Gerhard Schubert posts results upturn and unveils cobot technology
Schubert’s corporate management: Marcel Kiessling, Managing Director Sales and Service, Gerhard Schubert, Founder and Managing Partner, Ralf Schubert, Managing Partner, Peter Gabriel, Commercial Managing Director (from left to right)
The Gerhard Schubert packaging machinery group has posted an above forecasted turnover for 2020, with sales up 2.5% over the previous year, to €281 million, despite pandemic challenges, reports Neill Barston.
Notably, the German-based business, which has produced a broad series of equipment for the confectionery and snacks sectors, hailed the work of its workforce totalling 1,450 around the world in delivering growth both in Europe as well as in the US.
Moreover, the company said it has seen a 25% increase in orders compared to the previous year, as the business made key digital services advancements, as well as achieving key robotics technology breakthroughs.
As the Crailsheim company explained, it is also placing major investment into its headquarters site, with construction of a new assembly hall beginning in the second half of this year, paving the way for an additional 300 employees to join the company. Initial works on adjoining road layouts (below), have enabled the extended development to proceed.
Reflecting on the past year, the business revealed that an internal task force developed a rapid response to developing a template for operating amid the pandemic, which has enabled its global operations to continue.
“It was a very good decision and is still working very well for us today. Thanks to the measures implemented to minimise the impact of COVID-19 on our operations, we have a very low number of employees who fell ill overall. We have been and continue to be able to work and deliver to our customers at all times,” explains Peter Gabriel, Commercial Managing Director of Gerhard Schubert.
The manufacturer reported that is also benefiting from the fact that it is well advanced in the field of digitalisation. “Our capabilities for virtual machine approvals, AR-supported service processes and digitally supported commissioning at customer sites have naturally proven very successful in customer support in 2020 and will continue to be an important focus of our development in the coming years,” reports Marcel Kiessling, Managing Director Sales and Service.
In this context, the increases in service revenues compared to the previous year are clear: In spite of all the restrictions on travel and availability of service staff, Schubert achieved an increase in turnover in this key area from 54 (2019) to 59 million euros.
This is just one reason why the further development of service offerings is an integral part of the company’s growth strategy: “A key focus is to increase and optimise performance tracking. Added to this is the customisation of our services – flexible and ideally adapted to specific customer requirements,” continues Kiessling.
Major cobot equipment advance
Another major development for the business has been its ongoing investment in robotics-based technology, which has played a central part in its history over the past four decades.
The company has created its own ‘cobot’ series of technology designed to rapidly enhance packaging operations, which have now been instilled with key additional features.
This has given the business a significant advantage in having its own technological development capabilities to serve industry, and are now undergoing trials with customers.
For the first time, this breakthrough cobot series (below) known as ‘Tog’ can now automate simple manual processes outside of the highly efficient machine sequences and can be adapted to new tasks very quickly without requiring any programming knowledge.
Ralf Schubert, Managing Partner of Gerhard Schubert, described the rationale: “We developed the tog.519 for pick & place applications with lightweight products, where previous cobots would be out of their depth.” The tog simplifies and accelerates packaging processes even further: “With one of our cobots, manufacturers will be able to react much more flexibly in the future to changing market situations and requirements,” explains Schubert.
Furthermore, the system has been designed to operate at high working speed and simple operation, which are considered essential to deliver required levels of flexibility. Ralf Schubert asserts, “Our cobot has one of the world’s fastest capabilities for ‘gripping from disorder’.”
As the company adds, to ensure speed throughout, it makes sense to use a protective cell when space is limited. However, the Cobot also offers the ability to operate without a protective cell while maintaining a high level of safety. When operating as a free-standing robot, the cobot does not work directly together with humans (collaborative). But it does work in an environment with them.
In terms of the company’s wider progress, it explained that its global growth is being driven by the manufacturer’s immediately available and preconfigured lightline machine series, which enables customers to react quickly to market trends, along with significant advances in the development of tools for process optimisation using predictive maintenance (GRIPS.world).
The establishment of industrial on-demand 3D printing processes for additive manufacturing in both plastics and metal, along with the consistent further development of sustainable packaging solutions and a strong focus on consulting, are all additional success factors behind Schubert’s current development.
Business in the USA developed very positively in this context. The Schubert subsidiary generated around 82 million US dollars in sales in North America in 2020. In addition to upward trends at Schubert UK and the main European markets of France and Italy, the Polish market is also becoming increasingly important for the manufacturer.
As the company continued, its key innovations and investments are enabling it to maintain its international customer base, while strengthening the company’s leadership position in the industry during the 2020 pandemic year.
Ralf Schubert, Managing Partner explains: “We have been intensifying our research activities in the field of robotics technology for some time. With AI projects in the field of robotics and image processing, we are making a decisive contribution to the ongoing professionalisation and future viability of the entire packaging industry. Added to this is the development of innovative assemblies for our TLM machines as well as our first collaborative robot and progress on TITAN, our packaging systems’ digital twin.”
To this end, the Crailsheim-based company has been investing around 8 to 10 per cent of its annual turnover for decades in a time-tested tradition, with the company’s drive towards refining its automation-based systems also proving influential in packaging material innovation.
“The future belongs to environmentally friendly packaging materials such as cardboard trays or fibre-based films which can be used flexibly on a packaging line. Our customers benefit from over 50 years of Schubert experience in cardboard packaging along with our consulting and service expertise,” revealed Marcel Kiessling.
As the company concluded, its high order backlog and positive order intake in the first quarter has placed it in a strong position for the remainder of 2021. “Our production capacities are currently very well utilised. We already have 100 per cent of the planned annual turnover in our order books for 2021 and are already planning our new orders into 2022.”