numerous subsidiaries worldwide, including those in India and China, believes that the soul of the company is of crucial importance and the investment is a clear vote in favour Albstadt and the region. The company says its overseas plants, although culturally diverse, share the same standardised concept of quality and for Groz-Beckert therefore, concentrating and focussing its innovative strength in Albstadt is the right answer.

The company’s headquarters and above all, the TEZ will function as a global interface where all of the core competencies such as development, design, process technology and lab technology meet and combine. The site also features a qualified education structure and a high level of textile know-how, all of which are further arguments in favour of the region.

Focus on Technical Centres

The main focus at TEZ is on five Technical Centres for knitting, weaving, felting, tufting and sewing and each centre is fully equipped with the very latest production machines from many of the world’s leading machinery builders. The equipment allows the conducting of experiments, the production of short batches and special pilot projects for partners as well as the testing of Groz-Beckert’s products under realistic production conditions.

Each of the centres, as well as housing the latest textile machinery, has impressive examples of visionary technical textiles, reflecting Groz-Beckert’s vision for research and development in technical textiles. The company’s Nonwovens Technical Centre is visually very impressive. The centre houses a number of high-tech textile exhibits which sit comfortably alongside the latest in textile machinery from companies such as Dilo. For example, a huge carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) Fuselage Demonstrator built for the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) neighbours a universal double needle loom form Dilo. The DI-LOOM OUG-11-SB-15 is itself has a 1500mm working width but was overshadowed by the aerospace demonstrator.

In the carpet Tufting Technical Centre BMW’s visionary GINA concept car shares space with a Cobble tufting machine. GINA, an exploratory car design recently revealed by the Bavarian car giant uses a coated textile fabric stretched over a wire frame which allows the car’s skin to change shape as it moves, stretching to match the position and curve of the wire frame. The idea is demonstrated in the ‘blinking’ headlights and the flexibility of the car doors as they open. The project began by questioning the purpose of a car’s body and exploring new possibilities. Groz-Beckert’s TEZ opening was the first time that GINA had been shown outside of BMW. Chris Bangle, Director of Design for BMW, discussed the project and other fascinating design concepts in a highly entertaining after dinner speech.

Another important area in the TEZ is the Groz-Beckert Laboratory which offers lab services for all sectors as well as housing the company’s  new ‘Textile Product Technology – technical textiles’ course which has been developed in cooperation with the University of Albstadt-Sigmaringen in 2009. The TEZ also many generously sized rooms housing apprentice workshops, meeting places and conference facilities and developer offices. A highlight is the auditorium which seats up to 275 people, is equipped with the latest multi-media technology and booths for simultaneous interpreters.

Central objectives

A greater emphasis on thinking in systems is just one of the central objectives of Groz-Beckert’s Technology & Development Centre. Others include the encouragement of R&D, innovations and synergies in the textile world. The company continually trains around 30 commercial and 145 technical apprentices every year in order to secure qualified junior personnel. Cooperation with machine builders and users as well as institutes is being widened and training is available for all Groz-Beckert customers and staff in all of the company’s core competencies.

Dr. Thomas LindnerSpeaking to guests at the evening dinner, Groz-Beckert’s Chairman Dr. Thomas Lindner addressed issues such as why the company was investing in difficult economic times, why the company was investing in Albstadt when the best sales opportunities are in Asia and why the company was planning so far ahead when many maintain that a globalised world primarily depends on speed and flexibility.

Dr. Lindner told guests that the company’s success was based first and foremost on product quality. “We supply the main tools for the production of textile surfaces, suitable for mass production, highly precise and customer oriented,” he said. “This has given us a market position which people in Schwabia, with their notorious understatement, would refer to as ‘satisfactory’. On the way there, we have built up a large amount of know-how potential - potential that we can make better use of,” Dr Lindner added.

Dr Lindner explained that the company had to continually meet the challenges of competition created by the movement of markets from West to East. He said that the company was also expanding its product ranges providing components and system solutions although individual tools would remain the basis. The company now supplies cylinders and dials, complete knitting heads for circular knitting machines, needle handling systems and lubricant analysis services from its laboratories.

"Innovation is created by systematic design"

Dr. Lindner then used the famous Thomas A. Edison quote, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety nine percent perspiration”, saying that: “The same applies to innovation – the difference being that innovation requires a great deal more (perspiration)!” Dr. Lindner said: “To begin with, innovation requires an innovation friendly basic structure – a place where ‘the new’ is created not by accident, but by systematic design.” “There may be several such places like that on the planet.  For Groz-Beckert, that place is located precisely here – in Albstadt-Ebingen!” Dr Lindner said.

Dr. Lindner said that the expertise of Groz-Beckert’s different company sectors is focussed in Albstadt, that a qualified training infrastructure existed right there and that a considerable amount of textile know-how has always been concentrated in the region. He explained that TEZ was making the most of these favourable conditions providing everything needed for innovative product development, including state-of- the art measuring technology, high-tech laboratories and an individual technical centre for each of the company’s sectors.

Long term advantage of family owned business

Groz-Beckert - building for the future “Innovation is also a process focussed on the future, however, with the considerable risks this entails. This is why we need a long term approach and a climate of reliability. We are convinced of this,” Dr. Lindner explained.

Dr Lindner further explained that a traditional family owned company like Groz-Beckert is synonymous with this long term approach to thinking and with this climate of safety and reliability. “The structure of a family firm is far better armed towards this than many shareholder value oriented public limited companies, with their frequent changes of management – however these bear no relation to the management qualities of individual people,” Dr Lindner said.

“Family entrepreneurs are not automatically do-gooders either. The long term advantage of a family owned, traditional company lies primarily in the fact that its decision makers are strongly rooted in the region where that company is located,” Dr. Lindner said.

The same long term perspective is what made Groz-Beckert decide to build the TEZ in Albstadt and although the company knew how long the payback period would be with such an investment, it is also aware of how well education and innovation can secure the market position of a company in the long term.

Education is key

On the subject of education Dr. Lindner explained the company was going a step further as it was becoming difficult to train young people. “Apart from glaring weaknesses where reading, writing and arithmetic are involved, the lack of social and inter-personal skills is also giving us increasing cause for concern. The foundations here are often laid in early childhood. In the near future we will be trying to tackle this problem – within the microcosm of the company at least – by offering qualified all-day care for children from 6 months to 14 years of age and supplementing this in the near future with an offer of primary school education,” Dr. Lindner said.

Dr. Lindner explained that innovation functions especially well within networked structures and for this reason the company has founded a research institute which will serve as a platform for all those interested in cooperative partnership. He encouraged other institutes, universities and companies to participate as partners to play a part in establishing a powerful cluster for technical textile research and development.

Returning to the questions which he himself set in the early part of his speech Dr. Lindner answered each as follows:

Building begins on Groz-Beckert's TEZWhy invest such a high sum in such troubled economic times?

“Because we think in the long term and we are convinced that innovative strength will enable us to survive difficult times in the future as well.”

Why build here in Albstadt when the best sales opportunities are in Asia?

“Because we have learned – not least from the subsidiaries overseas – that the soul of a company is of decisive importance. The standard that makes Groz-Beckert a successful brand overseas is set ight here. Take one look at our factories abroad, whether it is in India, China or elsewhere in Europe, and it is clear that despite differing mentalities and cultures, the same, standardised concept of quality prevails everywhere. And that concept of quality has always been and always will be, defined here in Albstadt.”

Why make such long-term plans when the globalised world primarily seems to demand speed and flexibility?

“Because innovative strength makes it easier for us to adapt and this makes us not only more flexible but also more attractive to partners and customers in global markets.”

Building for the future

Groz-Beckert, a traditional family owned textile engineering business, is well known for its focus on quality and tradition. However, there is also a strong entrepreneurial spirit here which is driving the company to adopt its current strategy. In the world of globalization, where we regularly see the very heart being ripped out companies, in the constant pursuit of share holder value, it is truly inspiring to see a company that is investing not only on behalf of its owners but also for the long term preservation and growth of its people, its community and its region. ‘Building for the future’ could be a great mantra which could be adopted by many manufacturing businesses in the textiles industry today.

Click on images to enlarge

 

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