The Buhler Grinding
& Dispersion business unit has undergone sweeping changes over the past
few years in an ever-new environment. Novel fields of application such as
ultrafine coating materials, paints, or cosmetics have been added to the
traditional areas of printing inks and chemicals.
The manufacture of printing inks by grinding
and dispersion of pigments is closely related to the production of chocolate.
The quality of both products increases with the quality and intensity with which
the raw materials are mixed and ground. It is therefore not surprising that the
origins of the current Buhler Grinding & Dispersion business unit are found in
chocolate production equipment.
Independence Gained In
Until the early nineties, chocolate and
printing ink & paint customers were looked after by the same business unit.
When offset printing took off, the printing inks business of Buhler also
started to boom. Business was no longer limited to the sale of single machines,
but was extended to include complete plants for the production of printing inks.
The logical step in 1992 was to create a separate business unit for the inks,
paints, and chemicals plant business as part of the corporate reorganization at
that time. With a global payroll of roughly 120 and sales (turnover) of about 78
million Swiss francs (2006), the Grinding & Dispersion business unit (GD)
has now established itself in the middle of the Buhler group
in terms of size.
Over the past 15 years, the market of the GD
business unit has undergone pronounced changes. On the one hand, the number of
printing ink manufacturers has diminished to just a few market players. On the
other hand, the emergence of new printing processes has greatly broadened the
product range of printing applications. To meet the increasing demand for
installations for making liquid printing inks, Buhler acquired the wet grinding
and dispersion technology activities of the German Drais-Werke company in
Mannheim in June 2003.
In addition, the development of new processes was intensified in order to enter
new market segments.
Today, the Buhler GD
business unit stands on a broad basis. ¡§We specialize in developing complete
solutions, systems, and production plants allowing high-grade reaction products
such as pigments and expensive component substances to be dispersed very finely
and very uniformly throughout various carrier substances,¡¨ says Markus Hofer.
Hofer has headed the Grinding & Dispersion business unit since April
With this broad range of products, Buhler has
ceased to supply machinery and processing installations merely to the printing
inks and paints industry. In its capacity as the market leader, the GD business
unit is now also setting new standards in the electronics industry and in
cosmetics applications. Today, Buhler plant
and equipment produces more than just printing inks and paints for the world¡¦s
markets. It is also used for making electronic inks, active substances for
foods, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and functional coatings for ¡V say ¡V the
shipbuilding, aerospace, and automotive industries.
With the expansion of business activities to
additional fields, the traditional organization of the business unit became
obsolete. Markus Hofer: ¡§Step by step, we have built a new, market-oriented
organization.¡¨ The new structure is based on two basic ideas. On the one hand,
the global sales and service organizations are to receive the best possible
support from the bases in Uzwil in Switzerland and
Viernheim in Germany.
On the other hand, permanent teams are being
replaced by project teams. These functional units are created on a case-by-case
basis, made up of specialists who are members of one of the three basic
functions ¡V sales, project handling, or customer service. These project teams
are headed by area managers who are in charge of the activities in a given
The age of universal production plants
appears to have gone forever. Markus Hofer observes a trend toward customized
processing systems. ¡§The applications are becoming increasingly sophisticated
and the differences between products ever-wider. As a result, the specialization
of the related plants is also continuously increasing.¡¨ Together with the
expansion of the business fields, this increases the flexibility and delivery
time requirements for the GD business unit. Thus, Markus Hofer¡¦s team supplied over 400
mostly tailor-made systems to customers last year.
What has also changed is the share of sales
by market segments: Today, paints and printing inks account for a mere 40
percent of total sales. The share of coating materials is already at 40 percent,
and that of active substances and specialties 20 percent.
Not only the internal organization of the Buhler GD
business unit is being adjusted to the changed market conditions. ¡§We are also
busy adjusting our local organizations,¡¨ says Markus Hofer. As a result of the
changes that have taken place over the past years, Hofer¡¦s business unit now
generates over 50 percent of total sales revenues in Asia, one third in Europe,
and the balance in America.
¡§We do our main business in the highly
industrialized countries,¡¨ says Markus Hofer. As a logical result, he is
strengthening the local bases in Japan,
North America beside the centers in Uzwil and Viernheim. But Markus Hofer has
identified China and
India as the
markets promising the greatest potential for growth for his business unit.
¡§These two countries are becoming increasingly significant in the manufacture of
chemical reaction products and active substances, including especially pigments.
It is foreseeable that these products will also be upgraded there.¡¨ And
experience teaches that Buhler equipment and processes are excellently suited for the
high-quality upgrading of such materials.
Buhler is a
global leader in the supply of process engineering solutions, especially
production technologies for making foods and engineering materials. Buhler is
present in over 140 countries and employs some 6,600 people. In fiscal 2006, the
Group generated sales of CHF 1,613 million