Packaging Technology Gerald Schubert in a Chat on the Upcoming Interpack 2014

Editor: Anke Geipel-Kern

Before we go on — yes, it does exist, the famous packaging machine without a switch cabinet. Following on from the Transmodule is the next coup in time for Interpack 2014. Managing director Gerald Schubert points out the unique features of the Schubert machines on a tour of the shop floor.

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(Pictures: Gerhard Schubert)

PROCESS: Mr. Schubert, a large construction project on the site and an assembly hall packed wall-to-wall with machines. Business seems to be going well at Gerhard Schubert.

Schubert: We can’t grumble. Growth was in double figures in 2013 as it had also been in the last few years. We are historically very strong in the confectionery and food industry. So it is good for us to see growth coming from new sectors as well.

PROCESS: Which sectors are these?

Schubert: Bottling cosmetic products is a relatively new segment where we are keen to generate additional growth and build on some tidy orders already in hand. The percentage of pharmaceuticals is still at the 15 % mark at the moment but we want to increase this to 20 % by 2020. Another nice source of growth is glass and PET bottle packaging. We also want to see stronger growth in the new markets. Our international customers are not looking so much towards Europe or America for their own growth but are investing in South America, Africa, China and South-East Asia. And these are markets in which we are currently doing precious little business, but we want to supply our customers where they are.

PROCESS: Pharmaceuticals is a word which should make one or two people sit up and take notice. Are you now intending to start bottling medicines?

Schubert: This is not our aim. We enter the process when the pharmaceutical products are packed, but we are convinced that our technology is particularly well suited to the pharmaceuticals industry and also to the cosmetics industry. Our customers love the Transmodule because it opens up new prospects for “track and trace” or serialization jobs. We can track packaging throughout the entire process, make the necessary checks, and meet the demands of the pharmaceutical industry in terms of safety and traceability. Also, in the medium term, this subject will occupy the minds of producers in the food sector.

PROCESS: Looking at the shop floor, it would appear that you are at your limits in terms of the number of orders you can cope with.

Schubert: Yes, indeed we are, although it is a nice problem to have. But we are noticing that we are running the risk of losing orders due to longer delivery times. We do not need longer than five months from placement of order to delivery because of our high level of standardization, provided that we can start work on the order straight away, but if we have capacity issues, as we do right now, a queue can easily develop. Then five months can quickly turn into eight or nine months. And that is prohibitive for some customers.

PROCESS: What are the implications of this?

Schubert: We didn’t actually want to start building the new assembly hall until the fall. Now we are bringing it forward and work has already started. That’s why we are confident we will be able to put the additional assembly facilities into operation as early as this summer.

PROCESS: Wouldn’t it also be possible to buy in components?

Schubert: That’s not an option as far as we are concerned. We are mechanical engineers who do our own developing and building. We develop our own robots and our own control systems and we do our own image analysis. This allows us to be independent of other suppliers and to avoid problems at various interfaces. Our customers also benefit from the depth of in–house production. If a customer has a problem, we send round a mechanic who knows everything about the entire machine and all its modules.

PROCESS: But this must also mean that you spend a great deal of money on development.

Schubert: Yes, our annual development budget is almost ten million euro. A large amount of it goes on the further development and refinement of existing system components. We also spend some money on adding new system components to our product range, such as the gravimetric filling station. Development is one of our strengths — we really enjoy it.

PROCESS: At the end of the day, all of this is reflected in the higher price of a Schubert machine.

Schubert: Indeed. But not just because of the development. We run a goods distribution center and offer after–sales services. Our hotline is staffed by four people just waiting for the telephone to ring and help the customers with their requirements. We have twelve million euro worth of stock in our distribution center. We have never had to disappoint a customer who needed a spare part. And some of them are customers who have been running their machines for over 20 years. These services are all included in the price when you buy a Schubert machine.

PROCESS: Do the customers see it this way? After all, they do have to dig deeper into their pockets.

Schubert: I can tell you a story in answer to that which speaks for itself. Recently we had a customer who was weighing up whether to buy a conventional machine or a Schubert machine He was very taken with the technology but thought that he would probably never need the flexibility it offered. After some discussion he ended up buying from us. A few months later the customer telephoned to say he was over the moon. It turned out that, shortly after taking delivery of our machine, the marketing department had decided to change over to a completely different packaging format. If he had opted for a conventional machine, he would have had to buy a second machine. But with our machine he only needed another format assembly. This is the meaning of value added in my eyes. If you consider the whole service life of a machine when making a decision, Schubert’s machines are more expensive to buy but cheaper in the long run.

PROCESS: The new TLM filling machines may be very flexible thanks to the robotics but they are not as fast as, say, the classic rotary filler.

Schubert: Anyone who is filling 100,000 bottles an hour is definitely not going to choose our machines but is going to opt for a rotary filler. We offer rapid changeover times for producers working in the low to medium output range who have to run many different products. Companies like this cannot afford changeover times of two or three hours otherwise efficiency will go out of the window.

PROCESS: What actually happened to the machine without a control cabinet announced three years ago?

Schubert: We will keep our word and the prototype will be putting in its first public appearance at the Interpack trade fair. The pitch says it all — cars don’t have control cabinets either – and we are hoping that this development will herald a new age in the industry. We are curious as to how the trade will react.

PROCESS: Mr. Schubert, thank you for taking the time to talk with us.