»Without a sufficient growth, you'll get left behind«
Text: Thomas Masuch; Photos: Concept Laser / Thomas Masuch
According to Frank Herzog, chairman of Concept Laser, GE’s recent involvement presents huge opportunities for his company.
Although Frank Herzog and Concept Laser have been part of the General Electric group since October 2016, this appears to have had no impact at all on his entrepreneurial mindset. In a recent interview with formnext magazine, an enthusiastic Herzog spoke about the evolution of Concept Laser’s facilities in Lichtenfels, Germany, and how he leveraged his solid contacts in the region to expand the company throughout an entire industrial park. While he describes himself as still having »the old naivety« it takes to dive into new ideas and projects, the 46-year-old Herzog is also »realistic enough« to see them through in practical ways thanks to his ability to keep his Franconian feet on the ground.
That said, Concept Laser has come a long way since the early days of the company. Its CEO’s cheery, light-hearted disposition can distract one from the fact that major changes are under way at its German headquarters in Lichtenfels. In 2017 alone, Concept Laser’s workforce grew from 200 to almost 400 employees – a development that proved how prescient it was for the company to invest in founding its own academy in 2007. Herzog, who studied mechanical engineering after training to become an industrial mechanic, could see Concept Laser growing to employ as many as 600 people someday.
Ten years ago, we were doing one cubic centimeter per hour; now it’s 40 or 50.
PRODUCTIVITY EXPECTED TO KEEP RISING
Unveiled for the first time at formnext 2017, the beta version of the company’s Project A.T.L.A.S. (Additive Technology Large Area System) boasts a building envelope of 1.1 x 1.1 x 0.3 meters – a strong sign of the technological boost GE’s investment can provide. This is also evident in the machine’s portal structure, optimized gas flow, and scanner-laser interface.
Breakthroughs like A.T.L.A.S. are opening up new areas of application in additive manufacturing, where productivity has continued to increase. »Ten years ago, we were doing one cubic centimeter per hour; now it’s 40 or 50,« explains Herzog, who sees this as evidence of According to Frank Herzog, chairman of Concept Laser, GE’s recent involvement presents huge opportunities for his company. the vast potential the technology still holds. »There are still a number of tools we can use that will enable us to work much faster in the next three to five years,« he adds.
Having founded Concept Laser along with his wife, Kerstin, in 2000, Frank Herzog still holds a 25-percent stake in the company. He says he has no regrets at all about no longer being the only one at the helm; instead, he looks back on GE’s 2016 arrival as a step in securing Concept Laser’s future.
»Before that, we’d been growing at quite a pace – by 100% in some years,« Herzog recalls. »We needed to take a more international approach.« He goes on to describe the resources this required, which ultimately slowed the company down. In a market as dynamic as AM, Herzog considers it very important to keep up with the pack. »In a way, you have no choice but to keep growing, « he admits. »Without sufficient growth, you’ll get left behind.«
TURNING UP THE TEMPO WITH SUPPORT FROM GE
Thanks to GE and the latest investments in the company, Herzog reports that Concept Laser is back to growing as it once did. Its new, €105 million 3D campus in Lichtenfels is expected to give the company further momentum. Herzog is pleased with how this will benefit his employees, as well, including in the form of intriguing career opportunities within the GE group.
Meanwhile, GE’s purchase of €549 million in Concept Laser shares doesn’t seem to have changed Frank Herzog much as a person, even if his role is no longer the same. »You have to be prepared to be an important team player within the group,« he points out.
By all indications, Concept Laser is also having a great deal of success in another key area: selling its machines. One of its biggest customers is GE itself, of course, but its products are also very popular with companies outside of the group. »For every machine we deliver to GE, we put another three on the market,« Herzog reveals.
Most recently, Concept Laser had been selling around 160 machines per year. In our interview, Herzog regretted being unable to disclose the figure expected for 2017, citing the culture of communication at a huge public corporation as something he has »had to get used to«.