Engel Machinery Inc. is beefing up its service organisation, doubling the spare parts inventory in York, Pennsylvania, and expanding application engineering to meet solid North American sales growth — a region that generates about 25% of sales for its Austrian parent.
Wolfgang Degwerth said the move to make a "smart" Engel injection moulding machine matches this strategy — and can help compensate for the major skills gap facing manufacturing.
"Everybody has the same problem, there are not enough skilled operators around. So make the machine smart enough that it's not necessary anymore to have smart and skilled operators," he said.
Degwerth outlined Engel's North American business and plans for the near-term future in an interview 26 April at the Engel Technology Symposium in York. He became vice president of sales and customer service for Engel North America in early 2015.
Engel's two-day Technology Symposium attracted 185 attendees to York, Pennsylvania, where they heard presentations the first day about medical moulding, while the second day covered packaging.
Degwerth said that automotive remains Engel's largest market, generating more than 60% of business. But packaging and medical have been growing.
Degwerth knows first-hand about the importance of customer service — and the key that service technicians play in the capital machinery sector — from his years of experience. He joined parent company, Engel Holding GmbH in Schwertberg, Austria, in 2001 as vice president of the service division.
Engel North America currently has 65 service technicians covering the U.S. and Canada. The goal is 80 by the end of 2017. What is Degwerth's target for service techs by 2018? One hundred, or even more.
"Maybe with the background that I have, I see how important it is to have enough service capacity in the field," he said.
Searching for service technicians
A common lament in the plastics machinery industry is that service technicians are hard to find. But Degwerth doesn't believe it, and said Engel has had success. When he first arrived in York, he said, he spent at least an hour a day on LinkedIn, searching for people with skills that fit, even if they did not have a background in injection molding machines. Word spread on social media.
About a year ago, Engel North America started a new three-month training program for service techs. Once they undergo basic training, and pass all the tests, then they go to Engel operations in Austria for hands-on work. "And then they work in the factory. They really assemble machines. They really assemble injection units. They really do it, it's not just theoretical training," he said.
Engel also brings in talented employees from its Schwertberg headquarters plant, to work in York.
The operation started a global sales trainee program about six months ago.
Engel is increasing its project engineering staff, with the goal of tripling it, to 30 people, in the next two years. Application engineers are at all tech centers, to help customers specify machinery and set up manufacturing cells.
Degwerth said the training efforts, and what he called Engel's "momentum" have made it easier to find candidates who are interested. "As soon as people actually recognise Engel is growing, Engel is hiring. Everybody knows there is something going on with Engel."
"Some of them were the super-stars coming back. But some of them, they're really experienced, but not with injection molding, right now. And we train them," he said.
Degwerth thinks this might be why other machinery manufacturers say they can't find service people. "You have to invest in their education," he said.
"If you think it's really important for our industry, then you have to invest. Don't just think short-term, think long-term. If you invest in those people for a year of education, then actually you have them for the next years," Degwerth said.
In Austria, he said, every service tech gets nine months of training, at a minimum.
Technology was the theme of the Technology Symposium. Engel calls its smart-factory technology Inject 4.0, and the company demonstrated that on an e-motion injection press at the event. The press, with 85 tons of clamping force, is equipped with Engel's iQ software products that detect, and instantly compensate for, process parameters. They include iQ weight control that keeps the injected melt volume and visconsity constant, iQ clamp that continually adjusts the clamping force. Another feature: flomo, an intelligent water manifold for cooling and temperature control, and allows fast mould changes.
The press adjusts itself automatically, in real time, said Joachim Kragl, director of advanced moulding systems and processing at Engel North America.
"We do this all while we are injecting. It's not done after the fact," Kragl said in a presentation.
Degwerth said that's "a very important strategy for us: Make the product smart."
Engel is beefing up its own internal smarts, as well. Just before the K 2016 show, Engel bought T.I.G. (Technische Informationssyteme GmbH), a provider of manufacturing execution systems. MES systems tie everything in a factory together, including machine scheduling, order information and shipping.
Degwerth compared the Engel/T.I.G. deal to automakers connecting up with software companies to gain new skills on the eve of self-driving cars. Engel has experience in software to run machines, and coordinate information off the presses. But MES systems are a centre of intelligence outside of just the machine, he said.
He gives an example. Say a customer calls asking about maintenance, or needs a service call, but says they can't stop the machine right then because it has to run production.
"So [today] we have no connection between when our service tech is scheduled and their schedule. With the MES connected to our service tool, the two things are connected, so when they say, 'OK we'll give you, let's say four hours to do the maintenance on the machine,' then we can schedule exactly and link together our service tech," Degwerth said.
And if Engel needs to change the service tech's schedule, that automatically shows in the customer's MES system.
Degwerth said Engel is more than doubling its spare parts inventory in York, from the current value of $11m (€10m) to $25m (€23m). The company is investing $1m (€910,000) into the logistics, including shelving and fork lifts.
The goal is at being able to ship at least 90% of parts orders immediately, he said.
Another quick-ship project is called Fast Lane, for the all-electric e-mac press and the hydraulic Victory. Engel started promoting the off-the-shelf delivery last fall. Degwerth said that's a change for Engel, which has a reputation for moulding cells designed for specific projects.
Stocking those two models, with limited options, in York, has already helped boost sales in medical and technical markets, he said. Engel North America has lost some sales to competitors because it did not have presses available for immediate delivery, he said.
"There was a huge market, where we hadn't the right answer in the past," he said. Engel has shipped out several of the Fast Lane machines the next day.
"As soon as we have the 10% down payment on our account, we ship," Degwerth said.