Business development of the Balluff Group
Sensor and automation specialist Balluff remains on growth course: The company from Neuhausen auf den Fildern increased its sales from 459 to 488 million euros in 2018.
This corresponds to a growth of six percent compared to the previous year. "Overall, 2018 was a good year,” says Managing Director Katrin Stegmaier-Hermle.
“After the record growth of more than 21 percent in 2017, we knew that things were bound to quieten down a bit. You can't sustain growth at such a level for several years in a row. That´s why we had set ourselves the target of high single-digit, almost double-digit growth in 2018. We also achieved this goal in almost all markets. The final six percent outcome is accounted for by the American markets, which fell short of expectations. In North America, this is partly a consequence of the current protectionist measures. In South America, it is mainly on account of the situation in the largest single market, Brazil, which was fraught throughout the year."
The return on sales (EBIT) is in the upper single-digit range.
Growth at last year's level planned
Balluff has made a cautiously optimistic start to the current year. According to Stegmaier-Hermle, the group is planning to grow at a similar pace to 2018. "An ambitious goal in view of the increasing uncertainty on the markets," admits the Managing Director. Many industries remain steady in their high demand for automation solutions.
Nevertheless, a certain caution on the part of customers, especially in the automotive and engineering industries, is currently perceptible in the light of global developments.
"In recent years, our customers have also been investing strongly in their own growth. Given the present uncertainty, they are cautious and are holding back on new orders. This is reflected in the fact that some projects are delayed," explains Balluff Managing Director Michael Unger.
"Even if the current situation does not suggest another record year, we are still convinced we will be operating in an absolutely promising sector in the medium and long term. We want to use their potential for our own benefit. Due to digitalization and the associated necessity for automation in all important markets, Balluff is well equipped. With our products and solutions, we will not only draw benefit from Industry 4.0 and the IIoT in the future, but will also actively participate in shaping developments.“
Full-range provider for sensor-based automation
Balluff has therefore also extended its product and solution portfolio by enhancing its range of camera-based sensors (machine vision) and software in particular.
"This lets us offer an all-in-one package for sensor-based automation that covers the needs of most customers," says Managing Director Florian Hermle. Machine vision plays an important role especially in dynamic production environments."
By integrating the companies Matrix Vision and iss innovative software services into the Balluff Group two years ago, we have gained further expertise in the company. Balluff's core competence remains hardware, because our sensors form the basis for the IIoT. Iin the future, however, Balluff aims to focus more on all-in-one solutions that combine hardware and software.
"We constantly seek to extend our expertise and tap innovative fields that are important for the future, with a special focus on new know-how in the software sector and on extending our portfolio to better address customer requirements," adds Hermle.
Providing additional data is increasing the competitiveness of our customers. Aside from process data, Balluff solutions also provide service data. They enable efficient controlling of production facilities through predictive maintenance, for instance, or by reducing wastage.
Sensors provide database
Sensors are the starting point for digitalization. They provide the database needed to control and automate processes.
"Of course, all the information we collect has to be structured, analyzed and put into proper context. We aim for these to be as user friendly as possible with an open connection to contiguous systems. Therefore, we rely on the support of external partners. Cooperation plays a hugely significant role in digitalization,” explains Hermle.
"There is no point in experts isolating themselves in ivory towers. We regard ourselves as part of a large ecosystem working on topics related to the future. In doing so, we don't aim just to be on board, but want to actively shape its development and incorporate our expertise. Balluff has set up its own software competence center for this very purpose. In addition, we also actively enter in contact with a wide variety of players. For example, we are represented on the board of ARENA2036, , and were one of the founding members of the Open Industry 4.0 Alliance, and also serve as digital experts in the Bosch Connected World," emphasizes the Managing Director.
Structural realignment promotes agile collaboration
According to Unger, Balluff has taken advantage of the slight brake on growth dynamics to realign the company structure. Three focus industries were set up last year to put the company on track for the future, replacing the company's previous organization in line with technologies and product groups. This divisional structure can ideally reflect the requirements of the main key markets.
A new structure that has already proven its worth, says Michael Unger:
"The industrial divisions maintain a constant dialog with customers and note their requirements, while technology translates them into practical aspects of the product portfolio. Only through the interaction of all divisions can we optimally serve our customers. Yet the divisions not only help us in terms of customers. They also let us communicate faster across regions and with colleagues in Germany, so we can react better and more quickly. Our colleagues have opened their minds to change and are keen to shape the transformation. The new structure calls for critical, focused engagement, also with difficult topics. In this way, we can openly address deviations, we benefit from better cross-departmental cooperation and sharing of responsibilities."
These responsibilities relate to a workforce that grew from 3598 to more than 4000 worldwide in 2018. In Germany, Balluff employed 1434 people in 2018, 116 more than they did the year before. Eight percent of this figure are students and apprentices engaged in dual vocational programs.
As Katrin Stegmaier-Hermle points out: "Training has traditionally been a high priority at Balluff. We aim to focus efforts on specific areas, with an emphasis on qualified staff to help us tackle tomorrow's issues."