50 years of HOLZMA – an interview with Wolfgang Augsten

Michael Hobohm (HOB) on current developments at HOLZMA

Mr Augsten, Holzma is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year. A welcome opportunity to take stock of what has been achieved and to look ahead to the future. What are the topics that Holzma is focusing on at the present? Wolfgang Augsten: First and foremost, we are aiming to consolidate and expand the position that Holzma has established for itself as world market leader. At the technical level, we are working in a number of directions. These include a broad range of machine concepts but also an increasing number of concepts in the context of Industry 4.0. This is because, alongside classical mechanical engineering, which above all influences the engineering mechanics of manufacturing solutions, developments are increasingly moving towards networking, intelligent software solutions and enhanced ease of use. These are the topics that we are focusing on at present and that will, we believe, enable us to further expand our leading market position.

You have emphasized Holzma's world market leadership in the sector of horizontal panel dividing saws. How do you substantiate this claim? In the Homag Group, we are able to monitor and analyze our international inquiries and orders very closely. We know which orders we receive around the globe, and which we don't. If we take these analyses as our basis, we are world market leader in terms of both sales revenues and the number of units sold. We also offer a range of panel dividing saws that covers all sizes from S to XXL and that includes solutions for small cabinet-making businesses or interior fitters right through to large industrial enterprises. We are thus in a position to offer concepts for both high-volume and batch size 1 production as well as entry-level machines or complex systems for integration in production lines. We cover the complete spectrum – with not just one, but a variety of solutions. If all these facts are taken together, I find it difficult to name another market player with a similarly extensive range of products.

What new developments are contributing to this market leadership? module45, launched at our 2016 in-house exhibition Holzma Treff, is a new development in the area of bevel cuts. With this module, which can be fitted to all models of the 2, 3 and 4 series, and to the HPP 130, it is now possible to complete bevel cuts with angles ranging from 1 to 45° on a Holzma saw. Depending on the year of manufacture and the model, module45 can also be retrofitted to machines that have already been delivered. Straightforward one-man operation is not all the module has to offer; as less damage is caused by transport, the rejects rate can also be reduced and quality is improved.

There was also a new operator assistance system on show at Holzma Treff. Yes, that's right. An important element of this new system is an LED strip along the cutting line, in the pressure beam area. This produces light signals that guide the machine operator through the processing steps. One factor driving this development is that technologies are becoming more complex and, as a result, so is the control system. Another factor is that we are facing a growing shortage of skilled workers or, from a global perspec­tive, the fact that saw operators are frequently unskilled. We want to assist our customers with our new operator assistance system "LED". We facilitate work at a pres­sure beam saw by guiding the operator through the panel feeding and cutting processes. Like this, every worker intuitively knows whether the next step is to feed the part again, turn it or temporarily store it. The operator assistance system is now available for nearly all models of the 3, 4 and 5 series.

In addition to solutions for wood materials, Holzma sees opportunities for growth in the area of cutting panel-shaped materials particularly in the non-wood and industrial sectors. How are you going about realizing these opportunities? First of all, I would like to emphasize that, when talking about the non-wood sector, the focus for Holzma lies on plastics processing. However, this does not mean that we do not check on a case-by-case basis whether there are solutions for other areas of application. We will continue to concentrate on plastics processing and already offer a specialist range of products for this sector. These P or Plastics solutions are developed on the basis of well-established series. As a member of the Homag Group, Holzma has a globally operating sales and distribution system at its side, which allows it to reach other target groups that do not come directly from the woodworking sector.

Besides plastics processing, Holzma has identified the industrial sector as another growth area. A key element of this development is our HPS 320 flextec, which we launched at last year's Ligna. In the combination of robotics and cutting technology we have come out with a unique concept for batch size 1 manufacturing. All the inquiries and orders we have received up to now confirm that there is, in industrial manufacturing, a discernible trend away from mass production to batch size 1 production. We provide solutions for this. Only recently, in China, where the large manufacturers usually mass produce, were we able to convince a large company of the benefits of this solution. This manufacturer decided straightaway to purchase several HPS cells with which he is implementing the batch size 1 concept in his plants.

If, in the first instance, we consider the hardware involved in the HPS 320 flextec, it is the handling system, or in other words the robotics, that is the special feature. Will this focus be intensified for industrial solutions? Depending on the degree to which the integration in an industrial plant is to be implemented, the HPS 320 flextec can be operated as a stand-alone machine with destacking concepts, or integrated in a production line. It is highly customizable. In the meantime, we have customers working with stand-alone machines, but also customers with two machines set up in a mirror-image arrangement. However, there are also solutions that have been integrated in production lines. So we have a machine that is very attractive in terms of investment and that offers customers the option of gradually increasing automation in their company up to the point of a production line concept.

Holzma says it is going to expand its product portfolio in the next few years by means of systematic innovations and investments in new technologies. What can you currently tell us about these intentions? A very important development in this context are the robot solutions I mentioned earlier which, as highly integrated systems, are synonymous with automation. The fact that they can operate flexibly in stand-alone or complete systems makes these solutions attractive to many of our customers. Integrating robotics also allows us to achieve the technical require­ments for data networking within a company. Generally speaking, it can be said that, for the future, we will need systems that can supply information about machine states to an overall concept that is capable of responding in a preventative manner. We are working on such systems.

The means of improving manufacturing quality and increasing flexibility and efficiency in the production process are automation, networking and freely flowing processes. What concepts is Holzma currently working on? Firstly, I would like to stress that the hardware plays a crucial role in networking. For many years now, we have been benefiting here from the expertise of the Homag Group, which we joined in 1987. As far as Holzma's software systems are concerned, we are continually refining and optimizing our tried and tested programs. One result of this is the latest version of our optimizing software Cut Rite, which we launched at Holzma Treff. At present, we are working on new developments for the higher-level machine control system Cadmatic too. In addition to this, the Homag Group is focusing on higher-level software control systems, including the integration of ERP data from customers' systems. The aim is to gather extensive data about machine states, processes or disruptions and utilize it to improve the process.

What new features does the latest version of Cut Rite actually have to offer? The latest developments focused on improving communication between Cut Rite, the saw and the storage system. The new version allows automatic allocation of panels during the optimization process and offers improved parameterization for robot-controlled concepts. And last but not least, Version 10.02, officially available from November, will allow even small parts to be nested more effectively.

Handling systems and network integration are also areas which are becoming increasingly important in the modern production landscape. What does this mean for Holzma? Within the Homag Group, the subject of automation technology is dealt with by our sister company Homag Automation. As a manufacturer of beam saws, we avail ourselves of this expertise for saw-storage combinations. We work closely together with Homag Automation in the design of standardized storage systems. This includes, for example, jointly analyzing new market requirements in order to identify individual applications and evaluate their potential for series applications. As Holzma, we provide standardized interfaces that Homag Automation can access with the handling and automation systems. For cell business, we then act as project manager responsible for coordination with the customer.

Alongside Holzbronn, Holzma produces in Barcelona, Shanghai, Sao Paulo and Bangalore. How do you see the future development of these locations? While we at our Holzbronn headquarters are responsible for all developments relating to the 3, 4, 5 and 6 series, the plant in Barcelona is engaged in developments for the 1 and 2 series. In Shanghai, we produce two versions of the HPP 180 for the Asian and especially the Chinese market. Here, we also pursue the development of local adaptations, because requirements in China sometimes differ from those in Europe or America. In Sao Paulo, we have been producing certain models of the 1 series in two versions for a while now. Due to the economic situation in Brazil, unit sales have dropped somewhat at the moment. This year, we commenced production in Bangalore. All the HPP 130 saws for the Indian as well as the entire Asian market are produced here. The market-driven positioning of our products in the light of local requirements is a question that poses itself at these locations and that we will have to consider much more intensively in the future.

While Asian customers are still looking to Europe to satisfy their needs in terms of high-end machines, is the trend for local machine production increasingly shifting to mid-range products? Yes, this trend is quite clear if you take a look at, for example, our Chinese competitors. In the high-end sector, we believe that we have the greater experience in project planning, and we also trust in our expertise with regard to mechanical engineering. However, we are of course keeping a close eye on our local competitors and take them very seriously. 

The question about the other locations was also about their future development ... As at our Holzbronn site, where we have been witnessing continuous growth since 2009, we are also seeing a growing demand in Barcelona. And with regard to our Chinese sites, which have always performed well, we have in the meantime achieved good market coverage in China. As a result of the greater regionalization of our products, I anticipate further growth here in the areas of smaller customers and industry. Growth rates in the Indian market, where we have just recently started production of the HPP 130, are very promising. The absolute figures are, however, still modest and remain significantly behind China. As we produce the HPP 130 for other regions of the Asian market too, the sales volume will increase significantly over the next two to three years. In conclusion, we can say that the focus of our activities at present is clearly on China. 

Mr Augsten, a question arising from your personal history: When you took over as Managing Director of Holzma about a year ago, you prioritized steady organic growth. What is your assessment of the results to date? As Business Unit Panel Dividing, we are responsible for the whole of the Homag Group's saw business worldwide. Steady growth is essential for us to be able to drive product development. We are confident that with our products we have the right answers for the future and will be able to continue to generate annual growth. This obviously means that we intend to wrest market shares from our rivals. We have done this successfully in recent years and will continue to do so. As far as the financial year 2016 is concerned, we can already say that it looks like being very successful.

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