Increasing demand for automation has led to strong growth across industries, including among ingredient technology suppliers. igus GmbH today reported that its business results from 2021 demonstrated record growth in revenue and customer adoption. The Cologne, Germany-based company said it develops and makes motion plastics, which are self-lubricating, high-performance polymers intended to reduce costs wherever things move.
“€234 million [$257 million U.S.] more sales in one year, with almost the same selling prices until the end of the year, and everything produced as well as sourced in-house—we've never had that before,” said Frank Blase, CEO of igus. “Our colleagues achieved miracles. And we were lucky to realize our investment plans even in the weak year 2020.”
igus claimed that it is the global market leader in energy supplies, highly flexible cables, plain and linear bearings, as well as lead screw technology made of tribo-polymers. The family-run company is represented in 35 countries, including an office in Rumford, R.I., and it employs 4,150 people worldwide.
In addition to developing its own innovations, igus said 234,000 articles are available from stock, and users can calculate their service life online. The company has recently expanded by creating internal startups for technologies including robot drives, 3D printing, ball bearings, the RBTX platform for Lean Robotics, and intelligent “smart plastics” for Industry 4.0.
Company revenue, inventory grow
igus predicted that growth will continue until 2023. The 32% increase in turnover from 2020 is a 26% increase from the previous record in 2019.
In pursuit of its goal of being “the easiest company to deal with,” igus implemented its “No. 1 Catalog” plan. It said it has kept more than 80,000 additional items in stock or in higher quantities. The rate of catalog products shipped from igus' 15 distribution centers the same day or within 24 hours has increased by at least 25%, noted igus.
“That's probably why the sales growth is almost the same across all product lines”, Blase said. igus' online store also experienced improvements, as online sales increased by 55% in 2021.
“Customers need to be able to decide immediately on the Web whether the plastic solution is usable, and then have it delivered quickly,” according to Blase.
igus adds 500 injection-molding machines
Shortages in many markets and the war in Ukraine have caused igus to invest even more in material availability in the short term. At the same time, the company said it continues to invest in higher production capacities.
Since 2020, production in Cologne has been increased or modernized by 300 injection-molding machines. The company has ordered 200 more.
igus said it expects to complete construction of a new production facility in Cologne with an additional 20,000m² (215,278 sq. ft.) by May 1, 2023. It already built new storage locations for 12,000 pallet positions in 2021.
The company also plans to further expand its “igus Campus Cologne,” for which it acquired adjacent areas of 20,000m². At its 35 foreign subsidiaries, igus'b expansions amounted to a total area of 60,000m² (645,835 sq. ft.).
Innovations lead to higher chip output
igus said customers from more than 50 industries constantly approach it with new challenges. One example are cleanroom cables for chip production.
“Novel flexible cable solutions such as the e-skin flat are in high demand, especially in the booming semiconductor industry,” said Peter Mattonet, industry manager for cleanroom at igus. “Being able to replace a cable in a matter of minutes is a revolution for manufacturing and increases much-needed output.”
A second year of home-office and remote work because of the COVID-19 pandemic did not slow down innovation, said igus. The company cited 168 product developments, such as motion-plastics gears manufactured via injection molding, with 740 different items available in its online shop.
igus' 4-year-old smart plastics business unit launched 12 new products for condition monitoring, preventive maintenance, and the Internet of Things (IoT) in 2021 alone. In combination with real-time cable monitoring for Ethernet cables and the integrated, solar-powered “EC.I” condition sensor, customers can now avoid unexpected machine shutdowns, igus said.
RBTXpert enables robot integration
As part of digitization support, igus said the RBTXpert “digital + human service,” which it launched last year, provides low-cost robot integration via online consultation and at a fixed price. In a 400 m² (4,305.5 sq. ft.) customer testing area, experts can check customer requirements before making offerings.
“Our customers' do-it-yourself engineering in the Web doubled last year to 5,000 value-added uses per day,” Blase said.
Costs for typical solutions amount to €8,500 ($9,355) for hardware and 20 hours of integration work, which igus said translates into payback within a few months. The service is available in seven countries, with another 14 planned. Three new online tools brought the total of these online services to 58, said igus.
igus invests in sustainability
As part of environmental sustainability efforts, igus has also invested in the “Chainge” international used e-chain recycling program and participated in Plastic2Oil, an enterprise that produces oil from plastic waste. It said it wants to “improve what moves in a CO2-neutral manner, with zero plastic waste.”
igus said it has made progress toward “climate-neutral” production by 2025. It said it is now at 95% in Scope 1 and 2 of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. Last year, it replaced 100 older injection-molding machines with 40% more energy-efficient models. The company said it further optimized energy management and expects to receive an ISO certificate later this month.
In addition, igus planted 15,687 trees in 23 countries. It said it reduced plastic waste in production that cannot be directly recycled by 21%. This spring, igus plans to present its first energy chain product made from 100% recycled materials from the Chainge program.
Looking to a lubrication-free world
Amid stresses on manufacturers and supply chains, igus said it will present over 100 other motion plastics innovations starting next month, when its Motion Plastics Show begins its third year.
“At the moment, of course, we are all moved by the plight of people at war and the immense political struggle in the world,” said Blase. “But in addition to many relief efforts, we're trying to continue focusing on technical progress.”
igus said it continues to improve motion with industrial plastics, such as offering freedom from lubrication. According to company figures, 1 liter (0.26 gal.) of oil in the environment contaminates 1 million liters (264,000 gal.) of drinking water. More than 22.7 million tons of lubricants pollute soils and waters worldwide each year, found a 2006 report. igus said more and more of its customers are seeking lubrication-free solutions.
“We hope to see each other at trade shows, and we look forward to finding many igus innovations there [at the Motion Plastics Show]—including very different ones in mobility,” Blase said.