Mr. Christian Grosspointner, CEO, Aichelin Group-The Interview

The Monty Heat Treat News is very excited to be able to offer you this interview with Mr. Christian Grosspointner, CEO of furnace manufacturing firm Aichelin based in Moedling, Austria. Christian-I hope it’s OK to call you by your first name, I generally like to start each interview with some personal background. What is your background and how did you come to be CEO of one of the largest furnace manufacturing firms in the world?

Yes, of course, Christian is OK for me. Fist of all, thank you for the interview and the opportunity to introduce myself and my future plans for the Aichelin Group.

I have spent nearly half of my life in the mechanical and plant engineering sector of the steel industry, where I was able to gain over 20 years of experience in the management and development of international production companies in various countries. After a short excursion into the commodity business, it was clear to me that my heart beats for the project business and that I see my future there. At the same time, Aichelin was looking for a successor to Mr. Schobesberger who was about to retire and fortunately our paths crossed. I had a good feeling immediately after the first talks to Aichelin and I am very happy to have made this decision and to be at the helm of this traditional company today.

After a year at the helm of Aichelin what is your impression of the thermal processing industry? Is it substantially the same as all industries or do you see any fundamental differences?

It is a very large and important industry, as “thermal processing” is found in almost every industry sector in some form. What I have noticed positively is that there are very long customer relationships which are built on partnership and trust. The purchase of a new furnace is a long-term decision, and people like to fall back on reliable and proven products to minimise the risk. Aichelin has now more than 150 years of experience in the heat treatment business and is therefore a well known and preferred partner of the industry.

The Aichelin name is known around the world when it comes to thermal processing but some of our readers might not know the extent of the company and your process offerings. Could you please give us an idea about the size of the company and the various divisions?

Our passion is the industrial heat treatment of metallic parts and components where we provide the right solution and equipment for our customers needs. Aichelin has approximately 1,200 employees spread around the globe. Geographically, Aichelin is divided into 3 regions: Europe, North America and Asia, which are roughly equal in terms of sales. The strength of the Aichelin Group is that in all these regions there are strong local Aichelin units with local production facilities – according to the motto “Think global-act local”. Furthermore the individual units are organized in three main business areas Plants/New equipment, Components (combustion equipment) and Service & Aftersale Support.”

What about markets? Most of my experience with Aichelin products has been with traditional heat treating furnaces, i.e.; sealed quench furnaces, pushers, cast link belt etc. My question would be how involved are you in other industries such as steel mills or foundries?

“Through our subsidiary, Bosio in Slovenia/Europe, we also offer heat treatment equipment for the steel and forging industries. Bosio is specialized in large chamber, bogie hearth and shaft (pit) furnaces. Our clear goal is to expand this product group even further in the future and to market it better through the global sales network and our global Aichelin units.

I don’t believe there is any type of furnace which Aichelin as a group has not built over the years with one glaring exception-vacuum furnaces. Is this something which you are considering?

Yes, that’s right, vacuum furnaces are still missing within the Aichelin portfolio. This is also a large and, above all, rapidly growing area of heat treatment and there are already ideas to close this gap as well. More on this coming soon!

This question ties in with the one above about different technologies and types of furnaces. Are you seeing any sort of a shift in market demand-for example batch type furnaces as opposed to continuous? Larger capacity furnaces as opposed to smaller?

In some sectors, but especially in the automotive industry, we see a clear trend towards smaller batch sizes and the desire for more flexibility in the systems to ensure a quick change between different parts. Especially in e-mobility, there is an increased trend towards e.g. LPC systems, which gives more flexibility. A trend that will also be taken into account by Aichelin in the future.

For some time now Aichelin has been very focused on CO2 emissions, as a matter of fact we have several articles from Aichelin about this topic on our website. This is a very hot topic in Europe but not as much in North America or for that matter Asia. Do you feel that this will become a higher priority in North America and Asia in the future?

At the moment Europe is certainly the most sensitive market when it comes to CO2 emissions and is a focus for all of our custmers. An additional boost was also given by the huge increase of energy costs in Europe over the last year. But we also see that the topic is gaining momentum in North America and Asia and is becoming increasingly important for customers there as well.

Geographically I would assume that your strongest markets are Europe, North America and Asia. Are these markets roughly equal in size for you in terms of sales? Do you expect radical changes in the future with more sales in North America and less Asia as an example?

Europe is currently experiencing a consolidation phase which is being intensified by the ongoing geopolitical changes. Under the current conditions, unfortunately I no longer see major growth here, but Europe is still a large and important market for Aichelin with a huge installed base. North America has been a more or less stable market in recent years, but I see potential for further growth here in the medium and long term. The biggest growth market at the moment is certainly Asia with China and India, which will probably continue for the next few years.

Recently I had the privilege of spending some time with Mathias Wolf, CEO of your Noxmat division at the new Noxmat facility in the US. Mathias is very excited about bringing his new energy saving heating technologies to North America. Energy costs have lead to tremendous levels of interest in any technologies which will cut down on energy usage and this is true around the world. How much of a focus is this for the Aichelin Group as a whole?

It is a big focus of the entire Aichelin Group. There are many developments to reduce the energy consumption of our furnaces (e.g. combustion technology, product preheating, process waste gas utilisation, heat exchange systems, insulation material,…) and also alternatives through electric heating. Also heating with hydrogen is currently in the development phase and the first products for this are already being offered. Aichelin also offers the so-called “GreenCheck“, where customer plants are examined for possibilities to save energy. These can then be implemented by the Aichelin service organisation at the customer’s request.

What keeps you awake at night? Energy costs? Supply chain issues? Staffing issues?

In general, I sleep very well because I have learned to deal well with crises and new challenges over the last few years. But of course, all three of the issues you mentioned are very challenging, but I see the issue of staffing and manpower as one of the most critical for the future. Completely new approaches and models are needed here and, above all, we also need new socio-political approaches. Work must be worthwhile again and performance must be rewarded accordingly. In addition we have to invest more in digitalization and automation to compensate for the labor shortage.

Christian my personal observation is that you are a very energetic, ambitious individual who has great plans for the company. The question on everybody’s lips these days is what changes can we expect to see? Certainly I realize you can’t be completely open on this question but are there any changes that you can hint at?

There are several projects we are currently working on. In addition to new products or business areas, it is particularly important to me that the individual companies of the Aichelin Group grow together even more and support each other. We live in a global world, Aichelin has locations all over the world and we have to use this asset even more and transform into one Aichelin Group. Of course, we also always keep an eye out for interesting M&A transactions to further expand the Aichelin Group.

My final question would be what does the future look like for Aichelin and the entire industry? Forecasts about a looming recession abound but is that what you are expecting? In other words are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?

I am always optimistic. In our industry there are always ups and downs, which means it is very important that we are flexible and can react quickly to all challenges. Aichelin is a global player, financially healthy and can therefore also react quickly to geopolitical changes, so there is always a way to support our customers optimally and to develop the company forward. I am not afraid of the future, together with my team we will master all challenges well.

I very much appreciate the time and insights you have provided. Thank you, Gord Montgomery “The Monty Heat Treat News”

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