When people think about the strengths of the German economy what first comes to mind is often the big multinational organisations like Bayer and BASF, Volkswagen or service providers like Allianz. Although that is not wrong it gives a rather distorted picture, for the German economy is in fact mainly shaped by small and medium sized businesses, or SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises). Many of them are located in rural areas and develop their products without paying much attention to short-term trends that might seem profitable; they work steadily in their various niches and have thus managed to assert themselves over decades. Quite a number of them are even global market leaders in their own particular field. Market analyses confirm that Germany is home to more companies that dominate the global market with their products than any other comparable industrial state. In spite of this, hardly anyone knows them. And that is another German phenomenon – they are “hidden champions”. Hermann Simon, a professor of economics, first introduced this term in 1990 for companies with more than 500 employees, at least 50 million euros turnover per year, that are among the market leaders in their own field and yet are still relatively unknown.
Of the good 2,700 hidden champions that Simon identified worldwide in his studies 1,300 are based in Germany. Their significance to German industry cannot be regarded highly enough. The 1,000 biggest hidden champions which employ seven million people throughout the world together generated sales of over 1,700 billion euros. A good 90 per cent of these world market leaders are to be found in the production industry, their profit margin is on average 2 to 5 percent points higher than that of other companies in the same sectors. Simon sees one reason for their business success in the ownership conditions, for nearly 70 per cent of the hidden champions are family-owned. Family enterprises with strong leaders often work more continuously, following longer-term goals than big stock exchange listed industrial groups that are mainly committed to their shareholders, investors and fund managers who expect quarterly dividends and often see the companies and their staff as little more than pawns. Family companies don’t have to distribute their profits immediately. They can make specific investments and will often manage to survive a lean period without first having to question their whole corporate strategy.
Their strengths lie in specialisation and continuity, concentration on chosen products, and in closeness to their customers and markets, whose needs they often pick up in advance and accordingly develop suitable solutions with their know-how. On average, the small hidden champions invest about 10 per cent of their profit in research and development – much more than most big companies. The success of the German export industry also doesn’t suffer from the fact that a lot of export goods contain an increasing amount of preliminary work stages from low wage countries. Globalisation has in the meantime reached SMEs as well, as a lot of virtual company structures confirm that are sometimes spread over the whole globe. Product development and design in Germany, marketing in Spain or the USA, international buying department in Singapore, and production outsourced to various Asian countries. In spite of all the criticism of such business models it should not be forgotten that it is often this global division of labour that makes it possible to offer German machines and equipment at competitive prices. For where labour costs are concerned German companies cannot compete with other countries of the world. They are literally damned to the further development of their know-how, maintenance of their position at the forefront of knowledge, while simultaneously looking for ways to reduce unit labour costs. Up to now they have been remarkably successful: nearly 70 per cent of all German exports come from SMEs.
Baader machine fillets 24,000 herring per hour
A perfect example of export oriented SMEs in the seafood sector is Nordische Maschinenbau Rud. Baader which is perhaps the flagship among the manufacturers of high-performance fish processing machinery. Founded in 1919 in Lübeck Schlutup by Rudolf Baader, an ingenious mechanical engineer, the company is now in its third generation of family ownership and stands for everything that makes Germany’s SMEs so strong. With the development of the world’s first functioning heading and boning machine for herring that was presented at the Lübeck fisheries exhibition in 1922 Rudolph M. J. Baader revolutionised fish processing. The machine replaced the work of eight women and marked the beginning of mechanization in the fish processing sector which is today in many areas largely marked by automatic processing lines. Modern high-performance machines from Baader make it possible to cut up to 24,000 herring fillets per hour. Over the course of decades many more state-of-the-art machines were developed by Baader for gutting, heading, filleting, skinning or trimming fishes. The company launched its first fish skinning machine in 1928. In 1930 followed the first stockfish (dried cod) machine and three years later the company presented the first model of a filleting machine that was finally perfected in 1951 under the name Baader 99, a whitefish filleting system. Since 1955 Baader’s fish processing machines have also been in operation on board factory vessels.
For processing salmon Baader offers a suitable machine for every single work stage and together they can be combined to complete processing lines. The Baader 434 removes the fish’s head with a perfect U-cut before the Baader 581 filleting machine fillets the salmon with a high yield. The pinbone remover, Baader 867, pulls out the pinbones, the skinning machine 54 removes the skin and if required also the grey layer of fat. The subsequent trimming machine, the Baader 988, is fitted with an optical control system that assesses every fillet separately according to individual specifications prior to the cut. And soft separators separate soft leftover meat from solid structures – a process which in the German-speaking world has even been named “baadern”, in English “baadering”.
The medium sized enterprise Baader was included in the Encyclopaedia of German Global Market Leaders because it has for nearly a hundred years stood for consistency, reliability and innovation, because it successfully asserts its market position, and continuously further develops and expands technology.
Computer controlled smoking technology and efficient salmon slicing
The range of technically sophisticated smoking and air conditioning technology from German SMEs is particularly broad and these companies, too, are mainly family enterprises. Well-known suppliers such as Reich, Ness, Kerres, Fessmann, Maurer-Atmos, Bastra, Smoki or Beelonia, to name just a few of them, have for decades gathered experience in the field of development and production of high-capacity high tech systems for food processing. In addition to hot and cold smoking facilities some of them also offer systems for various different areas such as cooking, frying, baking or cooling. With computer controlled smoking technology, for example, clever air and smoke distribution makes it possible to not only achieve excellent reproducible results but the systems are also easy to operate and highly efficient in energy consumption. They enable users to realise almost any desired flavour and to meet very different customer product requirements.
A good example of the innovative capacity, market awareness and perseverance of German technology manufacturers is the Hamburg family business Salmco Technik that was founded by Johann Glösmann in1984 and today claims to be the world’s only producer that manufactures both cold and soft slicers for salmon and other fish species. In its more than 30-year company history Salmco has continuously broadened and diversified its product portfolio which today ranges from simple table models and semi-automatic machines to fully automatic slicing lines.
Nearly every machine is available in several types of construction that can be optionally tailored to the particular wishes and requirements of the customers. In this way Salmco can meet the needs both of small and medium sized enterprises and big industrial companies.
Portioning and dosing, moulding and coextrusion
Handtmann Maschinenfabrik can look back on a similarly successful history. The company was founded by Arthur Handtmann in 1954. At that time it had just three employees. Today it is one of the leading technology suppliers to the food industry worldwide. With its precise, economical and reliable vacuum fillers and portioning systems Handtmann is in the meantime represented throughout the world in over 100 locations with their own sales branches and sales partners. The product portfolio includes vacuum fillers for filling, portioning and clipping, continual coextrusion systems, filling mincer technologies, dosing systems and plants for automatic shaping of products. The variety of these systems can also be seen in the fact that they are not only suited to the processing of fish, meat and sausage but also cheese, dough and other pasty consistencies.
VEMAG Maschinenbau supplies systems and services in the same segment. They have developed and produced efficient machinery and equipment for over 70 years. Their product range includes, for example, continuous vacuum filling machines. Originally VEMAG concentrated on traditional craftsmanship but this was soon extended to cover industrial applications in order to take the increasing concentration and growing company dimensions in the food producing industry better into account. Recently VEMAG has emphasized the system character of their solutions that are conceived as modular systems comprising standard fillers and customized attachments which can be flexibly tailored to meet the needs of the individual user. In this way even highly complex processing stages can be integrated into the production process. At the same time the concept has the advantage that it meets the needs both of small trade and large companies. The capacities of the filling and portioning processes, of forming and mincing applications, during separation of dough and mixtures or portion-to-pack solutions can be relatively easily geared to the performance of each company.
Gentle shaping and modern packaging solutions
A leading provider of intelligent sawing and portioning technology for frozen products is the family business Nienstedt that was founded in 1948. Since the 1990s the company’s production programme has also included technologies for material-saving shaping of blanks cut from frozen fish blocks. Since then Nienstedt has constantly optimized the Food Shaper which is reflected in the improved product quality, process efficiency and higher material yield. The shaping of pre-sawn portions of frozen fillet blocks has several advantages. Whether portions in fillet form, fish steaks or burgers, realistic or fantasy shapes such as boats or shells of fillet meat - the possible applications of this technology are extremely wide. In addition Nienstedt developed the technology further. Now weight calibrated trimmings can be shaped leaving out the block freezing stage. The same applies to individually frozen fillets cut to weight. In this area Nienstedt has achieved a technical level that enables users high yields and optimum product quality with high process stability and adherence to the prescribed standards. During shaping the temperature of the input is measured constantly and the machine fine-tuned accordingly. If the frozen fish gets warmer, the applied pressure is reduced. Quality and product homogeneity increase, the reject rate drops, and subsequent manual adjustments are not required. Due to their modular design, the shapers can be combined with sawing systems and packaging machines to make complete processing lines.
Another very impressive success story is that of Multivac, a leading manufacturer of thermoforming packaging solutions. What was once a small "garage company" where the company's founder Sepp Haggenmüller built the first vacuum chamber machine in 1961, is today a multinational company which produces modern thermoform packaging and vacuum chamber machines, tray sealers and labelling systems to customers in over 140 countries. The production programme is very broad. In the meantime Multivac also packages industrial and consumer goods, medical and pharmaceutical products to the highest standards of hygiene, but the food industry remains an important buyer of the company’s packaging machines. The demands placed on packaging in this field are particularly high for the packaging solutions should not only guarantee maximum durability and present the products in an appealing way, but must also be easy to handle and be safe for consumers. Multivac offers a wide range of MAP and vacuum packaging options for catering, retail and wholesale which can be optionally equipped with consumer-friendly opening aids or resealable options. Other helpful features such as Euro standard holes and single- or multi-portion packs can be flexibly integrated into the packaging solutions. This means that there are clean, hygienic self-service packaging solutions for almost all seafood products from fresh and smoked fish products to mussels and shellfish as well as fish ready meals.
Complete systems and turnkey projects from one supplier
German engineering is not limited to the development and production of individual machines and complete processing lines but beyond that also offers customers planning, projecting and constructional realisation of complete plants right up to turnkey processing plants. Founded in 1974 EMF Lebensmittel-Anlagenbau has established itself for example as a producer of complete lines for food technology. Its focus, in addition to fish processing and fish farming including the necessary coldstores and cooling systems, is also on slaughtering for red and white meat and meat processing. Thanks to its own construction department the company can realise international turnkey projects. Through its network of 14 branches EMF is additionally in a position to guarantee comprehensive service and maintenance even after completion of the projects.
A medium sized enterprise that operates as a system supplier for projects in the areas of rationalization and automation is ROSOMA which has its own planning and engineering office as well as its own manufacturing and assembly area. The company specializes in complex rationalization and automation projects in the fields machinery and equipment for the food industry, cooling, freezing and fermentation processes as well as cleaning and environmental technology. From consulting and project planning, development and construction to production, assembly and service ROSOMA provides all services from one source and is thus a good partner even for complex projects.