FULDA, Germany—When Peter Uth and his brother-in-law Winfried Schutz founded Uth Machinery GmbH in Fulda in 1985, they never dreamed they'd become experts in providing solutions for fine-mesh straining and precise gear pump extrusion.
But that's where the company stands 36 years after its founding, providing machinery for "gentle and clean processing of rubber and silicone," as well as adding new capabilities that widen its appeal to potential customers.
Uth's offerings can be used for serial production, system solutions or custom-made machinery for its clients. Applications are in such sectors as tire manufacturing, automotive parts/other mechanical rubber goods, silicone compounding, threads for wire and cable goods, and adhesives and sealants.
"We are the one with the widest range and with the most successful installed solutions," said Peter Uth, now the firm's managing director and main shareholder (Schutz now owns rubber machinery maker Deguma-Schutz GmbH).
"There are other people in the market that may have one system. There are people in the market who offer a solution that is mostly from screw extruder makers.
"Over the last 25 years, there is a big list of people who have started and also have stopped offering something."
No rubber in sight
Back in 1985, that was hardly the case. Uth Machinery was a two-man operation, developing automation equipment. But there was a small German town not far from Fulda that was a bit like Ohio in its rubber heyday, according to Uth. A lot of tire makers had operations there, including Goodyear, Dunlop and Pirelli.
And the company got a project in the rubber industry to develop automation for mixing and molding equipment. "Until then, we didn't have much knowledge about the rubber industry," the firm's managing director said. "But after doing two or three projects, we got dubbed as 'experts.' "
Uth Machinery got more orders in the industry, and started rebuilding and refurbishing older equipment to have modern controls and systems. Then they branched out into specialized equipment that wasn't available in the open market.
Right from the early days, there often were issues with impurities contaminating rubber compounds. Uth said the firm's first contact with these issues was with Ford, which was strong on quality. The auto maker found that while rubber averaged roughly 7-8 percent of the weight of a car, the components (including tires) were responsible for more than half of quality issues.
That led to big discussions on how to improve quality in rubber processing. One variable was the process, where consistency and control were necessary.
Years later, Uth Machinery had a customer making automotive weatherstripping profiles that won orders for the new BMW series in 1994. But the weatherstrip producer had about 30 percent scrap because it couldn't meet new specifications for the surface of the rubber profile. Uth said the rubber compound needed to be filtered through a fine mesh screen, but that wasn't possible with the extruders available at the time.
"Because it was the final compound—and the final rubber compound is very temperature sensitive—there was no industrial equipment maker available to filter that rubber compound with such fine-mesh screens," he said.
Uth Machinery tried unsuccessfully to find a gear pump in the market to build up high pressure without building up high temperatures. "We were in a position to either stop the idea or look deeper and make a gear pump to process the final rubber compound," Uth said.
The firm decided to look into developing a gear pump that was suitable for rubber compounds. Uth said it took about a year to find a solution, and its first commercial gear pump and fine-mesh strainer for rubber was launched at the 1995 K-Show.
In the beginning, he said the biggest demand was for automotive weatherstripping. Other players tried to encroach on Uth Machinery's new discovery. One machinery firm with more than 100 years in the industry tried to develop a solution once it realized a gear pump could solve the problem. But between the idea stage and implementing it into a 24-hour industrial operation, the competitor couldn't make it work.
In trying to develop a solution, Uth said it "didn't invent the wheel," but it was able to industrialize its fine-mesh strainer. The first machines were small, with about 250 kilograms of throughput per hour, enough to put in an extrusion line to perform in-line straining for the rubber profile industry.
One major step forward was the implementation of a fine-mesh straining process into a high-volume mixing operation. Uth Machinery took on the challenge from an automotive parts supplier that wanted throughput of 3.5 metric tons an hour. After more than a year of development and engineering work, the firm installed the system in February 2003, and that machine still is running to this day, Uth said.