Despite enjoying continuous growth in 2016, custom-built machine manufacturer groninger stays grounded.

People are living longer than ever before, and are doing everything in their power to maintain their quality of life and stay in good health. They are also benefiting from knowledge on diseases, as well as diagnostic and treatment methods, which is now much more widely accessible to the public. Being pharmacists or cosmetics manufacturers, groninger's customers are experts on health development and wellbeing. 

As a machine manufacturer, groninger brings 37 years of experience in filling and closing liquid products for the pharmaceutical, cosmetics and consumer healthcare industry to the table. And the experts in custom-built machine manufacturing have one thing in common with their customers: Their shared focus on life. As the greatest gift on earth, this should be nurtured, preserved, healed and improved on. groninger's slogan – "We fill Visions with Life" – embodies this and shows that there is only one goal. To fill visions with life in order to save and preserve life. Sounds challenging? Jens Groninger, CEO, confirms: "Yes, it is. No doubt about it. Every day, the 1100 employees at our three company sites in Crailsheim, Schnelldorf and Charlotte (North Carolina, USA) give it their all to pave the way for new machine technologies, faster time-to-market cycles, flexibility in the filling process and the digitalization of future systems. We help our customers to save lives. In doing so, we feel the joint responsibility resting on our shoulders and therefore want to offer the best machine solutions around."

Satisfaction as a guarantor of success

For years, the second generation family-owned company has experienced steady and continuous growth. While employee numbers have increased by 8%, revenue has increased by 11%. This means that in 2016, the 1100 employees generated 156 million euros in revenue. Customer satisfaction remains one of the company's top goals alongside employee safety and job satisfaction. This is how groninger's focused team managed to deliver an incredible 100% of orders on time last year. The relationship between machine manufacturers and customers, which is based on trust, should, however, not end with the purchase of a machine. Zoran Novakovic, Director of After-Sales Service, Operations and Manufacturing explains: "groninger supports its international customers, which make up 90% of the customer base, throughout each machine's entire service life and beyond. After-sales service is the heart of the groninger philosophy. We give full consideration and attention to our customers' concerns and issues. Our global after-sales service network of 150 excellent and experienced employees enables us to provide you with both remote support by phone and on-site support."

In 2016, groninger continuously expanded its after-sales service team. Not surprisingly, this group constituted a disproportional amount in the company's revenue total at the end of the year. As well as distributing 1.8 million euros of profit among its entire workforce, last year, the company invested in employee training and advanced training in particular. Various special payments round this off. All in all, we are talking about a six figure sum. Horst Groninger, Managing Director, explains: "We trust our employees, and in return they put their trust in us. That is why we will always try to ensure the company's future and its growth as well as employee job satisfaction. Our team comes first, as without it, we would not have a single order." 

What's new in the range of machines?

At Interpack, the largest leading international trade fair in Düsseldorf, the company will soon reveal which machining treasures they have been working on in their product range. The new "Business Line" machine series marks a further milestone in the company's history. Technical highlights have been taken from existing custom-built and individual concepts for success and then reconfigured. This way, groninger – in its still relatively new Consumer Healthcare business sector – combines current safety and sterility requirements from the pharmaceuticals sector with compact machine functions used in the cosmetics sector. The new FlexCare 100 machine concept – based on the groninger Business Line Ready Engineered philosophy – achieves production outputs of 60 to 120 objects per minute, depending on the diameter of the container, and is a good solution for a number of established OTC (over-the-counter) products on the market. 

Like many other sectors, the pharmaceutical industry is also in the midst of a trend towards greater specialization in medicines, smaller batch sizes and application systems that can be used safely and easily by patients. Not to mention the challenge of combining these medicines with faster times-to-market. groninger is now able to halve the time from placing an order with groninger to going live – an increasingly important criterion given the months normally required for the construction and approval of special machinery. As Dieter Derr, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer at Crailsheim, confirms: "This time lead was what tipped the balance in some customers' decisions to order a FlexPro 50.” Like the US company Alexion for instance, which set up production facilities in Ireland in 2016. Medicine for very rare diseases (20 or less in a million) are produced there. The batch sizes and quantities processed are correspondingly small. Brian Cullinan, Associate Director, Alexion Ireland, explained in his talk at the groninger Technology Symposium in October why his company opted for a FlexPro 50 and praised the great teamwork during the entire project. groninger welcomed over 220 international participants at their in-house trade fair in Crailsheim. 

Ready for IoT  

The meaning of the Internet of Things (IoT) is growing stronger day by day and it is already present in many of groningers customer projects. The machine manufacturer´s team is keen on gaining knowledge in all fields of these new technologies using them to improve and to digitalize the processes in their machines. Breaking this down to its core, they can say that they are ready for IoT in every means – no matter what customers decide to use. The possibilities today include a real-time capture of production data, virtual mock-up, virtual commissioning through the digital twin of the machine, air flow visualization, SCADA/BDE process visualization, an online Remote Service, different maintenance plans, digital spare parts catalog, documentation that is included in the HMI as well as digital operating instructions. 

Apprenticeships become an international concept for success

Bringing visions to life is often not straightforward or quick. But you should not shy away from striving to achieve just that. This is also the motto of groninger's US branch in Charlotte, North Carolina. As Lothar Burger, Managing Director US Operations, explains: "Our now 45 employees never stand still. The new and successful apprenticeship program has now become more of a permanent fixture. We have succeeded in recruiting students for a third time." And he literally means "recruiting" because apprenticeships, as such, are not yet as common in the States and are not offered everywhere as they are in Germany. Therefore, Lothar Burger's team needs to find and use extraordinary ways of approaching students, their schools and teachers directly and introduce them to the apprenticeship program. They do this through a joint network of German companies based in Charlotte, and quite successfully so. This year, the company recruited five new apprentices, who were then introduced to various topics and departments relevant to machine manufacturing by their mentor. groninger USA currently has nine apprentices in total.

In 2016, a total of 38 talented youngsters were taken on as apprentices in Crailsheim and Schnelldorf. The reason for this significant increase was to secure enough future junior employees for future years. Every year, groninger explicitly promotes apprenticeships and dual courses of study at the "groninger Apprenticeship Day" in Crailsheim. The next event will take place on Saturday, July 1st, on the company's premises in Crailsheim. 

Schnelldorf site expansion 

Not only is groninger taking the necessary steps to further expand its workforce, it also needs to expand its sites to create more space. The new Consumer Healthcare site in Schnelldorf, which is currently under construction, is situated right next to existing site buildings, where machines destined for use in the cosmetics sector are being built. At the company's Christmas party at the end of 2016, the 2000 m2 assembly hall was the first to be unveiled by groninger. The other construction phases, comprising the 1500 m2 warehouse facility and offices covering 1000 m2, are nearly complete. groninger is investing approximately six million euros in this project. According to Volker Groninger, Schnelldorf Managing Director: "Particular mention should be made of the state-of-the-art ice storage and heating system. This is only one of the many ways in which we have implemented energy management successfully. We as a company wish to reinforce awareness of environmental protection among our employees and customers. We do not just want to save energy. We want to promote energy efficiency and sustainability and, by doing so, protect our planet for future generations." Since April 2016, groninger's energy management system has been DIN EN ISO 50001 certified, showing the company's long-term commitment to securing a sustainable future. 

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