Handtmann and Bühler - Partners for generations

The die-casting market is highly competitive, and yet some relationships last through the ages, such as that of Handtmann and Bühler. The two companies have worked together for decades, always finding ways to prevail despite the global competition. Its Carat machine series, the expansion into China, and the number 500 all play an important role in this.

Partners for generations

Back then, the world was a bit slower: There were emperors and beer riots, and workers were paid in gold coins. In 1873, almost 150 years ago, Christoph Albert Handmann founded a mechanical workshop and brass foundry in Biberach, southern Germany. The first products sold by Handtmann included beer taps and faucets. Today, the company is positioned internationally with five business segments supplying big names in the automotive industry and producing entire plants for the food industry. 

Sound familiar? The similarities with Bühler’s history are uncanny: Both companies began in the 19th century as simple foundries, are still family-owned today, and are successful international industrial groups. Perhaps this is why Handtmann and Bühler work so well together.

For several decades, Handtmann has relied on Bühler as a die-casting technology supplier.

Bühler is a reliable partner with which we collaborate closely. My grandfather bought machines from Bühler, as did my father

Markus Handtmann, General Manager of the company’s plant in Tianjin, China

Setting a standard

Handtmann generates 90 percent of its annual sales within the business area Light Metal Casting with die-casting processes. Of the nearly 3,700 employees working worldwide at Handtman, about 2,300 work in this field. The company produces approximately 72,100 tons of aluminum and magnesium parts annually. After casting, the parts are then processed in-house before delivery to customers – most of which are in the automotive industry. Handtmann plants in Germany, Slovakia, and China feature nearly 100 die-casting machines, more than 50 of which are from Bühler. One model stands out in particular: the Carat. 

Handtmann opted for this model for the first time in 2007, just after the series was launched. Its compact design in comparison with its predecessors and its easy use tipped the scales in its direction. Ever since this first installation, the Carat has continued its triumph at Handtmann, which now produces cast parts such as structural components, battery and gear housings, and oil pans for cars on 41 Carat machines. 

The Carat has aided the company in reaching new standards, as it is easy to operate the machine. In addition, the Carat allows for changes to numerous machine parameters to improve the quality of cast parts and to make more complex parts with enhanced precision. This includes structural components – thin-walled and therefore lighter parts – which have seen a major upturn in recent years.

Compact high performance

At the time of its launch, the Carat was a small-scale revolution. The two-plate Carat generates its clos-ing force through four large hydraulic cylinders. No toggle system is needed, saving a great deal of installation space and improving closing force distribution significantly. 

“This means foundries can in-stall a Carat with a higher closing force in the same space where a smaller machine previously stood,” explains Christoph Hartmann, Area Sales Manager at Bühler and Handtmann’s first point of contact. A key advantage in Europe especially, where space is a valuable asset. 

With today’s production pressure in the automotive industry, Handtmann has also had to make adjustments wherever possible to optimize plant efficiency and win contracts. A major order from Volkswagen for the Chinese market in 2012 was the deciding factor in expanding its business to China. Bühler came on board right from the start as a partner in building the new Handtmann production site in Tianjin, an important industrial hub with freight ports.

It was a rush order, so seamless project management was pivotal. Handtmann opted for Bühler based on past experiences of its delivery on schedule. The local Bühler team in China delivered and installed the first die-casting cell on time in 2013. From then on, it was just like the series production of die-cast parts: As soon as one cell was finished, Bühler set the next one up – 16 times to date. 

Standardisation in China

The first of the two halls in the plant is full, and the second one now houses three machines. Handtmann’s achievements in the industrial region of Tianjin are impressive. It’s the first production site the company was able to build right on a green field. “We saw this as a huge opportunity. We rounded up all our experts and drafted what you could call a blueprint for other locations,” explains Markus Handtmann, who relocated to China as part of the expansion and has managed the location since. Machines are neatly lined up one after another to the left and right of a wide aisle. Daylight floods the hall. It is a stark contrast to the popular image of foundries. No nooks and crannies or darkness – instead it is bright and standardized. 

The fact that 16 machines all come from the same series reinforces this impression. In China, Handtmann produces exclusively on Carat machines. Only one is slightly different: A specially designed machine door indicates that this machine is number 500 – the 500th Carat ever produced by Bühler. If you’ve ever stood before such a large die-casting cell, you can imagine how many tons of material Bühler must have delivered to customers across the world in the last decade. “The Carat is our most successful machine series to date,” says Hartmann, accompanying the project on behalf of Bühler. “We were so pleased that our 500th machine was installed at Handtmann.”

Keeping the die-casting cells uniform helps Handtmann standardize. With the new DataView machine control, the company can program its processes quickly using the touch screen and adapt the user interface to the respective user. The foundry receives support from Bühler service technicians from the Chinese city of Wuxi. “Fortunately, Bühler in China provides not just machines, but local service and spare parts, too,” says Markus Handtmann.

After all, the company in Tianjin has big plans: “Though the automotive market is currently showing signs of weakness, we are very optimistic and believe that we can secure a strong market position for ourselves,” he explains. China will be an important market for the future, not only because of the country’s size, but because of a growing demand for mobility.

One constant: innovation

High-quality structural components, in particular, are seeing ever greater demand on the Chinese market. They are crucial to lightweight car design, which plays right into Handtmann’s hands. After all, these parts are the specialty of Carat machines. Compared with other materials and processes, ultra-efficient die casting still has key advantages according to Thomas Handtmann, CEO of the Handtmann Group: 

Die casting is here to stay, as it offers a good combination of strength, lightweight design, and value for money.

Thomas Handtmann, CEO of the Handtmann Group

Markus Handtmann is now filling the order books for the Chinese plant, with Bühler as an important partner in the project. “We plan to strengthen collaboration in the near term in advancing die-casting processes and improving machines especially,” he says. Neither Handtmann nor Bühler plan to let the long-standing family tradition fade away. On the contrary, innovations and the continuous push into new markets form a recipe for success – the recipe that has enabled both companies to become so successful over one and a half centuries.

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