Peter Schobesberger / Aichelin
We are very pleased to be able to offer you this interview with Mr. Peter Schobesberger, CEO of one of the largest furnace builders in the world Aichelin. We were able to speak with Peter at the company’s 150th anniversary which took place in Stuttgart, Germany this past week. Peter going by memory it is about 3 years since our last interview which can be found at http://themonty.wpengine.com/peter-schobesberger/ In that interview you gave us the background of Aichelin so I see no need to go over that again. Instead let’s look at what has changed since then.
This moment celebrates the 150th anniversary of Aichelin, a very impressive moment for the company- it must make you and your team very proud to be part of it. What would you like to say about this celebration?
“We are very happy to celebrate this anniversary with a lot of close business partners today in Stuttgart. Aichelin Group is in excellent condition and we are looking forward to the future. This is also a day where we are grateful to all the people from the heat treat community which have helped us in all the decades. For us it is also a mission to continue with all our passion to serve this market in the future in order to be on top for many more decades.”
While there have been a number of changes at Aichelin over the past few years it would appear that the acquisition of US based AFC-Holcroft is the most significant-how did this come about? (at this point I should mention that WG Montgomery Ltd., “The Monty” is a longstanding AFC-Holcroft rep covering Canada and Upstate, NY.)
“For sure, this acquisition was one of the big steps in Aichelin’s history. There were attempts from Aichelin to get a substantial presence in North America since the 1980`s however up until 2016 our success was limited to European based companies, which were familiar with the Aichelin furnace philosophy. This unfortunately though was limited to only a minority of the US heat treatment clients. So it was obvious that Aichelin should team up with a US based partner to gain more influence. We had this plan in our minds for a long time, but in 2016 the timing with AFC Holcroft was perfect. Like in a marriage: Both have to say “Yes” at the same time, which we did.”
Let’s focus on the AFC-Holcroft acquisition, has it been a success and what have the benefits been? Along the same lines have there been any negatives to the acquisition?
“It was truly a success. Now we have an overview about the entire world market development (except Japan) for our relevant customer sectors such as the car and truck industries, bearing and fastener industries as well as commercial heat treaters. Thus we can always offer from the Aichelin Group the optimized concept from the closest location. We are much closer to our customers in after sales services as well. We have already received a great deal of very good feedback about this.”
What have the two companies learned from each other? Has each remained independent?
“The engineering and production processes at AFC Holcroft and at Aichelin showed some differences and both had pros and cons. Already in the first year we have shared a great deal of this information and so have initiated an improved process on both sides. There is still utmost independency in business decisions but as in every family there needs to be some rules.”
AFC-Holcroft brought you an instant commanding presence in North America, are there any other geographic regions of similar interest to you?
“We are very happy to have a balanced, strong position in Europe, North America and China. Aichelin Group is always concentrating on major fabrication spots for machine production, where heat treatment is required. For us it is necessary to follow closely the development in all areas. For the short term our focus is on the regions where we are already present.”
We have dwelled on the AFC-Holcroft acquisition, what other interesting changes have there been over the past few years?
“Aichelin sees itself always as a technology leader. As an example we saw an increased demand for hot formed press plates for cars. Therefore we entered into this field and have successfully made several installations of our new HeatXpress technology in Germany, USA and China. We expect in this sector further growth and see our system as a true alternative to overcome the shortcomings of the roller hearth furnace concept.”
Let’s switch gears now, Aichelin has vast experience in most types of heat treat furnaces, the only type of furnace where Aichelin is not a dominant player is in vacuum furnaces. This brings up the obvious question, is this something you are considering? Perhaps through another acquisition?
“This is a question I am frequently asked. There are numerous suppliers of vacuum furnaces which more or less satisfy the market. For us it was not a priority to cover this field. We will only enter this market if we can offer to our clients some added value, which goes beyond todays available technology.”
Batch processing or continuous? Each has its advantages and disadvantages- do you see one becoming more dominant in the future?
“Batch or continuous is not an either or it is a both. The advantage of continuous is better uniformity of part properties and higher efficiency. The advantage of batch is a lower starting cost and higher flexibility. I see some tendencies in the US to batch but in the rest of the world clearly continuous is preferred when the quantities are sufficient.”
I would venture to say that these are the good times in the worldwide heat treating industry and on a personal level I am quite optimistic about the future-what are your feelings? Do you see any potential issues in the future which cause your sleepless nights?
“You are right. Our industry has gone through good times and we are still on a high level. For 2019 I see some clouds on the horizon. My concerns are linked to political developments on a global scale. It seems that globalisation has put us in a reverse gear. Political leaders of large countries promote populistic protectionism. This creates insecurities and thus slows down investments.”
This question to some extent is tied in with the previous one and it has to do with additive manufacturing. Do you believe that this new type of manufacturing process will dramatically change how parts are heat treated?
“A lot of new shaped parts can be realised with additive manufacturing. We are still at the beginning to experiment with various metal powder compositions. For prototypes it is already a viable option. So far heat treatment of 3 D printed parts concentrate on stress relieving or to increase density on the expensive HIP process. For mass production it is way too early to make a judgement whether or not there will be a break through.”
Depending upon who you ask electric cars are the way of the future with gas powered vehicles disappearing either quickly or slowly. As we all know electric cars require far less heat treated transmission components than gas or diesel vehicles. Is this something which enters into your thoughts when predicting the growth of the heat treating industry?
“Yes, this is part of our strategic planning for mid term. We are carefully watching what is going on in this field. However, I think that the current debate over diesel emissions is overheated and it would be good to see some more reasonable evaluations. I am convinced that a modern industrial society will also require sophisticated heat treatment in future.”
Peter Schobesberger, Gord Montgomery