Interview With Paul van Doesburg CEO, Ipsen, Germany
We are very pleased to be able to offer our readers an interview with Mr. Paul van Doesburg, CEO of Ipsen Germany. Paul, I thank you for your time. Let’s start off with your background, how did you become involved in the heat treat industry and end up in the position you are now in?
“Thank you Gord for asking. I grew up in The Netherlands where I earned my Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering, majoring in surface treatment. After finalizing another Master’s Degree in Business Administration, I started my career with a shot-blasting and painting equipment manufacturer. This was followed by several positions in plastic surfaces and foils, each time having sales role in those jobs. I came in contact with Ipsen three years ago, and joined the team two years ago. I started as Director of Sales for Ipsen Customer Service, our aftermarket services program, then moved onto the position of Director of Equipment Sales. Last December, I was asked to take over the position of CEO of the Kleve, Germany plant.”
Earlier this year we spoke with two individuals from Ipsen, Mr. Peter Kerbel, VP of Sales and Mr. Pat McKenna, CEO of Ipsen. Both Peter and Patrick are based near Rockford, Illinois, USA, whereas you are based in Germany; so I would like to ask questions more focused on the European market in general and atmosphere furnaces in particular. Please share with us what form Ipsen, Germany, takes.
“If a company wants to be successful in the market in the long term, it must be proactive to developments and changes. Many of our customers are currently undergoing structural change, and many are suffering particularly badly from the Coronavirus pandemic. We are also recording a reduction in sales. At the same time, the requirements of our customers are changing. We have to continue to adapt as best we can. This strategy will help us to make the company fit for the future despite the circumstances presented by the pandemic.”
“The focus on a single technology area, specialization through our Excellence Centers, promotes faster innovation, performance and quality. Just what our customers expect from us. In addition, we are massively expanding the aftermarket-sales area at all locations because we see increased demand here. That means Ipsen Germany location will exclusively build Atmosphere Batch and Continuous Systems.”
“We offer atmosphere batch-type furnaces together with auxiliary equipment (e.g., endogas generators, washing technology, and low-temperature furnaces), but we also build continuous furnaces like pusher, rotary ring hearth and roller hearth furnaces.”
“Another area we excel in is the automation of complete heat treatment lines. Depending on the furnace type, we offer software solutions like Carb-o-Prof, Conti-Control, and AutoMag. These software packages are all programmed by our own software engineers and are an important part of our product portfolio.”
July 29th, Ipsen issued a press release entitled “Ipsen Group Establishes Excellence Centers” which told us that going forward Ipsen, Germany, would focus on atmosphere furnaces and Ipsen, USA, would concentrate on vacuum equipment. What lead to this decision and what changes will this mean for Kleve?
“Following months of market analysis, the three main drivers are customer demand for expanded technical services, identical metallurgical outcomes worldwide and solutions for processing newly developed materials. These were the main reasons for this step. By creating centers of excellence, we will be able to respond even more closely to the needs of our customers.”
“We also see that the product lines vacuum and atmosphere are becoming more and more different. Whereas software and the range of parts play an essential role in vacuum technology, product logistics and environmental requirements are more important for atmosphere furnace technology.”
“The complexity of our products is getting higher and higher. More sophisticated software with connections, new processes and more complex products to be handled. We need more innovation and at the same time globalization. Globalization in terms of standardization and know-how.”
In Europe and indeed in most of the world Ipsen is extremely well known for both vacuum and atmosphere furnaces. Having said that I would suggest that in North America Ipsen is far better known for vacuum furnaces than atmosphere furnaces. Care to comment?
“We already had quite a high number of success stories in the last couple of years for atmosphere technology in North America, especially in the agriculture, automotive and firearms industries. But, you are right, we want to greatly improve the level of atmosphere awareness in North America.”
“For this reason, Mr. Marcos Garcia is the responsible Sales Manager for the USA. He has been with Ipsen for more than a decade and has extensive experience working in the American market. With his particular expert knowledge in atmosphere and process technology his main focus will be on customer experience and the support of our local sales team to secure the successful growth in the North America market.”
Last year I was fortunate enough to visit your facility for the first time and I was surprised at the size of the plant and the number of furnaces under construction. In a typical year how many furnaces are built in Kleve and what would be a typical product mix? As an example during my visit I saw sealed quench furnaces, a couple of big pushers, vacuums even a few endo generators-is that would you would normally see on your shop floor?
“For an international company like Ipsen, it is important that we offer a product portfolio which allows us to be flexible to market needs. This has not changed. The new structure of the Atmosphere Technology Center of Excellence in Germany and Vacuum Technology Center of Excellence in the USA fosters faster innovation and a laser focus on performance and quality for the whole company. It’s a benefit for our customers.”
As a North American I have seen how the COVID–19 situation has affected various industries. For instance, automotive has certainly suffered but is coming back, aerospace is in for a long, hard road, oil and gas is hurting but the firearms industry is booming. Does this mirror Europe?
“Yes, this largely reflects the situation in Europe. But it is now more important than ever to connect and combine technologies such as advanced data analytics, environmental sustainability, natural resources preservation and the new mobility solutions. These mega trends create future markets. For example, customers from the automotive industry already state requirements in their specifications for power consumption to meet the environmental requirements of tomorrow.”
“We are also registering an enormous demand and growth in customer service. The Ipsen customer service offers an expert advice – 24/7. In addition, we can support our customers with our “Remote Service in Augmented Reality” right now in real-time. Our experts also pass on their knowledge in trainings, which currently take place exclusively in webinar form. All this with the clear objective: to maintain the excellent performance for which Ipsen customers around the world appreciate.”
By the way Paul I have been working under the assumption that most of what you build in destined for Western Europe, with some going to Eastern Europe but is this a fair assumption?
“Central Europe is still our core business. In fact, we deliver about 20% of our units to Eastern Europe. Eastern Europe is an increasingly important and growing market, which we will continue to expand in the future.”
Over the years you must have seen many different types and sizes of furnaces going to many different industries. Which projects were truly memorable for you? Either by virtue of being a different design, a furnace which dwarfed all others in size or just a really interesting heat treating process.
“An impressive international project we worked on in 2019 was a normalizing atmosphere furnace, which was then delivered to North America. The furnace had a gas-tight inert gas roller hearth with forced cooling in its chamber.”
“There were also several orders in the last months: For example, a big and well-known tool manufacturer who ordered in total 12 large fully automated furnaces. Another example was a very big ring hearth furnace.”
Of all the challenges you face these days as CEO of a very large company what is the most challenging for you?
“Although the challenges related to COVID-19 are there for everyone, the bigger challenge and, at the same time, opportunity is to accelerate our company transformation. Success of this will be measured by both the positive spirit of our employees and satisfaction of our customers.”
This is a very unfair, unreasonable question to ask but I am going to ask it anyway. When I interview you again in 5 years how will your answers be different? For instance do you think we will be talking about more nitriding systems, a large % of furnaces for additive manufacturing, larger sealed quench furnaces? To phrase it another way what do you see for the future of both heat treating furnaces in general and Ipsen in particular?
“Our goal is to go deeper into the supply chain of our customers in 5 years by networking our units (IOT), so that units operate at their best without downtime and at the same time reduce production costs. We are currently developing a system, which allows the client to predict when which spare parts will be needed and to ensure the highest possible availability of the furnaces. That’s the future.”
“Yes of course, nitriding could be one of our topics in the next years. I strongly believe that nitriding will have a bright future since you can achieve excellent metallurgical results at relatively low temperatures while partly avoiding distortion at the same time.”
“Also energy-saving systems, for example, the reduction of CO2, will be a big part of discussion in the next years. Our concept for energy consulting in the field of heat treatment is about to be finalized.”
“Technical innovations like this are an important driving force for Ipsen and our success.”
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