Industrial cleaning technology made in Germany is in demand internationally. How can the mostly medium-sized companies in the component cleaning industry survive in international competition? Surface Technology Online Editor-in-Chief Oliver Missbach talks to Gerhard Koblenzer, CEO of LPW Reinigungssysteme.
Gerhard Koblenzer: "Seen over the years, the share fluctuates between 30 and 60 percent. This is quite common in the project and special equipment business. Industrial cleaning technology made in Germany has always been in demand internationally. Nevertheless, it is a niche industry, supported by medium-sized companies with limited resources. In order to serve these markets accordingly, the Surface Alliance was founded back in the late 1990s. An alliance of owner-managed medium-sized companies, it now consists of the German companies HEMO, LPW, the French partner Mecanolav, the Indian partner NGCT, Washtech in Mexico and the Surface Alliance Cleaning Cooperation in the USA. In addition, there is a worldwide network of alliance sales and service partners. This was an important step at the time, but it is of even greater significance today. This is because the technology-driven change processes in all industries, as well as new production processes and products, have significantly increased the level of activity in Europe. This can be seen, among other things, in the high-purity sector, especially in high-vacuum technology. The Netherlands, for example, is now one of the major direct demand countries. LPW is therefore also present at trade fairs there. In North America, comparable activities can be seen, as they also started in Europe since 2019. From there, the opportunities are reshaping here as well."
Question: "Speaking of association and federation work: In your function as a member of the board of the Fachverband industrielle Teilereinigung e. V. (FiT), you co-initiated and coordinated the FiT's international cooperation with the American Manufacturing Cleaning Association (MCA). What are the advantages of this cooperation for both sides?"
Gerhard Koblenzer: "In my view, association work is generally an indispensable prerequisite for a medium-sized plant manufacturer to be successful in a complex environment. Institutions such as the FiT enable important topics to be tackled jointly and solutions to be developed that serve all players. Furthermore, the association's activities open the doors to national and international networks, trade events or even to new markets via partner associations. The cooperation with the MCA is a very good example in this respect. The FiT supports with technical content and its special know-how in industry topics, the MCA creates access to contacts, networks and events in North America. This supports local companies, as we have the special expertise in industrial parts cleaning, especially in German-speaking countries, which is also interesting for other regions in the world."
Gerhard Koblenzer: "The next step will now be taken at the PMTS in Cleveland during the accompanying Parts Cleaning Conference. Both associations will present their objectives and areas of cooperation to the public. The goal from the FiT's point of view is, of course, to arouse American interest in the topics and the members. Furthermore, we will show in which areas the European association is currently active. Be it in the development of guidelines and FiT white papers on specific technical topics as well as tasks, the university presence in the form of technical lectures, or the various event formats. In short, we want to make the European market and its ideas attractive for our US partners. In other words, cooperation ..."
Gerhard Koblenzer: "This project is actually taking shape. Last year, there was already a coordination meeting between representatives of Hannover Messe, our partners at MCA and representatives of FiT at IMTS in Chicago. The aim was to check whether a parts cleaning trade show could be established in North America from 2024/2025. In addition, discussions are already underway with potential exhibitors from North America and Europe. Ultimately, there must be serious interest among customers/visitors and suppliers in such an event. For the potential European players around industrial cleaning technology, a central US trade show would offer the opportunity to be truly visible in the North American market. Discussions are at an advanced stage and various scenarios are being played out. We will certainly know more in the coming weeks."
Gerhard Koblenzer: "North America and Europe are facing comparable challenges in their respective industrial fields. The demands placed on production processes in terms of technical cleanliness are increasing and are challenging both customers and suppliers. However, the main difference between Europe and the USA lies in the range of capabilities and experience of the suppliers. In the German-speaking countries in particular, experienced and recognized specialists have developed over the past 30 years. These include equipment manufacturers, professionals in media preparation, chemical suppliers with special application knowledge, manufacturers of sensors and analytical equipment, and the many service providers in this field. There is currently no such density and expertise on the North American market. This is a clear opportunity for us. On the other hand, companies in the U.S. have a greater willingness to take risks and the ability to implement certain topics of interest more quickly. At least in those areas that are economically promising."
Gerhard Koblenzer: "Standardization is not the actual goal of the FiT. It is about providing practical assistance with everyday challenges for users and players within the industry. However, this does not exclude participation in standardization work, for example in DIN committees, or technical support. This is an important demand that members, including LPW, make of the association. After all, this involves a lot of work for all participants and their interests. Standards and regulations from the European area naturally also attract attention in other regions of the world. The FiT's task is therefore rather to inform and to provide implementation support. In the USA, for example, the use of various solvents in open processes is being discussed. We as European representatives can explain our experiences in the transformation process in personal discussions. But this is more in the form of classic networking."
Gerhard Koblenzer: "Such associations are created where there is a need. At present, there is no institution comparable to the FiT in Europe. There are therefore efforts to open the association to members from other EU countries in the medium term. Just as the business activities of the association's members have been very international for years, a trade association should naturally reflect this in its work. As a first step, the FiT has made its website and its main publications available in English. With a view to Europe and, of course, to the cooperation with the MCA."
About LPW Reinigungssysteme GmbH
LPW Reinigungssysteme GmbH is one of the leading suppliers of high-quality systems and process technologies in industrial component cleaning with aqueous media. The systems are used in the mechanical engineering, automotive, aerospace and general industry sectors, among others. With its High Purity division, LPW is also a sought-after partner in sectors with fine and ultra-fine cleaning tasks, such as the medical technology, optical and semiconductor industries.