Despite the numerous challenges such as Corona and chip shortages, the 2021 fiscal year was very successful for the Schunk Group. For 2022, the technology company expects a significant increase in sales.
"Supply bottlenecks such as the chip shortage and also the Corona pandemic kept the Schunk Group very busy last year and made the fiscal year 2021 challenging," says Dr. Arno Roth, CEO of the Schunk Group, looking back. "Nevertheless, 2021 was a very successful year for Schunk overall."
Sales increased by 9.5 percent to 1.3 billion euros compared to the previous year - which was marked by a corona dip. "Schunk continues to be profitable and financially very stable thanks to a high equity ratio," Dr. Roth added. He added that the company's high level of technological diversification, whose ten Business Units offer products and services in materials technology and mechanical engineering, played a major role in its good performance during the crisis. Thanks to this deliberately broad positioning, Schunk is particularly crisis-proof.
The good fiscal year also makes it possible to make a Corona special payment to the approximately 9,000 employees worldwide, who will also receive a profit share for 2021 this year, for which the company is spending a total of 25 million euros. "Our employees have done a great job in the past two years," emphasizes Dr. Roth. He adds that there is no question of a major wave of layoffs, such as those that are said to be occurring in the USA and elsewhere. "At Schunk, the already low fluctuation rate has fallen further and we have even slightly expanded the number of employees again."
Good prospects for 2022
The Schunk Group has not yet left the aftermath of the Corona pandemic behind either, with 2021 sales still slightly below 2019 sales before the pandemic. The Corona crisis, Ukraine war and supply bottlenecks will also have a strong impact on 2022. "However, the current year has been very good so far and Schunk has the highest order backlog in its history to date," explained Dr. Roth. He therefore expects Schunk to significantly exceed its 2019 sales this year and thus overcome the Corona crisis in balance sheet terms. He also expects further growth in the coming years. In the coming year, he said, the Schunk Group aims to exceed the symbolic threshold of €1.5 billion in sales.
The technology company’s innovations are the main reason for the positive assessment. "We have new and very future-proof products in all Business Units, and we are seeing strong sales growth in innovations here," said Dr. Roth. The two new innovation centers at the Heuchelheim and Reiskirchen sites, where new materials and new machines are being developed, are also contributing to this.
Bipolar plates for fuel cells
Among other things, bipolar plates made of graphite are very promising. These are the heart of fuel cells and make it possible to generate electricity directly from hydrogen as an energy carrier. Through intensive research work, Schunk has succeeded in combining cost-efficient production with outstanding material properties. Both are appreciated by leading fuel cell manufacturers worldwide, because only this makes the use of fuel cells on a larger scale economically feasible at all. Thanks to innovative processes, Schunk has succeeded in reducing the production cycle time by more than 90 percent and the weight of the bipolar plates by 70 percent, while at the same time doubling their efficiency. As a result, the graphite bipolar plates now have excellent chances on the market. Top companies from the fuel cell industry worldwide are already among Schunk's customers.
Strong growth in the battery sector
In mechanical engineering, the Schunk Group is currently benefiting from the megatrend of electromobility and the strong growth in the battery market. Weiss Technik, which is part of the Schunk Group and specializes in air-conditioning technology and environmental simulation, among other things, manufactures drying rooms for battery production as well as climatic chambers and climatic chambers for battery tests.
Weiss Technik, for example, has taken on the construction of the drying rooms for the battery cell research production facility near Münster. In this large-scale research facility, for which the federal government and the state of North Rhine-Westphalia are providing around 700 million euros in funding, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft is researching and developing ways to optimize the production of lithium-ion batteries. For Weiss Technik, the order, worth tens of millions of euros, is one of the largest to date.
Battery testing is just as important to Weiss Technik as battery production: Here, the company offers climatic chambers with special safety technology for testing lithium-ion batteries and is recording high order growth.
To further promote innovations, Schunk has also increased its innovation fund and is now providing an additional 20 million euros to support so-called Horizon 3 innovations, which are designed for the long term and offer special opportunities.
In parallel, the technology company has ramped up its investments: In 2022, Schunk will invest a record sum of 174 million euros, including in new logistics centers at the Weiss Technik sites in Reiskirchen and Balingen. In addition, production capacities will be expanded in Georgetown (USA) and in Willich: Both locations supply production equipment for the currently booming chip industry.
The Schunk Group's growth course also includes corporate acquisitions, which will further improve the company's strategic positioning. Schunk recently acquired Ascott Analytical Equipment in England, which will enable Weiss Technik to significantly expand its market position in corrosion testing and become one of the global market leaders in this field.
Back in February, Schunk acquired a majority stake in the Marburg-based software start-up iDA. "This has enabled us to expand our own software competencies. This will enable us to develop digital solutions even more strongly than before in the future. Above all, to meet the increasing requirements of our customers," explains Dr. Roth. The acquisition flanks Schunk's efforts to digitize the company more strongly. "We are currently designing digitalization strategies for each individual Business Unit in order to improve our business processes and our products, as well as to develop entirely new, digital business models," says Dr. Roth. "In doing so, we are laying the foundation for Schunk's digital future this year."