From precision mechanics workshop to global player in automation technology
Erhardt+Leimer GmbH from Stadtbergen is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Founded as a workshop in 1919, over the years the company has grown into an international high-tech industrial business with more than 1,600 employees and now very successfully occupies a special niche in automation technology worldwide: the guiding and inspection of all materials that are produced and processed in the form of moving webs. Among other events, a major gala evening and a "training day" are planned.
In 1919 Manfred Erhardt founded a workshop that was initially dedicated to the sale and servicing of industrial clocks and signal systems. Six years later, Albert Leimer joined the company; the square in front of the E+L headquarters in the Leitershofen district of Stadtbergen on the western edge of Augsburg is named after him. In 1935 E+L started to develop and manufacture the first precision mechanical units for the local textile industry. In parallel with the upturn in the textile businesses, the company grew and specialized in web guiding units for the automatic guiding of the web in textile machines. Then in 1960, Erhardt+Leimer expanded its area of activity to the paper and film/foil industries; later the printing, packaging, non-woven fabric and tire industries were added. Materials are produced or processed in web form in all these sectors. As early as 1995 the company pioneered digital technology and introduced camera technology into its automation systems as standard, in 2000 the company became involved in inspection technology. Today the Erhardt+Leimer group is a global business with subsidiaries and branch offices all over the world and a broad portfolio in the area of automation, measuring and inspection technology for the production and processing of materials in web form. The innovative power of the company is apparent in the number of patents it holds: by 2018 it held 782 national or international patent applications, patents and utility models.
The electrical installations area was separated off into a wholly-owned subsidiary, Erhardt+Leimer Elektroanlagen GmbH in 2000. Today this company is one of the largest providers for the planning, installation and maintenance of electrical building services in southern Germany. In the Augsburg region, E+L Elektroanlagen is far better known than its parent company; the parent company may deliver its products all over the world, but it only has a few customers in the region; these include Manroland, Hosokawa Alpine, UPM and ADV.
The primary sales market for the automation business is Asia with over 60 % of sales; another important market is the USA. E+L has established itself in all important industrial countries with wholly-owned subsidiaries, 19 up to now. There are also production facilities in India, China and the USA. The first foreign subsidiary was founded 45 years ago in Brazil, a very risky venture in those days. The early global expansion strategy paid off: "with hindsight the founding of these companies in Europe, America and Asia was an important milestone in the development of the business", explains company boss Hannelore Leimer. "At that time we created the basis for our current global network. Without this international market presence, the success story of E+L would not have been possible to the same degree."
Family-run by the 3rd generation
At the top of the family-run business along with Hannelore Leimer, daughter of company co-founder Albert Leimer and Chairperson of the Board since 1977, her nephew Dr Michael Proeller is CEO. Today she largely leaves the operative business to the members of the board, however her vast entrepreneurial experience continues to be in demand: "in a family business the transition from one generation to the next is a difficult phase", says Hannelore Leimer. "I see it as my responsibility to be involved constructively in this transition in our business with an orientation on the future. And at the moment the generation change is affecting not only the board but must also occur successively across the entire business. I see it as my task to contribute my many years of experience to this process of renewal and to be actively involved in the realignment."
Gala evening in Augsburg as high point of the anniversary year
In May the company will celebrate its anniversary in the Augsburg Convention Center with a major gala to which almost 900 employees from the Stadtbergen-Leitershofen and Augsburg sites, as well as employees from the international subsidiaries, are invited. Also, on 11 October there is a "training day" at the company's headquarters in Leitershofen with information and hands-on opportunities for pupils, parents and teachers. For years Erhardt+Leimer has been one of the largest training organizations in the Augsburg region. In the last six years in succession, E+L trainees have won the competition run by the German Confederation of Skilled Crafts in their chosen training profession.
The technology business has started two foundations: the Albert-Leimer Foundation was founded in 1986 by Bertha Leimer. The purpose of the foundation is to support science and research in the technical, scientific and economic area. It awards university prizes and two ongoing company scholarships to projects and individual students at the university and college in Augsburg.
The ELCARE foundation financially and unbureaucratically assists Erhardt+Leimer employees on all sites at home and abroad in the corporate group who are in difficulties, if other help cannot be provided, is insufficient or cannot be provided in time.
Markets of the future e-mobility, digitalization and smart home
E-mobility does not require any fuel, it uses battery cells instead. The separator films contained in the batteries are processed and laminated in a web form such that technologies from E+L are also used in this important market of the future. Printed electronics, e.g. for touch displays and solar cells, are also positioned automatically during production with the aid of E+L guiding technology; here the highest requirements are placed on the accuracy. So it is extremely important for the company to make its products and systems ready for these new requirements. A key topic for the future is also the digitalization of production for Industry 4.0; E+L is well-equipped for this change. "All current E+L components are ‘I 4.0-ready‘, i.e. suitable for integration in the latest generation of production systems", explains CEO Dr Michael Proeller. "Each of the E+L components manufactured in large numbers, whether it is a sensor or high-precision linear drive, can be connected actively and passively to networks. E+L technology therefore integrates perfectly into the production and/or ERP systems at our customers to make possible networked and therefore documented and automated manufacture."
In the electrical installations area, the company is preparing for future requirements in the "smart home" and "smart grid" area. The term "smart home" refers to the networking of all electrical components used in private or industrial buildings, e.g light sources, fire protection or alarm systems. "Smart grids" are intelligent power grids that transport not only electrical energy but also data to harmonize energy generation, storage and consumption.
"A business must shed its skin every ten years at the latest, that is it must critically scrutinize its existing situation and initiate necessary changes to stay on the ball with its technology and maintain its position on the market", says company boss Hannelore Leimer. "I am proud that, despite the many economic and political challenges, we have been able to steer the business safely and stably through the past 100 years and always be aligned with the latest technology and market changes."