That machine is known as the 3D Eagle. It is a press for foil and veneer lamination to 3D panels and can run with or without a membrane, mainly pressing thermoplastic foils such as PVC and PET, while special grades such as high-gloss can apparently also be processed successfully. High-quality 3D applications of veneer, linoleum or Kydex are possible as well, says the company. The 3D Eagle range is not in itself new, with over 500 examples having been sold from Wemhöner’s Herford factory, so the Chinese factory is making standard machines from a tried and tested product range.
It hardly needs mentioning that China offers a low-cost labour force and business environment for machinery manufacture and the advent of Wemhöner (Changzhou) Machinery Manufacturing Co Ltd has, says the company, enabled it to get closer to its competition in the global machinery market. "A similar press made in our Herford factory would be at least 30-40% more expensive," said Detlef Hanel, marketing manager for Wemhöner Surface Technologies. All components for the 3D Eagle are produced in China – even the Siemens electronic elements which come from Siemens China. The manager of the Changzhou operation, Mr Xiang, is a Chinese engineer who was educated at Aachen University RWTH in Germany, while the production director, Mr He, is also ex-Aachen. Both spent time in the Herford operation before taking up their posts.
To ensure that German quality comes out of the Chinese factory, two German engineers are also based in Changzhou to oversee daily production matters and quality control.
Servicing of other machines exported to China from Herford is also handled by the new factory. Sales of all Wemhöner machines are handled from the offices above the glass-walled Changzhou facility which presents a very unusual and stylish sight in industrial China. Wemhöner says that the overall concept for the buildings is intended to be an example of how European architecture and Chinese aesthetics can be successfully combined, creating a pleasant atmosphere for employees working in both production and administration areas.
Much closer to home, Wemhöner has also been expanding, by extending its Herford factory – and not for the first time. The latest, 1,400m2, extension to the two existing halls 5 and 6 went into full use in November.
Halls 3 and 4, plus office space, were extended in the summer of 2006.
This latest extra space was needed not only to meet the ever-increasing demand for the company’s well-known short cycle and 3D press lines, but also to accommodate some new product lines that partly explain the change in the company’s name.
The Ligna exhibition last May in Hanover, Germany, saw the launch of a completely new departure for the company, called Masterline.
Masterline lacquering and direct printing lines constitute ‘a product group for the surface finishing of MDF, particleboard and other raw boards or work pieces’, in the words of Wemhöner Surface Technologies’ brochure. It is of modular design and so, says the company, can be easily integrated into existing lacquering lines.
These modules include the MasterCoater roller application machine for application of any liquid lacquer systems, colours, oils, waxes and filling compounds.
MasterPrinter is the printing machine for designing wood grain and fantasy decors by ‘indirect gravure printing’.
Then there is the MasterDryer offering circulating air, nozzle or UV dryers and the MasterCuring component, which has UV radiator modules for curing UV lacquering systems with rays.
Wemhöner MasterHandling is the equipment for infeed, transport and stacking, which is purpose-designed for each customer’s needs.
MasterControl offers local control of the lacquering and visualisation of the production process by PC and PLC technology, from infeed to stacking area.
One direct print and lacquering line sold by the company will be 140m long and has been sold to Starwood of Turkey. It was designed for a panel size of 2.07×5.0m and for three-colour printing. The capacity of that line is 50,000m2 per eight-hour shift. Once it’s delivered, in May 2008, it will be used to produce furniture elements, cabinet backs and for components for light-weight panel production.
This departure from Wemhöner’s traditional press lines largely explains the change of name to Wemhöner Surface Technologies.
"But we also felt that ‘Maschinenfabrik’ did not convey what we do in any of our machine ranges," said Mr Hanel. "In English, it means ‘machine factory’ and doesn’t convey the image of our high-tech machines of today."
Although the name and, hopefully from Wemhöner’s point of view the image it presents, has changed, the logo was maintained largely unaltered. "We also wanted to maintain the strong identity that comes with our established logo," Mr Hanel pointed out.
Another major new product for Surface Technologies is the light-weight panel line for the production of furniture panels with paper honeycomb or foam cores. It is a combination of short-cycle press equipment and throughfeed system, both of which are familiar Wemhöner products.
Four of these lines have been ordered to date, employing special machinery with a 2x4m press platen. The first of three has been delivered to Turkey and the fourth is for Spain.
There is another Wemhöner company, specialising in handling and packaging equipment, and as such complementary to Surface Technologies. Previously known as Wemhöner Anlagen (‘plants’ in English), this company, which continues to trade separately, is now known as Wemhöner System Technologies to fit better with Surface Technologies in customers’ minds.
These two companies are run by the third generation of the Wemhöner family, Heiner Wemhöner.
The two companies do have synergies in manufacturing and share centralised purchasing for information technology (IT), electronics and controls, for example.
Wemhöner Surface Technologies has already reached one of the most dearly-held ambitions of Heiner Wemhöner by looking certain to achieve a turnover of e100m in 2007. That will be 10% up on 2006, which reached a record e91m.
With all this talk of surfacing lines and light-weight panel lines, Wemhöner Surface Technologies has certainly not abandoned its customers in the primary panel manufacturing/processing field, where its short-cycle pressing lines have proved as popular as ever.
"We have had a run on our short-cycle lines worldwide, with full order books and 90% being exported," said Mr Hanel.
The investments made by Wemhöner have not just brought financial rewards for the company. Wemhöner Surface Technologies was awarded the ‘Beste Fabrik Deutschlands 2007’ (Industrial excellence award) given by the WHU University, INSEAD management school and Wirtschafts-Woche and in 2006, the company won the East Westphalia/Lippe best factory award – both for the Herford facility.