“We are very pleased with these business results. Although the growth rate was moderate compared with last year's 22 percent increase, it is very respectable relative to the much slower growth of the automation industry as a whole,” says Managing Director Hans Beckhoff. “If you combine the last two years, we averaged an outstanding 15 percent.”
Europe was the region with the strongest growth for Beckhoff in 2016, particularly in the central European countries of Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy with sales increases well above industry averages. This is a good indicator for renewed European growth, as Asia had been the main growth driver in recent years. “Beckhoff expects business to keep growing on all continents. Despite recent political challenges and conflicts, the outlook is positive for a stable and growing global economy,” said Hans Beckhoff. All in all a continuation of the very positive development in Europe can be expected for 2017, according to Beckhoff.
Beckhoff becomes even more international
Beckhoff also continues to expand its worldwide distribution network. Earlier this year, the company acquired its Dutch distributor, so now customers in the Netherlands can be served directly by Beckhoff. Currently, Beckhoff has 35 subsidiaries, with offices and distributors located in 75 countries. This means Beckhoff provides local service to all major markets. “We are confident that our ever more tightly knit global sales organisation, coupled with development of new technology markets, will enable us to further increase sales,” says Hans Beckhoff. Most of this growth centres on the PC-based automation technology developed by Beckhoff, which is employed in a wide range of industries and applications. “With our technologically diverse portfolio, we are well positioned to serve customers with the most diverse requirements,” explains Hans Beckhoff.
Continuous product and technology development
By systematically advancing all product families, Beckhoff is continuously opening new markets and applications. The company will take another important step at this year's Hannover Messe (the world’s leading industrial trade fair in Hanover, Germany) by introducing new products designed specifically for process technology applications. The new ELX series EtherCAT Terminals and CPX series Control Panels for use in hazardous areas feature a modular design and exceptional robustness, which are ideal for meeting the requirements of the process industries. Hans Beckhoff remains optimistic: “The processing industry market is generally considered to be larger than the discrete machine automation market, which is the traditional domain of Beckhoff. Thus, our new products should provide us with excellent opportunities for additional growth.”
For over 30 years, Beckhoff has been known for exceptionally powerful PC-based control technology and continues to advance this technology. This year, Beckhoff engineers will proudly present what is ostensibly the world's smallest Industrial PC. Measuring only 82 x 82 x 40 millimetres, the new C6015 features a quad-core CPU for extremely compact and powerful control solutions.
Even more advanced in terms of power density is the DIN rail mounted CX2000 series, which pushes the envelope for intelligent applications to entirely new levels with up to 12-core Intel Xeon CPUs. “More intelligence in the machine improves efficiency, conserves energy and minimises raw materials usage. This kind of performance increase makes machines more profitable and also improves their ecological footprint. In this way, our engineers play a small role in making the world a better place,” says Hans Beckhoff.
Moreover, Industrie 4.0 and the Internet of Things play an exciting role in today’s world of automation, because they enable users to realise new functionalities and capabilities. Connecting controllers directly to the cloud makes it possible to outsource functionalities and/or integrate cloud-based services into the machine. “Our customers can now employ highly advanced technologies based on AI such as 'deep learning’, for example. In practical terms, this leads to solutions such as predictive maintenance, which help increase the availability and efficiency of production systems. Virtual control applications in the cloud can be useful for many purposes – simulations and analytics come to mind. Machines can also employ cloud-based image processing or voice recognition,” explains Hans Beckhoff.
Investments in training and academic studies
The company's growth is accompanied by a steadily rising workforce. Beckhoff currently employs roughly 3,350 people worldwide. Almost 2,300 of these work in Germany, with about 2,100 located at the company’s world headquarters in Verl. Around 1,100 of these employees are trained engineers, which means the company is always recruiting highly qualified experts. With a total of seven professional training fields and two practice-oriented degree courses, Beckhoff is strengthening its position as a technology-oriented training organisation. In addition, the company functions as a ‘training engine’ at its Verl location, employing 100 apprentices and 90 university students at present.
According to Managing Director Hans Beckhoff, the company invests about 3.5 million euros annually into these training initiatives for junior staff. The practice-oriented college education concept has proven highly successful and will soon be expanded. Starting in the 2017 winter semester, Beckhoff plans to offer training for master’s degree programmes at the University of Applied Sciences in Gütersloh, in addition to its bachelor programmes in mechatronics/automation. “We want to give technologically-oriented young professionals incentives to stay in the region,” says Hans Beckhoff.
Investments in production expansion
To ensure that production capacities keep up with Beckhoff’s rapidly rising sales, roughly 30,000 square meters of manufacturing and assembly space are being added at the company's Verl headquarters. With Industrial PC production already taking up approximately 10,000 square meters of floor space, I/O production will occupy another 10,000 square meters in a new building scheduled to open in mid-2017. Circuit board and motherboard production will also be expanded with another 10,000 square meter building expansion.
For its drive technology business, Beckhoff is building a new mechanics manufacturing facility to supply the servomotor production at its Marktheidenfeld, Germany location. Ground has already been broken for the new building, which will cover 3,500 square meters.