What is the significance of the AMB in Stuttgart, and what are your expectations for AMB 2016?
German Wankmiller: I’m quite pleased with how the trade fair is going so far. Even the first day we had a gratifying number of visitors to our GROB stand. I was surprised by the large number of visitors from the automotive industry, such as Volkswagen Wolfsburg, Audi Ingolstadt, Bosch Feuerbach as well as NEMAK. They all visited our stand on the very first day, thus providing a good trade show launch. There’s substantial interest in our products, particularly in the latest generation of our machinery. Stuttgart is an extremely good location due to its central geographic position. We’ve had visitors from Lower Saxony as well as the South German region, which was to be expected, but we’ve also had visitors to our stand from Italy, Switzerland and Austria.
Which new technologies will play an important role in machine tools in the future, and what does GROB have to offer in this regard?
German Wankmiller: On the whole, in discussions with trade fair visitors, we’ve had the impression that everyone is concerned about changes in the automotive industry, and that some decisions have been delayed, since it’s unclear where the path is leading. However, quite a few innovations are on the horizon which will significantly change the automobile as we now know it. For example, we at GROB are already being asked what we will have to offer in the area of electric vehicles. An additional important topic is lightweight construction, i.e., aluminum components, but also complex components requiring 5-axis machining. Thus, as a project management company and general contractor, we have to supply machinery, automation and purchased components as well as provide required management expertise for electric vehicles. And not just that. The international positioning of a company likewise plays an important role in this.
To what extent has the changed demand situation affected GROB’s business?
German Wankmiller: In our basic system business we have traditionally always handled the entire project business. Thus, our customers still expect special GROB project expertise in the new electric vehicle area as well. Second, the automotive industry faces the need for significant investment, and has to make solid targeted decisions regarding new systems. Since the bandwidth for future investments is quite wide, it is important that existing production facilities be revamped, serviced and expanded, not only in Europe, but worldwide as well.
What will be the consequences for GROB as a result of this rethinking process in the automotive industry?
German Wankmiller: This is a very important development for us, and with it we can compensate for the change in demand for machining lines by focusing strongly on overhauling, maintaining and converting systems. This, of course, will have consequences regarding the qualifications of our employees. This means expanding know-how in the areas of startup, NC technology and mechatronics. We can achieve this through special training and internal qualification programs.
When do you expect electric vehicles to become a significant issue at GROB?
German Wankmiller: This will certainly be important by the middle of next year, or year-end at the latest. We are already experiencing a marked decline in request for bids for projects for machining combustion engine components. But just like our competitors, we are also aware that changes in automotive drive technology are already underway. Nevertheless, how these changes will take shape with respect to unit sales and in which markets cannot be predicted at this time.
What do you think of the developments in the machine tool industry in general?
German Wankmiller: As in the past, the machine tool market will continue to be heavily influenced by developments in the automotive industry; consequently, we have to be highly innovative and continually bring new products to market and impress with our technological expertise. We have to face up to the challenges of new drive technology, lightweight construction as well as digitalization. If we do that, we’ll have good opportunities to continue to successfully guide our company. But this will require significant effort and commitment in order to take advantage of these potentials for future success.
What is GROB’s current business outlook?
German Wankmiller: Currently we have a very healthy order book; the GROB Group will be at full capacity for about fourteen months.
The orders reflect a very robust mix of system business, universal machines and assembly systems.
How will you deal with this situation?
German Wankmiller: The extensive capacity of the GROB Group offers us the possibility to handle projects of all types, including those with tight deadlines, to the full satisfaction of our customers.