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TRUMPF holds biggest industry event in its history at German headquarters

By Mary Scianna

Given the economic upheaval the global manufacturing sector has witnessed in recent years and the continued uncertainty about a rebound, you would not expect to see much interest among manufacturers for investment in new technologies.

And yet that was not the case at the recent TRUMPF event in Germany - called INTECH - for manufacturers. Indeed, Dr. Mathias Kammüller, who heads the company's Machine Tool and Power Tool Division, said customers were positive about manufacturing.

"Not one customer I spoke to - and I spoke to about 50 people - spoke about a bad situation. We have seen a slight decline, but the real economy is running well and this is an indicator for manufacturing.”

Dr. Peter Leibinger, who is vice chairman of the company's management board and heads the Laser Technology and Electronics Division, concurred with Kammüller.

"The mood is good in the laser area and the real economy is in very good shape. In the automotive industry there is a growing need for lighter weight and stronger bodies and you need laser technology to do it, such as laser welding using disk laser technology; this is now a standard for laser welding in industry…people are still constantly coming up with new applications both for CO2 and solid state lasers. Some, such as the cutting of glass display covers for mobile phones, benefit from the speed of laser processing, while others, such as the cutting of lightweight materials, would simply not be possible without lasers.”

The week-long event attracted a record number of manufacturers - 3000 - to TRUMPF's Ditzingen, Germany headquarters and manufacturing plant, as well as the largest delegation of trade industry journalists - 55 - from around the world, including the editor of Shop Metalworking Technology Magazine.

If indeed we are witnessing a comeback for manufacturing - and it is still questionable according to some industry observers - there is no better place for it to start than in the Stuttgart region in Germany, birthplace of Gottlieb Daimler, who invented the motor car at the end of the 19th Century. It is also the region credited with other well-known inventions - the coffee machine, the office copy machine and TRUMPF's own disk laser, a unique approach to creating a solid-state laser for laser processing.

A manufacturing revival?

If TRUMPF's performance in 2010 is an indicator for the future of manufacturing, the industry is indeed rebounding.

Like many manufacturing companies, TRUMPF was affected by the 2008-2009 economic downturn, said Dr. Nicola Leiginger-Kammüller, president and chairwoman of the managing board. While it experienced a slump in sales, "we have now fully recovered in one year and have had the highest sales increase in the history of the company with recorded sales of €2.02 billion (CDN $2.8 billion) for the 2010/11 fiscal year. This is a 51 per cent increase. Orders have increased by 49 per cent to €2.22 billion (CDN $3.08 billion), the highest number ever in the company's history.”

Investing in technology

TRUMPF views R&D investment as an integral component of the company. Since 2006, it has steadily increased expenditures in this area. For the 2010/11 fiscal year, R&D investment increased 22 per cent to €158 million (CDN $220 million) from last year's €129 million (CDN $170 million).

Leiginger-Kammüller said the investment is two times as high as the industry standard as a percentage of sales, and added that the company will "continue to invest heavily in R&D.”

Read more about laser cutting technology.

As an example of that R&D investment, the company's solid state laser production plant in Schramberg, Germany employs 600, of which 156 (approximately one fourth) work in R&D.

One reason for to focus on R&D is to gain an edge in a competitive landscape, particularly in the laser technology arena, said Peter Leibinger.

"In the mid-90s we realized that diodes would be very important for high power lasers so we decided to look for ways to vertically integrate with laser diodes through acquisitions or joint ventures. We then realized with laser diodes we'd have to develop this technology ourselves for our own needs. What we learned is that to be a big player in the laser diode field we would have to own IP because there is so much IP in this area and without it, if we had developed something, we would likely be blocked.”

Today, adds Leibinger, TRUMPF is the largest manufacturer of laser diodes in the world by power delivered.

A key focus of R&D is improving efficiency and productivity in applications. In fact Leibinger estimates that at least 50 per cent of R&D efforts are focused on applications development.


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