Anyone involved in the US machine tool industry, particularly in recent years, has required strong nerves and stamina. The fluctuations seen over the last decade strained many companies to the breaking point. First there was the slow climb in the middle of the last decade, then came the massive collapse in the market during the financial crisis in late 2008 considerably affecting our main customers, the "Big Three", as well as the manufacturing industry in general. It was a time when, for a long while, it was unclear which way the American automotive industry would go. But it was also a time when at GROB Systems everything was geared towards expansion. Just like the parent company in Mindelheim, GROB's American arm is now on a new footing and prospering from an investment program unique in its history.
Historic investment program
In early 2010, GROB had faith in the long-term recovery of the American auto industry and decided to support extensive investment in the Bluffton plant. In early 2011 planning started for a 93,000 sq.ft expansion of the production plant, a project that was urgently required to meet the increase in new orders. In the spring of last year the expansion work on the production plant started and this will be completed by the end of February 2013. In the end, there will be over 350,000 sq.ft of new space available at the Bluffton plant. This represents a considerable, but also well-planned investment program phase. Ralf Bronnenmeier, Managing Director (CEO) at GROB Systems, put the position facing the American machine tool industry in context: "Here in the USA we have been waiting for a big investment boost since the mid-90s. For example, the economical 4-cylinder engines of 2011/2012 were mainly being built on production lines that dated from the beginning of the 90s. Also, the American automotive industry had for a long time invested very little in its engine technology and was quickly overtaken – in its own country – by the Japanese and Europeans. For years we knew that the Americans had a huge investment backlog. And the current order situation proves we were right."
Bluffton benefits from Mindelheim
In fact, Ford and GM in particular, have in the last two years carried out a major investment program. Furthermore, the difficult situation at GM has also led to a new approach: Saving energy and reducing fuel consumption are now high on the agenda. Mr. Bronnenmeier explained GROB's strategy: "To do justice to the increased demands of our customers, we have not only expanded our capacity, but have also made it much more efficient. Here in Bluffton, to improve efficiency, we can very easily implement the measures developed in Mindelheim." For example – as in Mindelheim – an electrical bus system has been installed beneath the crane track. This enables us to supply the machines being built with power of 1600 A per phase - no untidy cabling, but improved order and cleanliness and reduced accidents and trip hazards.
Other measures from Mindelheim for energy conservation have been adapted and implemented. These include energy-saving lights inside and out, improved thermal insulation and an upgraded, high-efficiency heating system. The original lighting in the old section of the plant has also been replaced with energy-saving bulbs. All of which can bring significant savings, but also a great improvement in the quality of lighting in the workplace.
If in 2012 the investment was primarily in expansion and new buildings, for the current year, investment is to be mainly focused on new machinery, investment that will largely safeguard quality and productivity requirements at GROB, investment that once again proves how at GROB everything is geared towards a long-term strategy with profits being invested back in the business. Also at GROB Systems, GROB's typical approach to long-term planning applies.