Andreas Fritz, HEMO Talks Cleaning Systems

Our very first news item of 2022 consists of an interview with Mr. Andreas Fritz, Managing Director of HEMO GmbH which offers some of the most advanced cleaning systems in the world. In his interview Andreas speaks about why vacuum cleaning systems should be considered, the relative merits of aqueous vs solvent systems, and where HEMO and the parts cleaning industry are headed.

We are honored today to be speaking with Mr. Andreas Fritz, Managing Director of HEMO Cleaing systems, one of the foremost manufacturers in the world for advanced cleaning systems. Andreas thanks for the time today, to start off I am going to ask the first question which I ask of all or our inerviewees-how did you get started in this industry?

Dear Gord, thanks for having me in this most excellent heat treatment source. I appreciate all the information you provide to us and of course being a part of it.

In 1999 I joined the company as a temporary help after school. I did whatever was necessary in any department, was fascinated by the size and technology of the machines and finally agreed to do an apprenticeship. After that I did a 6-year distance study in order not to loose the daily business and also spend 3 years at a machine manufacturing company near Nuremberg.

Since 2012 I am Managing Director and pretty much involved into the heat treatment industry.

To be honest, customers in this industry are different than in others. The direct, honest way of talking – negative and positive – is and was very helpful for me to guide me especially in my first years. It is like a big family and I really like to meet these people whenever and whereever possible.

I am really getting ahead of myself here but I have to say HEMO produces the most elaborate, beautifully designed and built cleaning equipment I have ever seen in my life. As I say I am getting ahead of myself so why don’t you tell us a bit about the company-the size, the history, where you are located and the products it has to offer?

The company was established in 1979 building open-top atmospheric degreasing system using chlorinated hydrocarbons as solvent which was state of the art at that time.

Due to changes in environmental and health legislation we invented and patented the first cleaning machine which was working under vacuum in 1995.

This new technology had a huge impact and finally all competitors were our licensees. Nowadays we build solvent and water-based cleaning machines as well as mixtures like our HYBRID and BEYOND technologies.

In 2017 the two companies Hoesel GmbH, manufacturer of fine cleaning machines, and EMO Oberflaechentechnik GmbH manufacturer of large cleaning systems merged and changed the name to HEMO. Additionally we built a new stateofthe-art factory to increase our capacity in a small town called Oetisheim which is not far away from Stuttgart.

HEMO GmbH currently has roughly 140 emloyees and a turnover of 35 Mio. Euro being generated at two manufacturing locations.

We are shareholder of the the companies LPW Reinigungssysteme building water-based cleaning systems and BERTOMA which is a job-cleaning company.

Additional foreign joint-ventures are Mecanolav-Ridel in France, NGCT Cleansys in India and the latest one Washtech in Queretaro, Mexico which all offer sales, service and manufacturing capacity for HEMO products but also build their own kind of cleaning systems.

Finally we have a licence manufacturing and service partner in China being done by Shanghai Advanced Metallurgical Technology Corporation.

In any of these locations our custom-tailored solvent-based or hybrid cleaning machines are build or used. Roughly 25% of our turnover is generated in heat treatment industry (hardening and brazing) followed by coating, automotive and aerospace industry.

What different technologies do you use in your systems? For instance is ultrasonics commonly employed?

In 1996 HEMO delivered the first vacuum cleaning machine using hydrocarbon far above its flash point for perfect cleaning and drying results to a commercial heat treatment shop.

Very important is that the whole system is running under full vacuum throughout the whole cleaning cycle – not only for the drying process.

The cleaning process is supported by high temperatures above the solvent’s flash point, pressure flooding, rotation or oscillation of the parts, ultrasonic or Organic cNp which is a kind of cyclical nucleation processvery good for blind holes e.g.

Would it be fair to say that you concentrate on higher end cleaning systems as opposed to down and dirty cleaning solutions?

No, this is absolutely correct. We are supplying high end cleaning machines which are customized. Our machines fit into any application, any place in your heat treatment line and communicates with any operative computer system.

And our machines run 24/7 like the furnaces do. Hence the quality is of the cleanliness and the machine itself are of highest importance.

Mainly aqueous or solvent based systems? This of course leads into another aligned questionis it changing? As an example do you see any trends about solvents as opposed to water?

Still roughly 70% of the system sold are water-based but this number is decreasing for decades now. We mainly focus on the solvent systems because we want to sell stable cleanliness. This is not possible by using water-based systems where the concentration of the detergent changes all the time and the quality is getting worse until you change the whole bath. In our machines you never have to change the solvent and it provides continuous quality.

Sometimes we combine solvent and water in case it makes sense to reach perfect cleanliness. In this case we use our HYBRID and BEYOND machines.

In 2001 we invented our hybrid cleaning machines. This gives companies more flexibility and maximum clean parts because you can clean them in the same machine using a solvent and/or a water-based media.

In 2018 we invented a new technology called BEYOND. In this case you also have a water-based and a solvent-based cleaning cycle but in difference to the hybrid system, the two medias are not separated but mixed. This help getting a shorter cycle time with similar cleaning results compared to the hybrid system.

In a past life I sold vapor degreasers for a US company. While it was quite some time ago I remember that the technology did an incredible job of cleaning and drying, however even back then it was being phased out because of concerns over the solvents. I am rather curious, does anybody build or use vapor degreasers any longer?

Yes, we also do but only closed systems under vacuum, no more open top tanks. There is a demand especially in the aircraft industry e.g. cleaning the honeycombs.

There they also still use chlorinated hydrocarbons for the cleaning process. We offer a regeneration module which prevents that the exhaust is harmful to employees and environment. Two beds of activated carbon catch the exhaust and keep the atmosphere in the production site clean. Finally no problem to use these solvents also in the future in case you do it the right machine.

The last time you and I met in person was at at trade show in Mexico, and I recall at the time you were planning on having a more substantial precense in that country. Has that project moved ahead? This suggests another question-geographically where do you sell most of your equipment?

Yes the project moved ahead. In December we went down to Queretaro again and signed the contracts. Now HEMO is a shareholder of the company Washtech SA de CV. We immediately employed a new salesman who will start in January 2022 and additionally we will build a demo shop including a demo machine with a lab for cleaning trials and other tests. As soon as this being done and works well, we will start building some type of machines in licence down there. The spare and wear parts stock is already located and the service is running well. Another two guys will be educated in Germany beginning of 2022.

Combined with the founded sales office in the US, we are definetly ready for the Northamerican market.

Most of our equipemnt is still sold in Germany followed by Europe and China. The biggest increase 2021 in terms of percentage was in Northamerica and we hope that we can keep on going like this in 2022.

Typically where do you sell your systems by industry? Aerospace? Automotive? Electronics?

Roughly 30% of our turnover is generated in heat treatment industry (hardening and brazing) followed by coating, automotive and aerospace industry. We see a large increase in PVD coating applications as well as LPC technology.

Currently we sold two machines to Nature Historic Museums in Berlin and Bern where we clean decade old bones of animals to keep them alive. Very interesting story though.

And we are building a lab machine for cleaning of swarfs. This is quite difficult because a bucket of swarfs has such a huge surface and amount of residues that it is really hard to clean ecenomically. But the trend is going to cradle-to-cradle and want to be a part of this system where raw materials are being recovered.

Lets talk about supply chain issues, a hot topic for everybody these days. What issues have you been finding and what are your solutions?

We had many issues. Sometimes issues we never expected. There was a lack of galvanized metal sheets which we usually use for our maintenance doors on the machines. The delivery times was called 2 years minimum and we to switch over to stainless steel.

We didn’t get any pipe sealings anymore from one day to another. Lucky we had a huge stock of a special rubber and were able to cut them from the roll by ourselves.

Electrical components are the worst as we all know. Frequency converters, sockets, contactors. Delivery times of a year and more. I bought what I found on Ebay or from our global partners or we took parts out of our demo machines. It still did not affect our delivery times but we have five instead of two people working in the supply chain process right now.

And how is business for you these days?

Business is different than it was before Covid-19. No exhibitions, many video conferences, no hand shakes. I like working with people personally and I really have to state that I miss it. Let’s see how the world will be after the pandemic situation is over.

Our order book is 80% full for 2022 which is good on the one hand side because we also see competitors which sell their business or show high losses in their books.

On the other hand we still have so many interesting projects and may not be able to build all these machines which means we will have to refuse orders with short delivery times. Not in heat treatment because furnace manufacturers still have a longer delivery time, but in automotive section we will loose orders.

10 years from now what do you think HEMO will look like? A substantial change in markets due to possible signinficiant growth in electric vehicles? Will the technology have radically changed? How about markets do you think you will be focusing more on Asia than Europe or North America? I realize neither of us has a crystal ball but you have spent some much time in the industrial cleaning industry I feel you have insights which many of us do not have.

I am absolutely sure that we will be the same as today. A well-sized company with high technology products being sold in niches where we have a very good reputation concerning quality and service.

The business with automotive suppliers will decrease but we already supplying the Top 5 manufacturers in the electrical vehicles business which helps. Additionally we will be focusing on the recycling business.

The cleaning technology will not dramatically change because there is no alternative to water-based and solvent-based cleaning.

Globally I think we have a good market share and brand name on the North American market. This will equalize the losses we will have in Asia because travelling will still be hard and China will flood the Asia market with low-cost cleaning machines. Europe and Germany will stay the same.

And in 10 years we will meet at the ASM for sure.

Andreas I thank you for your time and your very candid thoughts.

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