DUESSELDORF, Germany—As the carousel called Earth continues to spin at a dizzying pace, so does the rubber injection molding machines produced by SAS.
And that machinery is reaching new parts of that globe than ever before.
The Corbas, France-based firm, with seven subsidiaries and about 30 agencies worldwide, has extended its reach recently, accessing customers in Asia by producing machinery in its new factory there that cost less than Rep's Western-made machinery—with fewer benefits.
That fits into the plan of Bruno Tabar, chairman, CEO and president of the 110-year-old company that has manufactured 12,000 injection molding machines in 57 countries. Tabar took time to talk about his firm during a break from the recent K Show in Duesseldorf, where his company's machines were on display.
"One of the challenges of the company is to decide where you want to be," Tabar said. "The trend is that it will change very rapidly from one year to the next. You will have a new segmentation, a new localization around the world. You will have markets that will go upward, markets that will go downward. You will have customers who will go upward, customers that will go downward.
"You have to be able to understand this and be able to follow these trends."
Part of that trend led Rep, which prides itself on its durable, high-quality, high-speed, high-precision and repeatable machines, to enter an emerging market segment in Asia where it can compete against other machinery makers whose products cost less than those produced previously by Rep.
In September 2015, the United Rubber & Plastic Machinery Ltd. was inaugurated in Langfang, China, located about 37 miles south of Beijing. The $2.12 million investment is a joint venture with German manufacturer LWB-Steinl.
In the JV's 27,000-sq.-ft. facility, the firm uses lean technology to manufacture C-frame and four-column machines exclusively for the Chinese market that, according to Tabar, offer the same turnout of quality and durability with less sophisticated type of driving components.
"The largest companies in China are looking for better quality at a decent price," Tabar said. "That is the reason why we decided to move there, because we felt like we could build an adequate piece of machinery there."
He said the machines cost about 30 percent less than those made in the West.
"There is no way you can deliver very high, German-made, high-durable components made in the Western world. So we have to shape down these types of machines. Other than that, the mechanics itself are equivalent to the Rep mechanics of machines made in Europe."
Tabar said to keep the company growing, Rep needed to enter the Asian market, which he called "the driving force in terms of industry capacity development," with China representing the most significant chunk.
"If you're an international business, you cannot disregard Asia," he said. "If you disregard Asia, you disregard half of the market, which is a bit too much for a company that wants to be global. You definitely need to be there in the future. There is no way you can escape that."
The challenge was to adapt the product to the Asian market, where businesses spend as little as possible on machinery, in order to maximize production capacity, sacrificing technology, waste and durability advantages that are so vital in the Western world.
For example, the machinery cannot be connected to a central network or communicate to a remote display, as some Rep machines do that are manufactured in the West.
"Yes, you can buy this type of machinery at a lower price, and you will be able to buy from China, but at the same time, you have to accept there will be scale-down in terms of global performance of this equipment," Tabar said.
"It's paying 30 percent less for something different. I think it's good for Asia, frankly speaking, because it's fitted to the specifications of the Asian market, but for the Western world, it's not a solution for everybody."
But it did open a new market. "We can now say that we are really in position to cover the complete spectrum of the world market demand, from the very high tech to the very high quality and of the low cost area," Tabar said.
Rep continues to build its Chinese operation with the same philosophies it has in other parts of the world: Hire, train and educate workers in order to retain them for the long haul. "We make sure this guy is developing his career within the company and he's happy with what he's doing, and as a consequence is delivering good service to the market. We want them to be our best communicator ... carry the Rep flag."
Rep continues to improve and refine its offerings in the West as well. Late last year, the company was touting two new product lines of its advanced G10 rubber injection molding machines, the G10 Core and G10 Extended.
The G10 Core machines are presses with functionalities tailored to uncomplicated processes, the company said, available on the mid-range category. G10 Extended machines are presses with a clamping force from 160 to 1,000 tons, best suited to heavy-duty processes. The firm said the benefits of this latest generation include energy efficiency, enhanced productivity and improved ergonomics.
These machines have the capability of manufacturing parts with simultaneous injection of two different materials in one cavity. The technology is especially popular with Rep automotive customers, Tabar said.
Rep also recently released an app and software package, called Rep Pack 4.0, the fourth generation of the RepNet supervision software. This technology allows for real-time monitoring and workshop modeling, centralized management of mold settings and productivity calculations, according to the company.
Tabar said many of the firm's core customers—51 percent of its sales come from countries in the European Union and 16 percent from North America—are seeking technology that allows remote access for users, whether they are a Rep expert, customer expert, a process expert or a maintenance expert. "They can actually visualize and communicate with the people (in the factory), with exactly the same piece of information"
The German market, which accounts for 14 percent of Rep sales, continues to thrive, Tabar said, seeking innovation in the machinery.
"This is where they pay the most attention to the government, the quality and the durability of the solutions," he said. "Even though the growth is very little, there is a possibility to develop your business there because this market is constantly reinvesting in order to improve its performance, either the productivity or the quality."
Tabar said the firm's compact, high quality rotary transfer CMS presses have proven to be popular with its North American customers. They handle injection, cure, stripping and unloading functions within the same production cell.
"No machine is as productive as this machine," he said.
"You cannot improve productivity and quality using the same means, the same process. You need to innovate; you need to think and implement differently. This is where we develop solutions."
A century of experience
Rep has been developing machines for more than a century. The company was founded in 1907 by Robert Esnault Pelterie—thus the name Rep. The company eventually focused on the metals industry until it began selling injection molding machines in 1948.
Today, the firm sells a vast majority of its products to the transportation/automotive industry (70 percent), where the greatest number of rubber molded goods are produced, followed by electricity and electrical appliance (8 percent each). Food/medical accounts for 5 percent, as does sports and leisure.
The average price for a Rep machine, at 300 tons, is about $180,000, Tabar said. The lead time for a startup machine is eight weeks, but a highly configured machine might take 24 weeks to build, Tabar said. The average lead time is 12-14 weeks.
Rep machines, if maintained properly, can last 30 years. "We have very big customers that are still using the machines we sold in the 1980s," Tabar said. The company's policy is to provide spare parts to the end of the life of the machine.
In a world that keeps changing, with economies and currencies in flux and terrorism a threat in many of the regions it services, Tabar said you have to rely on faith.
"The only faith we can rely on is that we have been in business for 30, 40 years dealing with the same people," he said. "We've been around for 110 years. We will never give up, and we will always be there for our customers."