Conquering niche markets with precision

awab Umformtechnik und Präzisionsmechanik (awab forming technology and precision mechanics) gains an innovative edge by cooperating with universities

Tinkering and using scientific know-how to be able to offer highly efficient solutions for complex components – it is with this approach that awab Umformtechnik und Präzisionsmechanik GmbH from Oschersleben established its presence on the market. The company has been using the joint stand for the federal state of Saxony-Anhalt at the HANNOVER Messe to meet with customers for 25 years.

When shapes and materials create difficulties is when Rolf Hoffmann, his daughter Kathrin Wilke and the employees of awab Umformtechnik und Präzisionsmechanik GmbH, of whom there are just under 40, are happy. And they are growing in confidence. After all, in the early years following 1990, company founder and senior manager Rolf Hoffmann always seemed to have the right instincts and was consistently able to break new ground in good time. And he is also aware of having salvaged the best from the erstwhile stamping and forming workshop of the traditional pump-manufacturing firm in Oschersleben: "The people here have lots to offer. That’s something that most of those who laughed at us as we tried to get things up and running in the old factory buildings failed to realise."

Rolf Hoffmann and his team tried to gain a foothold in the market with several different industrial products before they finally found their niche: providing forming solutions for small and middle-scale batches. "We targeted our customers and approached them directly at trade fairs and told them that instead of a heavy casting for example, we could offer them a lighter, lower cost solution with the use of reshaping," recalls the Director. Along with conventional forming operations such as embossing, crimping and deep drawing, awab also specialises in flow forming. The process itself is not new but has traditionally been used in the area of mass production – and mass production is something that others can do better. Manufacturing the precise component that a customer needs, however, is a specialist service that the family business offers, which is also thanks to its further development of flow-forming.

A new process that opens up new possibilities

The Managing Director is enthusiastic about the possibilities of being able to make extremely thin wall strengths with the process, including exceptionally slim components and complex shapes. "During this process, the material is cold-hardened so that the reshaped thinner wall thickness is higher-strength than the starting material before the start of the process and is therefore able to withstand a higher degree of pressure," explains the engineer, sharing his knowledge of materials science.

In addition to its own design engineers who create customized tools for each product for the machine park, the company owners swear by their cooperation with Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg and Magdeburg Stendal University of Applied Sciences. The initiative for research projects has come from both sides, reports Junior Director Kathrin Wilke. awab has recently intensified the cooperation, since the materials, for example, are becoming more and more sophisticated. And with CNC-controlled vertical pressing, new application possibilities are always arising so that components with a wide variety of shapes and the highest levels of accuracy can be manufactured. This not only requires the right tools, which awab itself manufactures, but also the clever programming of the cutting-edge machines. "With very small quantities and simpler shapes, we also use older machines – which is faster than the time you spend programming the modern machines," says Rolf Hoffmann with a smile on a tour of the factory.

Cooperation with universities secures innovative advantage

It’s actually quite a long time since awab moved into its new home. The new building was built in the industrial park in 1998, with the addition of an extension for the in-house production and development centre for flow forming five years ago. The tools are stored in a warehouse, so that subsequent deliveries to existing customers can be made without any problem and in the usual quality.

"With the new process, our research and development and our cooperation with the universities, we will continue to have a leading edge over the years to come," says Rolf Hoffmann with a sense of conviction. Over the next few months, awab, Magdeburg Stendal University of Applied Sciences and other partners will be working on a new technology for the production of specialist test bench motors. "It's very exciting, but I’m not able to reveal any more details about it right now," explains Rolf Hoffmann, who is up for the challenge.

He will hand over a healthy business to his daughter. His employees are from the surrounding region, and they value the variety of tasks that awab gives them, even when things get really busy. "A customer wants to see a sample within ten to twelve weeks," explains Rolf Hoffmann. In this area, the simulations which he is able to provide due to his cooperation with the universities are helpful. And if he or Kathrin Wilke should get into conversation with any customers at the HANNOVER Messe, the talk will turn to possible solutions straight away. "Professor Vladimir Vovk from the Otto von Guericke University is also taking part in the fair, which means we’ll be able to exchange ideas as quickly and easily as possible," explains Rolf Hoffmann.

Author: Renate Wähnelt