Würth simulates earthquakes: extreme tests for building materials

Künzelsau The future of Würth is still a construction site. The world’s largest company for fastening technology is worth 70 million euros for its new development center at its headquarters in Gaisbach near Künzelsau. Safety shoes and a hard hat are part of the work clothing. A small gap in the concrete floor surrounds a 100 square meter recessed area.

Hidden underneath: high technology. “We can simulate earthquakes here,” explains Würth’s head of development, Heiko Roßkamp, ​​during a tour of the construction site. “With endurance tests, we can imitate how thousands of cars and trucks drive over a bridge every day and put a strain on it.”

The hall is still empty, but the family business wants to offer 250 materials researchers and developers optimal working conditions. The innovation center is to be completed in autumn and will then be one of the world’s most efficient test centers for fastening technology.
“We are focusing even more on innovative products with which we can differentiate ourselves from the competition,” said Würth boss Robert Friedmann to the Handelsblatt.

“We want to offer systematic solutions that save our customers time and thus costs.” This refers to innovations such as the special anchors for repairing bridges. Or wood screws that can be screwed in faster and for which customers are willing to pay higher prices. Such announcements should make the competition nervous.

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The 55-year-old Friedmann has been running the company since 2004. However, the company patriarch Reinhold Würth, who is now 86 years old, still has the last word. This also applies to future orientation. The company started as a classic dealer in direct sales with field staff. Products have been sold under their own brand since the 1970s.

Much need for renovation in bridge construction

Since then, the group has been constantly improving its products, largely through feedback from sales with its more than half a million customer contacts. Direct feedback repeatedly leads to practical new developments: the bits on Würth screwdrivers are color-coded, as are the matching screws.

Heiko Roßkamp shows what kind of innovation the medium-sized company expects from its research center using a metal rod with a length of about half a meter and different threads. One of these anchor bolts costs around 100 euros. And they can extend the lifespan of bridge structures.

Bridges built in the post-war period are being extensively renovated throughout Germany because they can no longer withstand modern stress. Roßkamp estimates this market at several billion euros worldwide. The anchor bolts must therefore pass the earthquake test in the future.

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“We will replicate the world of our customers in the innovation center,” promises Head of Purchasing and Product Thomas Klenk. In the 1,500 square meter test hall, Würth will set up complete roof trusses to improve wood screws, test and develop attachments for insulating material or special adhesives.

The main goal is to shorten development cycles and get to the market faster, emphasizes Klenk. From autumn, behind the finished aluminum and glass facade, there will be laboratories for dowel technology, 3D printing and networking as well as workshops, test fields and climate chambers. The building should actually be ready for occupancy by the end of 2021. But at the beginning of the corona pandemic, construction was slowed down as a precaution. “After our business recovered quickly, we quickly continued to expand,” says CEO Friedmann.

The competition can’t keep up with the dynamics

Intensive cooperation with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the University of Stuttgart should provide additional impetus. “The direct transferability from research to industrial implementation is an important core element,” explains Thomas Klenk. Würth is also planning to hire 40 highly qualified engineers, particularly in the areas of mechatronics, chemistry, software development and fastening technology. Jobs with a view of the countryside, tolerable real estate prices and lots of nature are intended to attract specialists to the Hohenlohe.

Würth’s innovation center is a challenge to the competition, both international and local. Reinhold Würth once attended school in Künzelsau with Albert Berner. Later they became direct competitors. With a turnover of more than one billion euros, the Berner Group is successful in the same segment.

But the Künzelsau local rival cannot keep up with Würth’s dynamics, despite recent ten percent growth. A Berner spokesman said: “We are concentrating on the further development of our chemical innovation laboratory at the Duisburg site, which was successfully put into operation in May 2021.”

Würth seems overpowering: According to preliminary figures, Würth grew in 2021 by 18.5 percent to 17.1 billion euros in sales. The company, which was founded in 1945 immediately after the war, has grown by almost a fifth during the pandemic.

Sold more dowels than the inventors of the dowel

A third German industry giant also benefited from the need for renovation and the boom in DIY during the pandemic: the Fischer Group. Artur Fischer once invented the dowel, which for a long time was synonymous with the company name. In the past 42 years, the founder’s son Klaus Fischer, 71, has steadily developed the company. In 2021, sales were close to the billion mark, as the company reported a few days ago. Fischer also grew strongly last year.

But: “Würth now manufactures more dowels than Fischer,” says an industry insider. For the Künzelsauern, an increase of 18 percent corresponds to a total of 2.6 billion euros. This includes a lot of trade turnover, but Würth achieves half of it with products that it produces itself or that is commissioned. The innovation hub could make growth even more aggressive and put additional pressure on rivals.

Fischer is lucky that Würth mainly serves commercial customers. The company also did not want to say how badly the innovation offensive from Künzelsau would affect the competitor. “We have always held it so that we do not comment on competitors,” said a spokesman. However, Berner and Fischer will be watching Würth’s advance closely.

More: Würth achieves record sales – family business grows by a fifth.

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