The magazine of Friedhelm Loh Group

The magazine of Friedhelm Loh Group

Stahlo grows in Gera

A strategy for the east

Steel market. Slitted coils and pressed parts are needed all over Europe – not just in Germany. Among the fastest growing markets in the EU this year are the Polish and Czech economies, which are each likely to expand by more than 3 per cent. Poland has even overtaken Turkey to seize the title of biggest European manufacturer of household appliances, or white goods. The Czech Republic, which has a strong tradition as an industrial location, is also a major buyer of industrial goods. The biggest export partner by far for both countries is Germany.

Text Markus Huneke ––– Photography

With a major traffic interchange right on its doorstep, the Stahlo site in Gera – right on the A9 and A4 in the eastern part of Thuringia – is pretty much ideally situated from a logistics perspective, as is the nearby Nordhausen site. All in all, it is an excellent arrangement for reaching customers not just in Bavaria and east Germany, but also in the two neighbouring markets a little further to the east. Added to that, both Poland and the Czech Republic are important centres for automobile production, and thus a rich source of potential customers for pressed parts and slitted coils made from high-strength and ultra-high-strength steel and aluminium.

Indeed, international carmakers have to follow the same standards no matter where they operate, so Stahlo can present itself as a strong partner and valuable supplier. After all, it has the necessary experience and technological expertise, as evidenced by its IATF 16949 automotive certification. Its product portfolio, know-how and range of services place Stahlo Stahlservice in a perfect position to serve these markets – a status it has earned step by step by continuously investing in equipment, processes and staff. The latest example of this forward-looking approach is the ultra-modern, networked production site in Gera, which is now in its final stage of construction. The new plant can handle ultra-high-strength steels of up to 1,900 MPa in the outstanding quality required for automotive outer body panels and process aluminium slitted coils and contoured blanks. Not only does the new plant boast state-of-the-art technology, it has also significantly increased production capacity, primarily for the pressed parts required in the automotive industry. Proximity, availability and expertise – it’s an appealing combination for customers.

Start of production in Gera

The new-build at the Gera plant is as good as complete. There have been slight deviations from the ambitious schedule the company set itself but, after all, this is a completely new production site that is breaking a lot of new ground in terms of networking. “We are establishing a cutting-edge steel service centre in Gera, kitted out with state-of-the-art facilities. That presents numerous challenges. We spoke to customers, suppliers and machine manufacturers to discuss requirements and share experience. This all helps to make the site efficient and push up performance,” explains Guido Spenrath, Managing Director of Stahlo Stahlservice.

The production facilities – two slitting lines and two blank cutting lines – were installed in the new plant in March. The new slitting line became fully available at the end of the month. The pre-existing system is currently being upgraded and set up again at the new site. Both are scheduled to reach full capacity by May. The new contour cutting system is also in the process of being assembled and is scheduled to achieve its full performance range at around the same time.  After that – in the same way as the slitting technology – the pre-existing system will be upgraded and reinstalled at the new site.

Staggering the installation of the various machine systems this way avoids compromising production capacities. “In addition to steel, we will also be processing aluminium on our production lines in the future. We have our first orders booked in for the end of the year and are manufacturing aluminium parts for a German sportscar manufacturer,” Spenrath reveals.

Despite all the high-tech solutions, Stahlo still hasn’t forgotten about its ‘bread-and-butter business’. In a move designed to expand its capacities and processing options as a supplier of cut-to-size sheets, the company just recently took over Blechservice Nordhausen, which is also based in Thuringia. This has further increased its availability and delivery capacities for customers.

The best admission: a personal recommendation

Stahlo is not an entirely unknown entity on the markets to the east. The company is already active in the Czech Republic as a supplier for the automobile industry and in Poland as a supplier of slitted coils, albeit on a more modest scale. Through these activities, Stahlo has established an excellent reputation as a reliable and flexible supplier of processed steel products. Plans are being made to significantly expand this line of business, with Stahlo aiming to generate 10 to 15 per cent of its sales there in the medium to long term. “Our biggest challenge is to establish and grow the Stahlo brand in Poland and the Czech Republic,” Spenrath explains.

The steel service centre certainly faces some tough competition. However, the name that Stahlo has already made for itself in the international automotive sector as a supplier to German sites is an advantage that should not be underestimated. After all, a personal recommendation from a decision-maker in the right place is worth more than any marketing campaign. “So far, we’ve always done a good job and consistently developed our status as a reliable partner in the automotive industry,” says Spenrath. That approach could now pay off in Poland and the Czech Republic, too.

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