We are very pleased to be able to offer you an interview with Marc Angenendt, CEO of Ipsen Europe. As one of the largest furnace manufacturing companies in the world (if not the largest) Ipsen does not need an introduction. We enjoyed his comments and the only thing we will add is that Marc is a truly nice guy who knows his stuff.

Marc, over the years we have interviewed Geoffrey Somary and Pat McKenna – both of Ipsen North America but this, I believe, is the first time we have interviewed somebody from Ipsen Europe. Consequently we very much appreciate the chance to get a “European” perspective. We’ll start off with one of our favorite questions: what is your background and how did you end up in the heat-treating industry?

“Even at an early age, I was interested in technology of all kinds. As an apprentice, I became familiar with Ipsen technology at a young age, so I started working for the Ipsen customer service team once I had completed my course. After that, I studied industrial engineering at Rosenheim University of Applied Sciences because I was particularly interested in the link between technology on the one hand and the commercial side of an industrial enterprise on the other. I successfully completed my thesis for Ipsen in 1997 and started my career at the Ipsen in 1998. Because of my field of study, I worked in international sales of heat treatment systems.. After spending six months abroad at Ipsen Industries (Shanghai) Ltd., I was appointed to production manager at the headquarters in Kleve. Later, in the role of authorized signatory (“Prokurist”), I became responsible for design and some of the firm’s purchasing activities as well as production. I left the organization in 2013 to manage a German industrial corporation with sites in the USA and China before returning as CEO of Ipsen Europe in early 2016.”

In the heat-treating industry, Ipsen is a name which needs little introduction, but we would still appreciate an overview of the company in terms of size and locations and what each location specializes in.

“Ipsen Europe, with approx. 400 employees and a yearly revenue of more than €100 million, is a part of the Ipsen Group with manufacturing locations in the USA, Europe, India, China, and Japan. Within Europe, there are sales and service locations in France, Sweden, Germany, and Italy. Within Germany, we are currently starting work on our second service location close to Kassel. In Kleve, Germany, we specialize in the design and manufacturing of vacuum and atmosphere furnaces. For both technologies, we offer so-called platform products as well as customized furnaces for both the European market and certain international applications.”

What is your title at Ipsen and what does your average day look like? Mainly sales? Administration? Much traveling?

“My official title at Ipsen International GmbH is CEO (“Chief Executive Officer”) and I’m responsible for the European part of the Ipsen business.  In regards to my average day, I would say that I spend the majority of my time on technical and sales matters. In addition, I work with development and implementation of measures in order to achieve all corporate goals, priority setting concerning the company’s activities, financial management and the related monitoring of the balances and the development of employee management matters. Since our customers are international, I also spend a large portion of my time traveling to our business partners.

At Ipsen, we are constantly adapting our organization to the demands of the market, so I’m in very close contact with the department heads of Ipsen Europe. It is essential to be a team player and to understand on a daily basis where the needs of your team are and what can be done to improve constantly.” 

I personally have some experience of Ipsen USA, Rockford, having visited a few times over the years, but I have little experience of Ipsen Germany. Are the two organizations similar or does each focus on a different product mix?

“There are certain similarities like the product split into platform products and customized products, but in Germany we also see a larger part of our business in atmosphere technology. Here, not only do we offer atmosphere batch-type furnaces together with auxiliary equipment (e.g., endogas generators, washing technology, and low-temperature furnaces), but we also work in the field of continuous furnaces like pusher, rotary ring hearth, and roller hearth furnaces.

This large product portfolio enables Ipsen to work in all kinds of different industries.

Another area we excel in is the automation of complete heat treatment lines. Depending on the furnace type, we offer software solutions like Vacu-Prof, 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.”

If you were to break down your sales by products, what would they look like? 80% vacuum and 20% atmosphere? The opposite?

“The ratio of vacuum to atmosphere sales varies widely from quarter to quarter and from year to year. I have seen years where there was a clear majority for sales based on vacuum and other years where atmosphere technology was the major driver of our business. This also depends very much on the market for continuous atmosphere furnaces which can strongly influence the vacuum/atmosphere ratio.

For a company like Ipsen, it is important that we offer a product portfolio which allows us to be flexible to market needs, for example from customized to standard furnaces and vice versa as well as from atmosphere to vacuum and vice versa.

As far as I know, Ipsen is the only company which can offer this kind of product portfolio on an international level.”

This leads to another question: do you have a focus? For instance, did you get out of bed this morning and say: let’s increase our sales of atmosphere furnaces as opposed to vacuum?

“Once a year, we set ourselves certain goals. These goals are closely connected to our overall strategy and lead to certain activities.

We have very clear targets when it comes to the development of our products, our sales strategies in various parts of the world, and the overall growth development of the Ipsen Group. An important part of our growth initiative is the utilization of our international setup in order to offer our customers worldwide the same Ipsen standard.

Therefore it is important to understand the market and the general direction our business is moving in. In order to understand this, we are in close contact with our customers and support them in many areas. For example, in Germany we have our own heat treatment R&D department with a complete vacuum and atmosphere furnace line where we do trials for our customers. In many cases, we have developed the heat treatment process together with our customers there.” 

What upcoming challenges come to mind when you think about the future? Let me elaborate a bit on that question. We all see competition on a daily basis and we all see cost challenges, but when you look at the bigger picture do you spend much time thinking about what heat-treating will look like in 20 years? Whether the technology will change drastically in our lifetimes?

“Yes, we at Ipsen spend a great deal of time thinking about the future and especially the future demands of our customers. This leads to certain development projects like the invention of our PdMetrics system, which allows the client to predict when which spare parts will be needed and to ensure the highest possible availability of the furnaces.

We also believe that our furnaces should be as energy-efficient as possible, which has led to a larger variety of energy-saving systems like the EcoTemper system or the EcoFire systems.

There will always be changes and challenges in the future, but I feel that we at Ipsen are well prepared for the future because we have already delivered the proof that we can quickly adapt to the challenges of the future.

When I look back, I see Ipsen as a clear driver of innovations based on a deep understanding of our technology and the demands of the future.

There will always be changes and new demands – that’s simply unavoidable – but the question is how to deal with them and how to find answers to these challenges.”

I have a good friend in the USA who has been in the industry for almost 50 years now and his attitude is that there is nothing new in the industry. Some changes, yes; some modifications, yes – but at the end of the day except for controls and some tinkering, heat-treating is still heat-treating. Perhaps a rather cynical view, but is it a view you would agree with?

“Yes, I have heard this before and it is correct to state that at the end of the day customers want their steel to be heat-treated. The challenge here is not to discuss this demand: the challenge is to heat-treat steel in the best possible way with as much accuracy as possible and with a minimum of energy.

I do believe that we have already taken major steps to come closer to this goal. If you compare how heat treatment was done 50 years ago with an energy-optimized Ipsen furnace with all the accuracy you can imagine and all the controls which make the process 100% transparent, you can see which major changes have happened and how much work has been done in order to reach the level of technical maturity we have today.

At Ipsen, we have taken major steps toward meeting these challenging new demands from our customers and we are still working on the furnaces of the future.”   

If somebody said to you tomorrow: “Marc, you can sell vacuum furnaces or you can sell atmosphere furnaces, but you can’t sell both,” what would your answer be? Perhaps the essence of the question is: which technology is the most versatile?

“I’m convinced that in the future we will still see both technologies, because both technologies have their place in the industry.

I would answer this question by saying that the wrong CEO was asked and that this question would be better put to someone who can only offer vacuum or atmosphere furnaces.”

Is there a technology or product which really excites you at the moment? Perhaps single-piece part flow furnaces? Nitriding? New control systems?

“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.

It is always exciting for me when we develop a new process or a new product and I see how our customers are using it. That was the case, for example, when we developed our energy-saving systems. It was simply impressive to see that we can now use the surplus process gas to heat a furnace instead of simply burning it, which is what was done for the last 50 years.

Technical innovations like this are an important driving force for Ipsen and our success and are the icing on the cake in my job.”

None of us has a crystal ball but what do you see in the future for Marc Angenendt? The same responsibilities that you now have or do you have a yearning for more time in sales or more time in engineering?

“Looking back from being an apprentice at Ipsen in the 90s to now being the CEO with everything I did in between, I can state that I’m truly happy with my current position. It offers me a large variety of activities in both sales and engineering but also in commercial issues. On top of this, I have always had many good coworkers around me and today I have an excellent management team who support me every day.

It is now our responsibility to prepare Ipsen for the future and I’m confident that we can accomplish this mission.”