IGUS sets the course for the future: Speeding things up with digital innovation. Cologne plastics specialist for moving applications increases sales by 18 per cent.
In the last fiscal year, igus GmbH was able to increase its sales considerably – namely, by around 18 per cent to a total of 552 million euros. More and more companies around the world are placing their trust in plastic solutions for moving applications because they lower costs and increase service life. To make it even easier for customers to retain their individual motion plastics product anywhere in the world, igus is investing considerable funds in the digitisation and intelligent networking of products, servicing and logistics.
In 2015, igus achieved sales of 552 million euros with its motion plastics, an around 18 per cent rise compared to the preceding year. Out of the total sales, 55 per cent was achieved in Europe, 27 per cent in Asia and 18 per cent in America and Africa. The reason is that high-performance plastics for motion continue to be in great demand all over the world. Guarantees of growth continue to be e-chains, cables and bearing technology but relatively new ball bearing and low-cost automation products are also acquiring increasingly greater significance. “The era of plastics for motion has begun”, says Frank Blase, CEO of igus GmbH. “motion plastics are lubrication-free and corrosion-free, while requiring very little maintenance, and are proving their worth in more and more applications due to their low weight, durability and energy efficiency, especially compared to conventional metal solutions.” The more than 100,000 motion plastics products include individual parts such as bearings among other things. However, the great majority of orders are for individually configured modules such as an assembled energy chain with 500 individual components and more. Every one of the daily 7,000 orders is different. A complicated challenge – particularly since igus delivers the goods so quickly (at least 24 after receipt of order).
Finding and configuring online made easy
Last year, igus invested heavily in product innovations as well as in servicing and logistics – and the company is continuing along this path in 2016. On all levels, the extension of digital processes is of central importance. “In future, an igus product will not be an igus product until it can be configured and calculated online and then goes through the entire process chain automatically with digital support – from order processing and production to servicing and services. Important initial steps in this direction have already been taken. Even now, customers have access to more than 30 freely available online tools for configuration and calculation as well as 16 mobile apps. The basis for this consists of the data obtained from the industry’s largest test laboratory, the size of which has now been increased to 2,750 m². Having invested in the digital infrastructure, igus is also able to carry out calculation and configuration, make an offer, order the product and have it delivered very quickly – all of which can be done directly on site on the customer’s premises. To this end, the field staff have all been equipped with tablets and the company’s own engineering software. Moreover, teams specialising in the 16 product segments as well as consultants with expertise in 13 branches of industry are also available – from automotive manufacturing and ship-building to the agricultural or food industry. Altogether, the number of employees rose by 9 per cent to 2,950, whereby the number of field staff for local personal support and consultation increased by 17 per cent.
Logistics: Ordered quickly, delivered quickly
In order to ensure speedy and individual delivery, igus has considerably expanded its worldwide production and storage capacity in North America, Asia and Europe. The customer therefore receives exactly the product he needs for his application from 14 storage and assembly/installation centres worldwide: as a single component or as a complete system, also installed or assembled on site on request. Every day, around 20,000 different product versions and configurations are dispatched to customers.
Digitisation driving product development forwards
In addition to servicing and logistics, digitisation is also enabling new approaches in product development. The smart plastics presented at Hannover Messe enhance the availability of the customer’s equipment due to their integration into a network. The intelligent cable, energy chain and linear guide monitor their own condition during use and open up new possibilities of anticipatory maintenance. The user is therefore never unexpectedly confronted with a problem in his application but can plan replacement of a component well in advance. In the area of low-cost automation as well, digitisation is opening up new possibilities. The robolink D online configurator enables easy configuration and ordering of low-cost robot components from the modular joint construction kit. Robot manufacturers and mechanical engineering companies can therefore build inexpensive robot arms and users can automate simple tasks. At Hannover Messe, igus is showing a complete 6-axis-arm robot with a new type of plastic wave gear as an example.
3D printing: Innovation in the areas of products, servicing and logistics
How digitisation creates benefits for the customer is being shown by igus with the example of 3D printing especially. Design engineers can now make use of six different igus Tribo-Filaments and an SLS material for cost-effective lubrication and maintenance-free prototypes, special parts and small product batches. Thanks to the new online ordering website for the 3D printing service of igus, customers can now order their printed plastic parts even more easily than before. Just a few mouse clicks are needed to upload CAD data, select the right material, view prices and directly order the products required. The online tool is available internationally, as a result of which users all over the world can obtain their highly abrasion-resistant parts quickly and inexpensively. For this purpose, eleven branch offices were equipped with their own 3D printers last year. A first step, as Frank Blase emphasises. “Our clear objective in the coming three years is to concretely implement the automated process that ranges from online configuration to digitally supported manufacturing for all product categories. This is a difficult path to take because ready-made solutions cannot be bought – they usually have to be developed by oneself. We have already made enormous progress and know that we will succeed.” Due to this perfected form of individual mass production, customers all over the world will be able to obtain any motion plastics product they need even quicker, more reliably and in a significantly reduced time and will undoubtedly keep on using the product far into the future.