CEO Stefan Scheiber, in an interview with Head of Communications, Burkhard Böndel, explains how Bühler combines customer success and sustainability, the role of digitalization – and why a strong corporate culture fuels growth.
“WE'VE MADE AN IMPRESSIVE LEAP”
Mr. Scheiber, a lot is happening at Bühler: You acquired the Austrian wafer, waffle, and biscuit specialist Haas, you are building an innovation center in Uzwil, and you have successfully entered the electric vehicle battery market.
That isn't everything by a long shot. The list goes on. The first orders for insect processing have come in; we've launched the first digital service for the quality assessment of rice; we've opened a new factory in Changzhou, China; we are equipping our production with Industry 4.0 methods; and we have aligned our Grains & Food operations more closely with market needs.
Transformations like you've described don't happen overnight.
The foundations for it were laid years ago, and in many cases we are now reaping the benefits. Take batteries, for example. Five years ago, we began developing a completely unique continuous mixing process to produce battery slurry with our customers. The pilot line was launched in 2016, and in 2017 Lishen opened its new gigafactory in Suzhou using our new process.
How did you bring this change about?
It's due to our innovation culture, which is bearing fruit. Bühler reached a leading position in many areas over the past few decades. But that can quickly lead to a situation where people suppose that no further progress is possible. People then automatically adopt a defensive attitude, and they fight defensive battles. We've definitely broken through this way of thinking. Of course, you can't just change your market share as and when you like. But even where we're already number one, there is so much untapped potential in the markets. We've now so deeply ingrained a motto into our consciousness that we're making huge progress. We call that motto "play-to-win" – for our customers, the world, and also for ourselves.
In what direction is Bühler moving with this impressive dynamism?
We have transformed ourselves into a solution provider for the sustainable production of food and feed as well as for applications for mobility and optics. We integrate value chains and processes with one point of contact between us and the customers. This way, we stand out from all the other providers in the market.
“In 2017, we also established our first team of data analytics experts. Our goal is to help advance digital transformation in our industries.”
What are some examples of full solutions?
Take the processing of grain, for example. We come in afterthe combine harvester with silos, conveying systems, loading and unloading systems. Then the raw materials go through the cleaning process, optical sorting to ensure foodsafety, processing with grinding and milling – through to packaging. We can supply our milling customers with plants for producing dough or pasta, and also waffles and cookies.
In the Advanced Materials business, solutions consist of highly integrated die-casting cells, including all the peripheries, such as robotics. On top of that are our services, training courses, and the opportunity to work together on solutions, such as new recipes, in our application centers. This comprehensiveness is one of Bühler's unique selling points. We are extending it in a calculated way with new technologies, application centers, and the innovation campus – the CUBIC – which is currently under construction. We no longer think in terms of organizational business areas, but from the customer's perspective. We think in terms of process solutions, for example: from grains to pasta, or from aluminum to the finished structural element.
What do customers gain from this comprehensive approach?
With our solutions, we can help our customers assure food safety, increase the quality and nutritional value of their products, reduce their energy consumption and waste, and increase their efficiency. Our sustainability objective is to enable our customers to use 30% less energy and produce 30% less waste. Such value is not created purely at the machine level, but rather by integrating value chains across entire systems. This becomes visible with major projects, such as the ones we are completing in Bangladesh. Here we are helping to fundamentally improve food supply throughout the region. For us, sustainability isn't just an afterthought; it's the starting point for our actions, especially when developing new technologies.
What are other benefits of this setup?
They are very practical: our customers don't have to deal with 20 different people, just with one contact. That makes it easier to develop and implement complex projects. As we develop products further, we can synchronize and standardize individual elements strategically, with automation, for example. Of course, it's only possible to offer these kinds of integrated solutions with qualified employees. This is why we run excellent training programs for our employees, and our customers also benefit from our offering. After all, top-range equipment needs to be operated properly to reap the most benefits. This training takes place in our global application centers, or the milling schools that we run on every continent.
Which new opportunities does digitalization open up for the industry?
We urgently need new technologies and solutions to make our world more sustainable. Approximately 30% of all food still goes to waste, too many antibiotics are being used in animal feed, and our transport systems are coming close to their limits. How can we better understand, manage, and control such complex systems and value chains? This is where data-based applications will help us in the future.
Can you give us an example?
We have now launched a quality check for rice made up of a light box, an app, and a cloud solution. The rice processor prepares a rice sample, slides it into the light box, opens the app, and scans the grains with a mobile phone. The app sends the image to our cloud, where it is analyzed and a precise result is produced in minutes. The processor can then use this information to optimize their plant and negotiate prices with retailers with the documented quality data. This is a significant leap relative to existing practice. Currently, rice producers manually take samples once a day by placing them on a grooved board and sorting the grains of rice by hand according to their quality. This is not only inconvenient, time consuming, and inaccurate; it doesn't produce structured, traceable data.
How is Bühler adapting to these changes?
We are doing this by setting up our new Digital Technologies business area, accelerating the development of suchservices from our site in London, and investing extensivelyin technical platforms and specialists. In 2017, we also established our first team of data analytics experts. Our goal is to help advance digital transformation in our industries.
How is this changing the relationship with ourcustomers and other partners?
We are moving even closer together. The enormous potential of connectivity lies not only in technology, but also in people with their specific knowledge, experience, and skills. A few years ago, we completely opened up the innovation process at Bühler. Meanwhile, collaborative innovation with customers, our employees, scientific institutions, start-ups, nongovernmental organizations, and technology partners has become an established practice for us.
No individual can answer the question of how to sustainably nourish 9 billion people in 2050. This requires networks where various experts come together to develop and implement new solutions. The fact that we at Bühler have contributed to establishing such networks, not least through our Networking Days, makes us proud, and we regard it as a duty.
As a relevant market player in the areas of nutrition and mobility, we have a responsibility to our customers and society. We strive to live up to that calling.
“As a relevant market player in the areas of nutrition and mobility, we have a responsibility to our customers and society.”