After a plant tour of igus North America’s gleaming manufacturing facility in East Providence, R.I., Design World had the opportunity for an exclusive interview with Artur Peplinski, the company’s President & CEO. Peplinski spoke about the company’s grand vision for the North American market — which will add more manufacturing prowess here in the States, complementing the parent company’s massive global headquarters in Cologne, Germany.
DW: What would you say are the highest growth areas over the next year for igus? What about the next five years?
AP: I think in the short-term, project business is definitely something that we are focusing on from our perspective. What we call project business, all the port business, crane operations, that is an area where we see things picking up, including the igus Mobile Shore Power Outlet system. Everything regarding shore power business — like powering vessels in ports, avoiding burning oil or crude oil — that is short-term business that we see increasing.
At the same time, we know that general automation is a huge business opportunity for igus. Automation always means movement. That covers basically all the product ranges that igus has — linear slides, bushings, and the e-chain systems, including the cables. At the same time, the low-cost automation and robotics that we are doing are driving automation forward and touching areas that are simpler. Very simple movements and pick-and-place applications will be automated more and more. I think that is something that will also drive business forward for us in the next five, 10, or even 15 years.
DW: How large is the robotics automation business for you? Can that become a significant part of the business, or will it always be a niche product for igus?
AP: To answer your first question, it is a very tiny business right now. It is not even 1% of our business. I would say with low-cost automation and the robotics (the way as we define it), is a very small business. The opportunity definitely is vast. That’s what we see a need for: very simple robotics that can do a very simple job, but where the cost is way below $10,000. That is where we see a huge opportunity.
I think if every customer knew that we had these options, they could try to automate a lot of their applications, and we would see a much bigger business. We are still telling people about it and seeing how things develop. That is where we are right now, but it can be a major contribution to growth and also be a really big part of our business in the future.
DW: What’s the investment for the various phases of the planned expansions here in Rhode Island?
AP: Well, the first phase, as per current calculations, for this two-story factory building would be in the area of $40 to 45 million. Not taking into consideration any inflation, that same number would apply for the other buildings because they’re pretty similar in setup and size. With the whole buildout of the four phases, we are easily talking $200 to 250 million.
DW: Looking out to 2035 or so, when you’ve completely built out the four phases, could you envision this entire manufacturing facility producing products for markets beyond the U.S., Canada, and Mexico? Could it further complement the Cologne manufacturing facilities for supplying to other markets?
AP: That depends on what happens in the world and what geopolitical things occur. I would not exclude that igus North America or igus Inc. is a headquarters and is also shipping to other countries than North America. That’s something that we would be able to do. That is the plan and why we set everything up that way — so we are able to supply to other countries — doing injection molding and all of the other related manufacturing procedures. That is definitely something that we will be able to do.
DW: Inflation is certainly hitting everything from raw materials to labor, to shipping. How has it affected igus’ prices for your customers?
AP: Correct. That was a very unique situation for us, because igus is not known for being a company that increases prices regularly. Over many years, we have had a very high price stability. In the U.S., we sometimes have had to adapt prices a bit based on the Euro-U.S. dollar conversion because a lot of material comes from headquarters in Germany — but that is a very unique situation.
For the first time, I would say, in the history of igus, we had two price increases this year to customers. That is something we don’t like to do, but we had to, because of the general cost developments. All of the materials that we are using to manufacture our materials directly — or purchase for our products — have massively increased in price.
DW: Where does your supply chain stand today? Are there any things that are still stresses on it?
AP: That is a learning curve that we had during COVID; definitely, we still have a lot of supply chain coming from Europe and parts of Asia that we have to localize more and more. That is our ambition. We want to be more or less independent from supply chains from other countries, as far as possible. We know that this is something that is very tough to achieve, but our aim is really to localize; maybe 85% or 90% of everything should be made in America. To be able to stay in our supply chains and not be hit by any problems in the future, if something similar to what we saw will happen again — that is our plan.
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