Neuhausen a. d. F. – The order situation of the Neuhausen-based company has been improving noticeably since the end of last year. In the first quarter of 2021 Balluff recorded a 17 percent increase in incoming orders compared with the previous year. This means that the order situation in the first quarter is considerably better (+11 percent) than in the first quarter of the 2018 record year. Positive growth impulses come mainly from the Asia Pacific and North America regions. In contrast, the European market, which is important for Balluff, is slowly picking up again in light of the still closed economy in some places.
Decline in sales during pandemic year
The Balluff Group achieved an annual turnover of EUR 410 million in 2020 (13 percent less compared to the previous year). With a decline in sales of 19 percent, the German-speaking world was the worst affected. Also in the Americas (-13 percent) and Southern Europe (-13 percent) regions Balluff was not able to separate itself from the sharp economic slump due to the pandemic.
"Over the past year we responded quickly and courageously to the economic and structural changes", explains Managing Director Frank Nonnenmann, who is responsible for the company's supply chain. For example, the development of the Neuhausen site into an innovation and competence center for networking, software and IIoT solutions, optical and (magneto-) inductive sensors, as well as RFID, is under way. In addition, production is currently being concentrated in several stages at the two main production sites in Veszprém/Hungary and Chengdu/China – Balluff will complete this process by the end of the year.
Course set for the future
Over the past year Balluff invested heavily in the expansion of its digital infrastructure and laid the foundations for digital event formats – from customer events to webinars – and implemented these successfully. At the same time, new software such as a cloud-based sales platform was introduced. It is having an impact: At Balluff around 30 percent of all orders worldwide are already being processed digitally and automatically. The company's online shop is now available in 30 countries and in 14 languages – an option that is well received: Sales are significantly above target in the first quarter.
The increased digital work is also met with wide approval by the staff. Since March 2020 most employees from indirect areas have been working remotely to protect against infection. This also has advantages for Balluff as a global company: "Communication within the global teams has become easier and the exchange of information and ideas has increased. Colleagues are closer together than ever before: Everyone sits in front of their laptop and is only a click away", explains Managing Director Katrin Stegmaier-Hermle.
Enabler – Software expertise
"Software is a central component for good automation solutions. Many products do not manage without software", says Managing Director Florian Hermle. Also increasing importance is attached to the area at Balluff: More than 100 software experts all over the world are currently working on the development of appropriate solutions for the Industrial Internet of Things. With the Balluff Engineering Tool 1.0 (BET), since April Balluff has been offering a purely license-based software product that facilitates the use of IO-Link devices. The more IO-Link devices there are in a plant, the more parameters have to be checked or even changed. Diagnosis and troubleshooting become more complex for each machine. "And this is exactly where our BET comes into play", explains Hermle. "The new Balluff Engineering Tool facilitates the centralized commissioning, parameterization and diagnosis of IO-Link devices, irrespective of manufacturer, via easy-to-use software."
Agile from the prototype to the finished product
Since the middle of May Balluff has been offering the "Portable Monitoring System" for the simple condition monitoring of production equipment. It is the first of several solutions emerging from a strategic incubation program. Since 2020 the teams have been working according to lean start-up principles: without rigid role descriptions or processes, more agile and in close exchange with the customer. The incubation programs concentrate on solutions for intelligent monitoring of machines and equipment, systems for condition monitoring and format adjustment, and machine learning processes.
This year Balluff celebrates its 100-year anniversary. And the anniversary comes at a time when celebrations are not possible. "Instead of face-to-face events we are therefore focusing firmly on digital formats. We are proud of what our company has achieved over the last 100 years and excited about what is still to come in the future. Therefore, we would like to remember Balluff's history and look ahead to the future", says Katrin Stegmaier-Hermle. Balluff published an anniversary website for interested parties, which recounts the abundant history of the company over the years: Witnesses have their say, current projects, staff and locations are presented, industry experts share their opinion on important topics of the future.
Start of construction works on the agenda
The start of the construction of the new building in Neuhausen marks a milestone for Balluff this year. "This is where Balluff has its roots and where the central focal point of the family of companies will remain." The construction work is expected to start in the second half of the year.
The success story of Balluff began exactly 100 years ago with the setup of the precision mechanics repair workshop in Neuhausen a. d. F. On the occasion of the 100-year anniversary, with 3600 employees worldwide, today the global company stands for innovative technology, quality and cross-sector experience in industrial automation. As the leading sensor and automation specialist, the family-owned company in its fourth generation offers a comprehensive portfolio of high-quality sensor, identification, network and software solutions. In 2020, the Balluff Group reported revenue of around EUR 410 million. With 38 subsidiaries and other representatives in more than 60 countries, Balluff guarantees fast worldwide availability of the products and a high quality of advice and service locally.