Adhesive Dispensing Systems

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Five decades of gluing, sealing and coating

04 Sep 2017

Erkrath, Germany 

Note:This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Packreport. 
To read the original, click here.

Almost in sync with Interpack, Nordson Deutschland GmbH celebrated the company's 50-year anniversary. The company was founded April 20, 1967 in Düsseldorf as the second European subsidiary (after another branch had shortly before been opened in Brussels) of the US American company with headquarters in Westlake, Ohio. After moving to nearby Erkrath in 1978, Nordson Deutschland GmbH now looks back with pride on growth which has continued to this day and is in many respects remarkable.

In the past five years alone the number of employees has more than doubled thanks to good business development and carefully planned acquisitions. Currently there are about 1000 employees in Germany, about 200 of them at the location in Erkrath. The site is home to both the German and European central administrative offices, which also support sales activities of the entire EMEA region. Ulrich Bender, Managing Director of Nordson Deutschland GmbH, and Authorised Signatory Georg Gillessen – both with the company for over 20 years – reminisced about some milestones in the company's history during the interview and also offered some perspective on the near future.

Question: Nordson's production range is extremely diversified. Can you break it down succinctly – including how it came about over time?

Ulrich Bender: We have three main business areas at present. At first there were only two, the Industrial Coating division and Adhesive Dispensing Systems. The first of these represents our origin and includes everything that has to do with wet and dry powder enamelling and coating. Nordson is a worldwide pioneer in the airless spraying method. As the polymer industry developed progressively in the early 1960s, Nordson was able to transfer this technology to adhesive applications with such great success that the adhesive application systems division of the company is still the largest in terms of both sales and personnel.

The plant in Lüneburg, acquired in 1989, has developed into a significant manufacturing and engineering site with the emphasis on structural adhesive applications. Simply stated, it deals with everything that has to do with packaging. Examples include applications in the automotive and automotive supplier industry, hygienic articles, furniture manufacturing and the graphic arts industry.

Then in the mid 1990s the Advanced Technology Systems business division was added. Here we deal with a large number of new technical challenges which have arisen since that time in very wide ranging sectors such as the electronics and computer industries, with telecommunication manufacturers, or also in medical technology, for example. We are able to offer them solutions for an extremely diverse range of adhesive and coating tasks, so as a result this business division has developed very much to our satisfaction.

By acquiring several companies in the recent past we have invested in polymer technology, among others, and also integrated three small electronics companies.

In summary, we can say that today's Nordson group of companies offers a broadly diversified mix of order and inspection systems. 

Question: Considering adhesive application systems in particular, packaging applications must certainly play a dominant role.

Georg Gillessen: They do indeed, although we should not ignore structural adhesive applications. Certainly one point worth emphasising is the great range of packaging applications that we cover, which extends far beyond the end-of-line area. In addition to outer packaging and transport packaging, primary packaging is also produced with our systems in various industries. Processing includes not only cardboard packaging and corrugated cardboard, but also to an growing extent flexible materials such as bag film.   

Question: Are there any rather unusual applications that you remember?

Ulrich Bender: That is not an easy question to answer considering the whole period of 50 years in retrospect. But let me give you just two examples: in the 1990s it was astonishing that hotmelt spray adhesive processes, which actually come from the hygiene sector, were also used for the application of securing packages on pallets – and by the way, this is a process that is still widely and successfully used today.

Sift-proof packaging was also a major issue at the end of the last century. At the time Nordson worked closely together with the Fraunhofer Institute on sift-proof adhesive systems and we can rightly claim that using special technology we ultimately made this technology, which is still current today, suitable for industry.

Question: What are the technical highlights of Nordson in the recent past?

Georg Gillessen: In this decade for example we brought the MiniBlue II series pneumatic dispensing gun to market. These applicators, featuring a unique patented sealing concept, are available with a ball-and-seat module or in a SureBead design – also patented – with self-cleaning needle seat module. MiniBlue II has become established as an industrial standard. It features above all neat application and a high level of consistency over many millions of switching cycles.  Another great success is the EcoBead application pattern control system – easy to install in just a few simple steps – which provides immediate help with significant savings on adhesive.

 But our greatest success is tankless hotmelt application systems, which functions essentially like an instantaneous water heater, contributing to significantly lowering overall operating costs by melting only what is actually needed. In addition to economical use of energy and materials, the new technology prevents unwanted machine stoppages. The enclosed systems also increase work safety considerably. Especially the ProBlue Liberty series introduced in 2014 has developed into a real winner.

Question: And what innovations can we expect?

Ulrich Bender:  Recently the ATS was presented at Interpack. It can be integrated into innovative ProBlue Liberty devices and is also available as an upgrade kit for melters that are already installed for use in the packaging industry. This Adhesive Tracking System was presented for the first time at the last Pack Expo in Chicago and is already a great success in the USA. ATS also attracted a good deal of attention at our presentation in Düsseldorf. For the first time, machine operators can monitor – at manageable costs and volumetrically i.e. suitable for industry – the amount of adhesive dispensed by the system on the product. 

Georg Gillessen: One interesting advancement is the EcoBead Inspect – also new – with additional control functions related to the adhesive position on the adhering substrate. From the perspective of Industry 4.0, I should mention our recently released software starter kits for quickly and easily integrating hotmelt application systems into the higher-level control system of the mother machine.     

Question: What trends are you currently seeing that affect your customers?

Ulrich Bender: E-commerce is an issue we will be dealing with extensively in the coming years. This market poses completely different challenges for us than traditional sales areas, simply in terms of its projected growth. Another trend which is not new but continues unabated is the demand for tamper-evident packaging; due in no small part to EU Directive 2011/62, which is slated to take effect in February 2019, and DIN EN standard 16679.   

Question: Has anything changed in your company in the last 50 years?

Ulrich Bender: We call ourselves a Lean Company, which means we try to make things simple and we see great value in our technology being easy to work with. However, these general premises are subject to constant change. Adhesive technology has long been regarded by industry and machine manufacturers as a kind of necessary evil. They have seen Nordson's primary task as simply supplying the ideal technology and in emergency situations providing excellent service.

In recent years – and this development is still continuing - our image has changed from being simply a system supplier to an added value provider. Today our contacts with consumer goods manufacturers and OEMs have taken on a completely different nature. We are being asked more and more often what can be improved or where money can be saved. We talk with each other a lot more. This is also due to the fact that a few years ago we set up a separate Key Account department in Europe to support our numerous major clients.

Georg Gillessen: Our range of services, developed extensively on an international level, certainly plays a great role in this. We have consistently tracked and improved this range, for example by introducing a standard maintenance concept. Currently there are over 10,000 systems in Europe that we regularly maintain once or twice a year. Of course we need an extensive worldwide infrastructure of engineers, but customer satisfaction justifies our effort.     

Question: How do you evaluate the position of Nordson Deutschland GmbH within the entire Group, which must certainly be considered as one of the leading providers in its sector worldwide with sales revenue of more than 1.8 billion USD and over 7000 employees? 

Ulrich Bender:  We are already a strong mainstay within the Group. In terms of sales, Europe is currently on the same level with the USA. It's always changing a little one way or the other. Often our sales revenue in Europe is even higher than in the founding country. It all depends quite simply on the markets and the heavy demand for mechanical engineering in Germany and some of the neighbouring countries.

Georg Gillessen: And by the way, this affects not only the packaging sector, but also other constructional areas such as the wood industry, the tobacco sector or production of hygienic articles. We are very evenly positioned in the main financial centres, in terms of engineering as well as manufacturing and sales.

(Bernd Neumann conducted the interview)