Drive technology is an industry forging ahead in the world of e-commerce and other sectors which increasingly rely on innovative, efficient and cost-effective automated solutions. MSF-Vathauer Antriebstechnik are at the forefront in their native Germany with big plans for expansion.

As a sector the drive technology systems industry is massive. With more online retailers distributing goods via huge warehouses (think Amazon with its 120 warehouses worldwide, not to mention its ‘Kiva’ robots fetching goods, or even supermarket giant Ocado whose UK factory boasts Xbox controllers and 19 miles of conveyor belts) it’s clear that the need for faster, flexible and smarter drive technology increases with every passing year.

However, Marc Vathauer isn’t worried. He has already proved that his designers can compete with the best of them. As current Managing Director of MSF-Vathauer Antriebstechnik, he has been closely aligned with the firm throughout its near four decade history – his parents, after all, established it back in 1978. Currently his siblings and other relatives help run various key departments within this family firm, including the strategic innovation arm, accountancy and production.

“The drive technology industry has gone from machine driven technology for conveyor belts in factories to smart drive solutions in giant warehouses and distribution centres. And it’s all really happened within in the last two decades or so,” he said.

“As a company we develop our own products, but our main interest is in customised drive solutions for industry where we’re presented with the problem and we go away and design a solution. The sectors we tend to work in predominantly are conveying systems, intra-logistic systems, environment, defence, packaging, railways and filing.”

Short implementation times together with fast decision-making and very flexible, highly motivated staff and processes make customised solutions extremely practical for them, insists Vathauer. He is pleased to report that his team’s engineering expertise, combined with experience in mechanical construction and component assembly, as well as the company’s decades of experience, makes them an extremely competitive choice in Germany and beyond.

And it’s not simply about coming up with, and building, an innovative drive solution where MSF-Vathauer Antriebstechnik excels; the company also provides a 24/7 repair and maintenance system (including delivery of spare parts). They are also happy to oblige with on site application related or product specific training for both their customised and standard solutions.

Environmental monitoring

It was within the field of environmental research that Vathauer feels his company achieved one of their major accomplishments of recent years. In conjunction with a US based technology group, MSF-Vathauer Antriebstechnik was able to produce a highly sophisticated measurement tool to monitor pollution in busy global cities in the Far East such as Tokyo, Shanghai and Beijing as well as in other cities across China.

Energy Recovery System

Meanwhile, back to factories and industry in general where another big triumph for Vathauer and his company is the development of a device designed to recover kinetic energy from machinery. He calls this drive solution the ‘Energy Recovery System’ (ERS). This new way of ‘recycling’ energy means all that kinetic energy is fed back to the machinery (certainly, the system boasts a very impressive 98 per cent efficiency rate).

He explained “With the installation of our ERS the regenerative power of a servo – or standard drive – is no longer lost. That’s because the ERS serves as a centralised or decentralised feed in and feedback of energy via the connected frequency inverter, or servo drive, to the system network.”

The beauty of the system – which received a gold medal award at AUTOMATICON® in Poland and an Energy Efficiency nomination from the DENEFF association (an industrial association for energy efficiency) in Berlin – was also that it could be affixed to both new installations and retrofitted to existing machinery (the ERS can be connected to existing frequency invertors). Other benefits of ERS included:

  • Less energy consumption by the machinery in use and, as a result, less money spent on physical machine operational costs
  • No heat created when machinery is in motion owing to the fact the braking resistors in the ERS remain cool. This means there is no requirement for costly air-conditioning systems
  • No need for a ‘control cabinet’ since the ERS can be decentralised and mounted in the machinery itself

At present the ERS can be found in hotel and office elevators, conveying systems, intra-logistic conveyor systems, winding drivers and robot automation applications. It can, in fact, be applied to any type of automaton system where breaking resistors are built in.

Vathauer has been the CEO of MSF-Vathauer Antriebstechnik, which has its headquarters in Detmold in the centre of Germany and boasts state-of-the-art production facilities, since 2006. He is proud to declare that all his company’s products are designed and ‘made in Germany.’

There are two company subsidiaries – in Stuttgart in the south and Oborniki in Poland. Meanwhile, the company is also represented by affiliated corporations and distributors in a further 15 countries throughout Europe. In total there are 120 employees, but there are already plans in place to expand sales and technical teams over the next few years as more warehouses and distribution centres open with the advancement of e-commerce.

An ‘open’ management strategy

Vathauer came to the family firm following three years at German giant Porsche AG in Stuttgart where he worked in accountancy. He has also recently gained an MBA from the University of Paderborn in Germany and has conducted research on the topic of ‘Innovation in SMEs’ at the University of Portsmouth in the UK. His objective for MSF-Vathauer Antriebstechnik was always to expand the company’s international reach and he was determined to achieve this while simultaneously introducing a new – more open – management strategy; one in which his employees felt more engaged.

“A good CEO involves his employees in new and innovative projects the company is embarking on by including him or her when it comes to strategy updates etc. That CEO should also take into account their employees’ opinions in decision-making – they’re the experts at the coal face after all.

“Overall I think one of the main roles of a CEO is making his or her employees feel valued for their skills and opinions and to let staff know that they’re an important cog in the machine. This should be done through advising them on new business developments, marketing outreach and whether or not the company is achieving or failing in particular areas.”