Steinbeis experts provide help with the re-engineering of a stainless steel drum
“We wanted our drums to be even more perfect.” This was how the managing director of BOLZ INTEC, Cornelius Mauch, describes his successful innovation project. The business leader from Argenbühl-Eisenharz in West Allgäu has never been one to say he is satisfied with the current state of technology. He is driven by a conviction that drums are crucial for storing and refining liquids and other materials, and as a consequence, he devotes lots of time to making potential improvements to his drums. Mauch finally got to put his ideas into action as part of a collaborative project with a number of other companies from West Allgäu and the Lake Constance Region, as well as Infothek, a Steinbeis Transfer Center in Black Forest-Baar. The result of their development work: an innovative stainless steel drum.
Cornelius Mauch’s innovative company employs around 30 people from nine countries and produces thin-walled, round containers made from stainless steel. Aside from designing and manufacturing drums, the firm also makes symmetrical and asymmetrical funnels and pressurized containers. Its products are all produced in house and are usually oneoffs, designed specifically to match individual clients. The customer base of BOLZ INTEC includes a number of chemical and cosmetics companies, as well as biotechnology specialists and a variety of leading international pharmaceutical firms.
In addition to the company’s innate urge to innovate, ideas and suggestions from its clients have been instrumental in the development of its Best-Cost stainless steel drum, which has already been selling successfully in the market for six months. Tight regulation and the fact that each industry lays down specific requirements with respect to hygiene mean that storage containers are governed by strict specifications. Despite this, the competitive situation in the markets BOLZ INTEC operates in and the fact that its client base mainly comprises medium-sized companies and multinational corporations mean that there is still strong demand for its products, which have to be as inexpensive as possible. “There’s also the aspect that the price of stainless steel on the raw material market is relatively high,” explains Mauch, “so striking the right balance between these factors was a challenge. We quickly realized that such a complex project would be best managed by working together with others.”
Without hesitation, Mauch grabbed the project by the horns. He sat down with a number of managers and carried out a stock-taking exercise. Even at this point, long-term considerations regarding protection and transportation were extremely important, as Wolfgang Müller, the patent expert and director of the Steinbeis Transfer Center Infothek, recalls: “BOLZ INTEC’s innovation project was already well thought through and structured from the get-go, and this made it possible for us at Steinbeis to really get into the fine detail during the WIPANO session – which doesn’t always happen to me.” Müller also describes the decision to apply for a patent, which was granted two months ago, as “far-sighted and productive.”
For Mauch and his team, it was immediately clear that they had a fundamental need to enter into partnership with someone, but the much more complex issue would be to identify the specific areas or processes that would need tackling, which it would probably make sense to outsource. This is where Steinbeis played an important role. As a thirdparty stakeholder, Müller could draw on his extensive experience and adopt a more objective approach by analyzing which parts of the project should be outsourced and to whom.
It didn’t take long to find a suitable partner, and the team set about planning and coordinating next steps. The decision was made to involve SCHERZBERG-INTEC from Überlingen on Lake Constance, mainly due to its familiarity with the needs of the target market. The firm is managed by Bernhard Traube, and as a provider of technical services it has a good understanding of industry in a variety of fields of engineering. Traube assumed responsibility for managing and monitoring the technological aspects of the new drum and product testing. “The partnership was an extremely positive experience for us, not just in terms of the subject matter but also on a personal level – there was a sense of trust between us right from the beginning. The exchange of ideas was continuous, and being able to look at things from the other point of view was as good for BOLZ INTEC as it was for us,” says Traube, looking back. After intense discussion between what were now three stakeholders working together, it was decided to involve a further company to optimize the timing of drum production. The aim was to produce at BOLZ INTEC but because the task of coordinating the project would involve a certain level of complexity, if anyone new was brought on board they would have to be based in the local area. The three partners were unanimous in agreeing that MZW should be involved. The toolmaker from Argenbühl is managed by Meinrad Zeh. “MZW has made an important contribution to the success of our joint innovation by developing and producing the tools we need and the production equipment,” says Mauch, explaining how certain tasks were shared but also underscoring the important advantages of the two companies being based so close to one another. “Both we and MZW visited each other’s premises a number of times to clarify issues and work out ways to make things better. It’s just easier if you do it in person next to the machine than if you do stuff on the phone or Skype, or write an email – and it avoids misunderstandings.” The processes needed to produce the planned drum were optimized by all four stakeholders in such a way that production times could be significantly reduced, also saving one third of costs but still meeting the quality requirements of each company.
The results of the partnership and the customer benefits speak for themselves. The new product has been designed as a high-standard and inexpensive solution made from stainless steel, available as a lidded or bung container offering remarkable stability and quality, with exquisite finishing. This makes it possible to fill the container several times with materials of a similar quality, without causing any contamination to the contents due to a reaction with the materials used to make the drum. Mulch is confident that “the product will also be a winner with customers who use plastic drums.” Compared to standard bung drums, the Best-Cost Drum (as it has been named) offers a significantly lower entry price so it is also ideal for single-usage scenarios. This makes sense when it is not worth returning drums to the sender for economic reasons due to long transportation routes, in which case the drums can simply be recycled. The innovation can also be used in warehousing, for example in the chemical industry for storing ethanol. Demand is so good that the team is planning to introduce further variants to go with the 100-liter and 200-liter drums already available.
Three companies plus one Steinbeis partner – making four stakeholders with a single goal: innovation. Again, the innovation process was extremely complex and multifaceted for this project. Although success depended on a variety of key factors, collaboration between the different partners proved extremely productive. Without bringing in knowhow from outside, none of the stakeholders would have been in a position to make the product a success. As such, one essential ingredient of collaboration is trust. Trust is not something that “lights up” between machines, materials, or mathematical formulae, it only lights up between people. The potential offered by the collaborative project extends far beyond the product the stakeholders developed together. This is because the know-how they acquired by continuously exchanging ideas has a lasting influence on the mindset of everyone involved, which has a knock-on effect on later projects, whether they are unilateral or involve partnerships with other stakeholders. Such collaborative projects are about much more than the material aspects of innovation. They actually result in cognitive innovation, which spans many more areas. Without doubt, a win-win situation and good way to drum up business.