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Festo aims to join the electric drives top five
Published:  06 October, 2010

Festo has set itself the goal of becoming one of the world’s top five suppliers of electric drive systems within a few years. According to the company’s chairman, Dr Eberhard Veit, Festo has expanded into the electrical drives market so rapidly that it is already in the top ten suppliers worldwide.

Speaking in Germany recently, Veit (above) revealed that the company is bouncing back from the recession and predicted that it would achieve a growth rate of more than 30% during 2010. During the first half of 2010, Festo recorded the highest number of new orders in its history.

Electric drives now represent about 10% of Festo’s sales and this business is expanding three times faster than the company as a whole. Festo is now investing as much in electric drives as it does in its traditional pneumatics business – a figure measured in “two-digit million” euros each year.

Although some applications are migrating from pneumatics to electrical drives, Veit reports that new applications are emerging for pneumatics as well. For example, he says that some car manufacturers are moving from using electric motors in the seats of their up-market models, to pneumatic systems.

Veit says that during the downturn, Festo continued to invest and expand, increasing the proportion of revenue spent on research and development to 9.5%. It also used the opportunity to investigate what its customers need, and to work on products optimised to meet these needs. “Only those who can address individual customer wishes flexibly and responsively gain market shares,” Veit argues.

He says that the increased spending on r&d is having direct benefits for customers, citing the example of Festo’s investment in rapid manufacturing. Last year, it set up an operation called Festo Fast Factory, which uses advanced manufacturing techniques to produce small batches of plastic and metal parts, sometimes within days. “The time to market is reduced many times over,” says Veit.

Festo is also using these rapid manufacturing techniques internally to produce items such as its FinGripper system which uses flexible plastic “fingers” to hold and move delicate items, such as fruit and chocolate eggs, on production lines.

Festo has also re-organised its structure to react to customer-specific requirements. For example, a network of “Solution Engineering Centres” will provide ready-to-install systems, such as handling gantries and control cabinets, and deliver them directly to customers’ machines.

According to Veit, technology trends that Festo is focusing on include: safe, efficient automation; intelligent mechatronics; bionic handling and gripping technologies; energy efficiency; and “green” production technologies
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