Networking in the Cluster for Specialist Mechanical and Plant Engineering (SMAB) is helping with its first steps onto world markets
The company PHM Industrieanlagen GmbH from the town of Burg, just outside Magdeburg, the capital of the federal state of Saxony-Anhalt, handles all the requirements of mechanical and plant engineering – from the conceptualisation to the production. It serves customers from a wide range of industries: from the medical sector, to energy technology, to steel and rolling mill technology, through to rail locomotive construction. PHM Industrieanlagen GmbH is currently taking – and learning about – its first steps on the international market.
Small and medium-sized businesses, in particular, face especial difficulties due to their limited resources, and require specific internationalisation strategies that extend beyond straightforward exporting.
The product from one single source
"We see ourselves as being an architect in the field of mechanical engineering. The planning, manufacturing and assembly (in German: Planen, Herstellen, Montieren, or PHM), of components in individual units and small series, devices, prototypes as well as smaller machines and systems summarises our core competences," explains Managing Director Tino Lerche. In this context, PHM GmbH is responsible for the entire technical and technological preparation. "Our special field is components that are high quality and very sophisticated in terms of their requirements, their quality and complexity. Drawing on our many years of experience in this area and with the help of our production network, we are able to manufacture high precision, high quality products." The manufacturing and assembly is completed through a production network that includes some 1,400 companies in Germany, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland. "We attribute considerable importance to the fact that our products are only processed by those partners that are absolute specialists in their field." As a systems supplier, with its extensive production network, the company offers a comprehensive no-worries package, from the planning ,to the production, to delivery – a service which is currently appreciated by customers including Deutsche Bahn AG, Carl Zeiss AG and Siemens AG. “With Deutsche Bahn, we have achieved Q1 certification status. In addition to other products, we manufacture hollow brake shafts for ICE trains as well as other components which are fitted to locomotives, for example.” Customers in need of specialist solutions do not pose an unnecessary challenge to the company either: "We have, for example, designed a 3.7 megawatt planetary gearhead, which we have also manufactured as a prototype. For Carl Zeiss AG, we have manufactured key components for all of their mirror telescopes, including the Galileo Project. The European Satellite Navigation System also contains components made by us. We also manufacture specialist components for Siemens, as well as micro-parts for the fields of medical and laboratory technology," explains Tino Lerche
An internationalisation in small steps
Foreign business activities are increasingly of interest for PHM Industrieanlagen GmbH: "For our company, internationalisation means new markets and increasing our market presence. At a B2B trade fair in Poland, for example, we recently explored the market in further depth, and forged some initial contacts. We were also confronted with our first challenges, however, of which the language barrier is certainly one of the most widespread and difficult," explains Tino Lerche. Then there’s the problem that comes down to the company’s size: “Our very specific offer means that we really need to have a permanent market presence, on location. For a small team like ours, that is a pretty big challenge,” highlights Tino Lerche. For this reason, PHM GmbH has decided to start off by getting to know partners and contacts directly at B2B trade fairs. "Once you’ve built up trust, the cooperation stops being a one-way street," explains Lerche. In addition to the Polish market, the company is also trying to get neighbouring countries such as Austria on board. “We are very interested in Austria, as on the one hand, it is very interesting for us from the technical perspective as it is home to some big plant manufacturers whom we view as potential customers, and on the other hand, it is also a German-speaking market. We also find the österreichische Bahn (Austrian railways) very interesting, as our Q1 supplier status, which we have already secured with Deutsche Bahn, may be able to open a few doors for us," says Lerche.
In addition to the network of businesses on which the PHM GmbH bases its efforts, its membership of the Cluster for Specialist Mechanical and Plant Engineering (Cluster Sondermaschinen- und Anlagenbau / SMAB) is important to the company, as firstly, the cluster supports foreign business activities, and secondly, it also focuses on strengthening the network of Saxony-Anhalt companies in the sector. “Although the network numbers some 1,400 companies, we know only a fraction of the companies on location, in our region. Our membership of the cluster enables us to network with regional, small and medium-sized companies and provides support with both communication and cooperation in the area of production. This opens up a regional pool of expertise that generates effective cooperation, and this enables us to put the strengths that we in Saxony-Anhalt have to far better use," explains Tino Lerche. Along with the small and medium-sized companies from Saxony-Anhalt, the cluster also includes universities and research institutes, which enables support to be achieved in the areas of both production and development. This helps to strengthen the competitiveness and innovative capacity of the SMEs. Thanks to the superior links offered by the cluster, Tino Lerche is hoping to be able to better develop and expand regional partnerships, and to be able serve customers more rapidly and effectively.
A technological edge – thanks to innovation
Last year, PHM GmbH successfully completed its company succession arrangement. Father Joachim Lerche handed over his company, which he founded in 1992, to his children Tino and Kristina Lerche. Tino and Kristina have the goal of conquering new markets and embarking on innovations. "Over the past 50 years, a lot has changed, but the basic principles of engineering have remained the same. We are rising to the challenge of developing new innovations, as certain concepts are easy to adapt on a sector-spanning basis, which enables the creation of new solutions. By changing specific techniques and materials, it is often possible to manufacture products which are more durable on a more cost-effective basis," highlights Tino Lerche. And the successes haven’t been long in coming: for Deutsche Bahn AG and the rolling mill at Salzgitter AG, processes have recently been converted that have enabled chocks to be manufactured as welded assemblies rather than cast components.
Author: Jennifer Koch