How does a company go from building mills and silo systems to becoming a specialist in raw materials handling? With creativity and inventive spirit, that is how. As a result, today the name Azo stands for wide-ranging know-how and expertise in all areas relating to raw materials, plant construction and process engineering, as well as control technology and automation. And all this with the goal of automating bulk materials and fluids handling processes.
Ingenuity, imagination, a knack for tinkering, combined with high levels of commitment and the ability to never lose sight of the human side of the business — these have always been the trademarks of the Azo Group right from the outset. And they remain so to this day. Numerous developments initially served to replace or at least reduce physical labor. Others in turn were designed to keep production rooms free of dust. Almost hand-in-hand with this came improvements in terms of quality, increased transparency, and seamless documentation of processes. This paved the way for the company’s success — despite its early days falling in a particularly difficult period. In 1949 Adolf Zimmermann founded the company Azo together with his wife Marianne. The company name is made up of the initials of Adolf Zimmermann and the first letter of the German town Osterburken. At the time, nobody could have guessed that this name would eventually establish itself as a famous global brand for raw materials handling. After all, the primary objective was to repair mills and the corresponding wooden silos in the area around Osterburken that had been damaged during the Second World War. In 1990 their sons Robert and Rainer Zimmermann took the helm of the company, and Rainer Zimmermann has been the sole CEO of the Azo Group since 2018.
Screening Machine Becomes the Key to Success
A master baker from Osterburken opened up the door for Azo to the world of bulk materials handling. He needed a solution for aerating flour and automatically screening out impurities. For the passionate inventor Adolf Zimmermann, the challenge at the time was not merely to develop the technology required, but also in particular to finance the development time. In spite of all the difficulties on the outside, the centrifugal flour-sifting machine “Triumpf” (Triumph) was launched in 1952. It is considered the prototype for today's cyclone screener. Already at the time, all versions featured an inspection flap for inspection of the screening process, and the interior was fully equipped with deflectors and protective coatings to ensure that no flour got stuck in the machine. Any unwelcome impurities like mealworms automatically ended up in a textile bag, which could be emptied quickly and easily. “At the start the response to our cyclone screener was modest. But it became the key to our success,” believes Rainer Zimmermann.
More than anything else, this screener ensured that Azo started working with a wide range of different raw materials. “From this basis, we then evolved from a machine builder to a plant manufacturer. Today we are a specialist in the conversion of raw materials — from raw materials supply and input to the finished product,” explains Zimmermann.
This was quickly followed by further developments, and by the mid-1950s the company was already supplying the bakery trade with complete flour, screening, aerating and temperature control plants — primarily with mechanical conveying systems such as screw conveyors and vertical conveyors. But pneumatic conveying systems were already waiting in the wings. The inventive and ever-resourceful design engineers at Azo were already carrying out trials with pneumatic fan-assisted conveyor systems. In the process, the company concentrated for a long time on food products, securing orders e.g. to set up an industrial bakery in the Middle East.
An Instinct for Surface Treatment
During this period the company also made the switch from wooden designs to metal ones. “Then — just like today — we were appreciated because Azo had a particular flair for surface treatment. The containers were no longer made of wood, but were instead powder-coated. Thanks to the switch to stainless steel with its perfect surfaces, other food manufacturers suddenly started to show interest in what we were doing as well,” Zimmermann remembers back to the transformation. Systems for handling powdered milk met with special interest in particular, above all at large milk-processing companies from France. “In these projects we gained a lot of experience of dealing with products with special hygiene demands. For many years we have had the know-how required to supply plants for the pharmaceutical industry,” explains Zimmermann.
Just ten years on from this, the company already managed to sell a first larger entire plant to a bakery in the Ruhr area. It was an exciting time: Some of the technology required for operation of the plant had not been developed yet. “Everyone in the company really had to do their bit,” remembers the CEO.
Despite the demanding development work for the dairy industry, the tinkerers and inventors from Osterburken never lost sight of the bigger picture and pursued technologies that opened up access to new industries for Azo. The pneumatic vacuum conveying systems for feeding processing machines threw open the doors to the plastics industry at the start of the 1970s. After all, these machines ensured that there was always enough raw material available for the processing machines in the form of granulate or powder. At the same time, a new era for conveying, weighing, mixing and coloring of plastics began with the development of the Mixomat. “During this time we also worked very closely on the development of control systems, because these processes needed to be controlled with great accuracy,” explains Zimmermann.
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