Right at home

On both sides of the Atlantic, Block builds for a global future.

04/04/2016


Headquartered in Verden, Germany, but with a new manufacturing facility in the United States, electrical engineering company Block has set its sights on global growth. Image: Courtesy BlockVerden is just an hour away on the German Autobahn from Hannover. So when Block, an electrical engineering and manufacturing company tucked into this German city of 27,000 residents in the center of Lower Saxony, travels to Hannover Messe each spring, company officials feel right at home.

"It's the world's biggest industrial trade fair and it's right at our front door," said Christoph Wesner, who heads standards and approvals for the 77-year-old company that designs and manufactures transformers, power quality devices and electrical filters. "For more than 40 years, we've visited Hannover Messe. It's our home."

Block also has a home in Franklin Park, Ill., a Chicago suburb near O'Hare Airport, whose history also centers on industrial manufacturing. Block opened its first U.S. manufacturing and sales center in Franklin Park in 2015 and looks to expand its growing reputation in the United States.

So with the U.S. as the Partner Country at Hannover Messe 2016, Block officials see the year as a chance to celebrate its history and its future. "The American market has great interest for us," said Wesner. "The drives and automation market is a very big market for Block. We are doing local production and we can better meet the U.S. market requirements by building locally."

Expansion into the U.S.

The growth of Block as a global manufacturer with U.S. roots will enable the company to expand on its philosophy of being a custom manufacturer that can meet the individual needs of their customers.

"More than 80% of our work is customized," said Udo Leonhard Thiel, who heads up Block's research-and-development efforts. "They start out asking for standard products, but in the end, they have their own needs. If we're talking about drive manufacturers, they want accessories like filters that will match their system perfectly. We can put them in different enclosures, and just make slight modifications of a standard enclosure."

To have that kind of manufacturing flexibility, Block's manufacturing operation focuses on hands-on quality control in the plant. The company's Verden facility does its own metal cutting and bending for enclosures, and transformers are wrapped by hand as well.

It's a philosophy Block will bring to its growing manufacturing operation in the U.S. "We want U.S. production supported by German manufacturing know-how to meet U.S. product requirements," said Wesner. "We have new ideas for new products with additional support through the German headquarters to meet the extended market requirements in the U.S."

Ultimately, Wesner said, the growth in the U.S. market, in which Block's name is still becoming known, will be built through its distributor network and its existing relationship with companies such as Wago and Rockwell Automation, where Block is an Encompass Partner.

"We are expanding," Wesner added, "The first step is to get Block's products into engineers' hands."

Growth curve

After Wolfgang Reichelt, chairman and CEO of Block, took over the company in 1971, he's helped set the company on a course of growth and expansion.

In a company interview, Reichelt noted the company is at that unique intersection between manufacturing and family. "People are our most important resource," he said in the interview. "Even if you have state-of-the-art machinery, it will only give you the edge over your competitors if it's operated by motivated and competent employees. We must find innovative ways of ensuring our employees are ready to face future challenges with us."

The global expansion of Block, which includes forays into China, is part of those challenges. For the U.S. market, the challenge is meeting the domestic electrical standards with locally manufactured products while also providing U.S. machine builders and OEMs with access to European standards.

That growth potential is why Block officials see this particular Hannover Messe as particularly exciting. It brings both the company's traditional home-field advantage as a Hannover neighbor together with the U.S. Partner Country presence.

"We're looking at sensible growth for Block USA and a stronger U.S. market share of the Block brand," said Wesner. "We're also reaching out to U.S. customers in Germany. We're showing German and U.S. know-how by having worldwide products. "Hannover Messe is where the industrial world comes together," he added. "If you have a specific problem, or if you're in need of a resource, you'll find the resource at that show."



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Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

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