Baumer of America shares formula for success in the US
When Uwe Scharfy started as CEO at Baumer of America Inc. in 2017, his goal was to further expand Bäumer’s market position in North America and to strategically adapt to the growth in recent years.
© German American Chambers of Commerce
New Jersey subsidiary established more than 40 years ago
After 4 years, the goals are being realized. With a turn-over of more than 30 million USD and over 40 employees, the company has tripled its size during his tenure.
In 1979, Baumer of America Inc. was founded in New Jersey. The establishment of the first subsidiary was the logical consequence for the German machine engineering company Albrecht Bäumer GmbH & Co. KG. It developed very close relations with the North American continent from day one onwards. In 1954 Bäumer Germany delivered their first foam cutting machine with its destination USA. Bäumer builds, for the foam industry, special machines, plant layouts, develops software, offers customized, comprehensive, intelligent concepts and solutions for foam processing. It is quite likely that the mattress you sleep on, the sofa you sit on, the dish sponge that lies in your kitchen or the headliner in your car has been cut on a foam cutting machine from the market leader Bäumer.
Baumer of America initially operated purely as a sales and service subsidiary. For several years now, the subsidiary, which operates independently with its own management structure, has been producing its own original spare parts, retrofits and assembles new machines. Band knives are a classic wear part on the foam cutting machines and are in high demand. The USA is Bäumer's largest market with over 2000 machines and plants.
The buildup of the production of knives in the USA in recent years is remarkable. In a 2-shift production, Baumer produces over 12,000 band knives per year. The American knife production offers local customers not only cost advantages but also fast availability.
This is also the reason for a huge warehouse in Towaco, New Jersey, that ensures replacement parts are always readily available and keeping shipping costs to a minimum. The expansion and the extension of the product range “Made in USA” are pushing the building in Towaco to its limit, which has been repeatedly renovated and extended, to its limits. With further growth, Baumer of America will certainly have to move or build a new building in the next few years. The expansion of the American plant fits in with CEO Uwe Scharf’s mindset: “We want to support the American economy, just as it supports us. If you want to be successful in the USA, you will need to build a strong presence with local employees.”
In the USA in particular, a shortage of skilled workers is a real challenge for foam processors. We ease this pain with automation solutions: by making machines and systems increasingly intelligent and self-sufficient, then operator dependency decreases.
Another focus of the US subsidiary is on service, partly because the focus on service is a notch higher than in Germany. “The goal of most American companies is customer satisfaction under all circumstances,” explains Scharfy. Baumer of America (BoA) provides 13 service technicians in total of which 8 are full time travel service technicians. We have strategically positioned our techs all over the country to be closer to our customers. For technical support via phone and online, we have a well-trained technical service Hotline that can answer phone calls from 7:00am to 9:00pm and Saturdays from 8:00am to 12:00pm. The Hotline offers personalized customer service, not automated, to meet individual customer needs to the maximum.
Baumer of America has a wide variety of employees with over 10 different cultural backgrounds. Perfect communication with the customer thanks to numerous languages is not the only reason for a diverse team. This diverse workforce produces the best ideas and creates added value for customers and the company. "We observe that the diversity on our team, bringing together such different talents, clearly contributes to our success. Our productivity has increased, as different perspectives, knowledge and experiences are brought to projects. The collaboration of different cultures produces new approaches, proposed solutions and improves creativity. The language diversity is, of course, another advantage. Personally, the topics of openness and tolerance are very important to me, which is automatically promoted by a culturally diverse workforce," states Scharfy.
The BoA branch puts the company right in the center of the US market. The American Baumer team knows the market inside out and understands its needs. This is undoubtedly a great advantage in terms of being right on the pulse of the market and being able to serve the market quickly and easily. This was reinforced during the Corona crisis. Because the company is so strongly positioned locally, even in times of lockdowns and entry bans, it was able to provide optimum support for American customers. Assembly, commissioning of machines and systems, carrying out of maintenance and repairs, all the while working independently from the German headquarters.
Speaking of the Corona crisis, the entire Bäumer Group, with BoA in particular, have posted record sales over the past two years. "Even though the automotive industry slumped, we were able to more than compensate for the losses with orders from the furniture and mattress industry. Not only did hospitals need additional beds, but the end consumer in particular boosted business. People spent an extremely large amount of time at home and invested their money in new furniture and mattresses. Companies needed to increase capacity and ordered machines and equipment from us," explains Scharfy.
We want to support the American economy, just as it supports us. If you want to be successful in the USA, you will need to build a strong presence with local employees.
Uwe Scharfy, CEO Baumer of America
Another reason for the high demand for Bäumer solutions in the North American market is the high level of automation offered by the company. Uwe Scharfy highlights: “In the USA in particular, a shortage of skilled workers is a real challenge for foam processors. We ease this pain with automation solutions: by making machines and systems increasingly intelligent and self-sufficient, then operator dependency decreases. Not only are fewer people needed in the process, but end-product quality remains consistently independent of the operator."
Process control based on artificial intelligence and supported by human experience will create the best of the resources. So finally, the most intelligent, specialized, and comprehensive software tool will ultimately decide the marked leadership. That is why Bäumer brings their decades of machine and process know-how together with the newest digitalization technologies.
In the context of automation Bäumer brought to market the MES (Manufacturing Execution System) SOPHIE, especially designed for the foam industry.
This intelligent MES opens new possibilities in data collection and data sourcing. Todays’ loose empirical values or feelings, tomorrow will be proven by intelligent systems. For example, in product control: The software knows, which product has been produced when, which raw materials were used and where certain charges went.
So, manufacturers can react appropriately when there is a product recall by one of their suppliers or if quality issues arise in their plant. This will be one key to success to increase productivity and quality and to increase sustainability.
According to the motto: All you can measure you can also change.
That’s why Bäumer works together with different Research Partners to develop intelligent machines. Additionally, Bäumer has understood that an efficient production is more than high quality and efficient machines.
All weaknesses in the whole process chain must be analyzed and optimized considering the full picture. Therefore, more and more focus are placed on interlinking of machines and process steps and sharing data and information up- and downwards the process chain, from foaming to packaging.
Both, the intelligent machines, and the interlinking will contribute to exploit more and more potential for reduced throughput time and costs through better planning and controlling, higher quality, reduced
waste, etc. The American market is one of the great drivers of those projects.
For two years now, the US subsidiary BoA also contributes to research and development projects which traditionally only took place in the German headquarter. The initial idea and development of a new machine, which Bäumer will launch in 2022 has been done at BoA. The German R&D team is now working hand in hand with BoA to take the project to completion
Baumer of America, although highly independent, also celebrates its extremely close ties to Germany. Regular in-house trade fairs are held in the style of the German Oktoberfest “It’s great to see how many customers are Bäumer fans to the core. They don’t want anything else and value a German premium product. why then not celebrate together in German style? “Uwe Scharfy explains with a smile.
A success factor of the German company Bäumer is the training work. With a training quota of 15-20%, the highly qualified and specialized skilled workers are trained in-house. The subsidiary also adapted this model for New Jersey. The efforts to bring German-style apprenticeship to New Jersey have been a long-standing initiative for the state and for GAACs nationwide. Baumer of America is one of the host companies for the Apprenticeship Program and is currently training one mechatronics technician. "Employees should be better trained in the future. So far, there have been no classic training occupations as we know them from Germany," says Uwe Scharfy.
In cooperation with the German American Chamber of Commerce, junior staff will be trained according to the German model. Stays in German branches will make it possible in future to familiarize trainees with the new training model. Uwe Scharfy explains enthusiastically: "During a three-week stay in Germany, the trainee can experience live what the training in Germany looks like and get a picture of it".
As in Germany, the training lasts three years. During this time, the trainee works three days a week in the company and two days at vocational school. After successful completion, the trainee receives a training certificate. Baumer of America is very proud having reached this important milestone for the training of workers at the Towaco site and being the first to initiate a training program in the state of New Jersey together with the company Arconic.
On the other hand, the headquarters also benefits from an exchange program with the USA. In Germany, too, it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit good young people for training at Bäumer. Commercial trainees have been allowed to spend a month at the American branch for a few years now and enjoy combining business with pleasure during their ‘American adventure’.
But not only trainees, also senior team members benefit from the exchange program. "A stay of several weeks at Bäumer Germany is part of our onboarding process at BoA and also strongly supports the bond between our employees and the parent company," emphasizes Scharfy.
In the coming years, Baumer of America is to be further expanded and take on additional tasks that were previously reserved for the headquarters. Well-trained employees and a high level of loyalty to the company are the prerequisites for this. The course has been set.
All we need to do is follow it to success.
© German American Chambers of Commerce
German American Trade Quarterly Magazine