A Conversation with Dr. Peter Biele

Dr_Peter_Biele

Chair of the Executive Board of  thyssenkrupp Rasselstein GmbH,  Andernach, Germany

AEROSOL EUROPE: Dr. Biele, you have been the Chair of the Executive Board of thyssenkrupp Rasselstein for 9 months now. What were your goals when you came to thyssenkrupp Rasselstein?

Dr. Peter Biele: I come from the steel world. I have been employed at thyssenkrupp and its predecessor companies for 25 years. I began in research and development, then moved to production, then to technical customer advising. In the last 7 years, I was responsible for another subsidiary, thyssenkrupp Electrical Steel GmbH.

What I learned there is this: that the market is quite definitely a different one than the markets in which I had previously been involved. While we are usually occupied with our sheet steel for industrial goods and in the investment sector, the consumer market here looks very different. It’s much more stable when it comes to demand. Naturally there are also fluctuations across the year, but they can be planned better. This is not common in the steel industry. When you ask what my goals are, then first of all, my goal is always for the company to produce the best possible results as a subsidiary of the thyssenkrupp technology group. For this, you need the right products, you must address the right markets, you must have the right employees and the right sales channels. Since I’m an engineer, I know how important it is to invest in the right processes and technologies. Also to address the right development topics and obtain them from the market. When it’s possible to act cleverly on the market, that is, to bring the right products to the right customers, then you will succeed.

The nice thing is that I don’t have to “start over.” thyssenkrupp Rasselstein is a company that has existed for more than 250 years. In recent decades, it has shown that we are welcome not just on our core European market, but also on world markets. In October of last year, I had the good luck to take over management of a company that can be developed further, but that needed no restructuring.

AEROSOL EUROPE: In my last interview with thyssenkrupp Rasselstein, with your predecessor, Dr. Ulrich Roekse, the aerosol industry was very concerned about the price development of tinplate. What’s the situation today?

Dr. Peter Biele: On the producer side, the situation is that the parent company must purchase the raw materials iron ore and bituminous coal. We have oligopolistic markets there. This means that we must discuss the high raw material prices with our market and pass the costs along to them because these costs represent a high percentage of our process costs. We are by no means in a position to balance out these fluctuations by ourselves.

AEROSOL EUROPE: More than 90% of the material produced by thyssenkrupp Packaging Steel is used in the packaging sector. What is the share of total production that you provide to the aerosol industry right now?

Dr. Peter Biele: Approximately half of the market segment chemical-technical applications, in our case around 13% of total production, is used by the aerosol sector.

AEROSOL EUROPE: What are your core markets? Where do you see growth potential?

Dr. Peter Biele: The majority of our sales volume is in Europe. We are staunch Europeans. In these regions, we can ensure good delivery performance. Nevertheless, we make a significant share of sales outside of Europe. Of course we want to represented around the world, also in order to be able to balance out seasonal and global fluctuations across the year. There is also demand outside of Europe for which our products are well-suited.

AEROSOL EUROPE: The 3 criteria innovation, quality, and customer orientation are decisive for your success! What is thyssenkrupp Packaging Steel doing to keep the innovation process going constantly?

Dr. Peter Biele: Because we conduct regular customer surveys, we get very precise feedback from the market. On the one hand, the feedback tells us that with our products we are truly more welcome than the competition; on the other hand, the competition is catching up. Naturally this is a topic that concerns us. When we say product quality, we mean the product that we sell in connection with a sales network with good salespeople, good customer advisors, who explain the product to the market and are ready with solutions in case of problems. Here, we do not even need to consider whether to strengthen and expand ourselves. We will do this. Customers are increasingly demanding more flexible delivery. This means not just delivery performance, punctuality, but also the opportunity for customers to order on shorter notice. That the customer can perhaps intervene in orders in process, even if the delivery period is approaching. That sometime, we must somehow be able to offer the market volumes on short notice. Now we’ve almost arrived at the topic “4.0.” I don’t want to overemphasize this point because many people are talking about 4.0, but nobody can describe exactly what it is. For us, however, 4.0 is important in two respects: The first aspect is on the production side. Processes must be much more closely networked. All data from the first to the last machine must flow forwards and backwards in order to ensure optimization of process efficiency. Then there is the delivery side, where we have to develop more flexibility. Perhaps to give customers entirely different possibilities for looking into our processes, seeing where the material is, whether they can still change things. And of course this only works with an exchange of data, via Internet, etc.

AEROSOL EUROPE: Tinplate offers many advantages. One aspect is the recyclability of the material. What other advantages can you name that are interesting for customers in the aerosol industry?

Dr. Peter Biele: Tinplate is a “green” product. We have adapted the complete recycling cycle in our processes. The failure and loss rates in the cycle are small. Steel is an extremely versatile material with which it is possible to create a wide variety of shapes and that has an endless number of applications. On the development side, steel is never finished. We will determine each year that when it comes to forming, rigidity, and stability, and also with respect to corrosion protection and coating, additional progress is always possible. Steel always offers the opportunity to distinguish yourself in the sector. And on the producer side, steel is available around the world.

AEROSOL EUROPE: The thickness of the material is constantly being reduced. What do you do in order to nevertheless guarantee the good material properties of the product, such as rigidity and good thermal expansion?

Dr. Peter Biele: Essentially, we are doing two things: The first is the technological properties. This is the combination of formability and stability of the finished component or packaging. In material technology, these properties always compete with one another, for the more stable a material is, the less formable it is. Our task is to ensure greater stability with improved forming capabilities. This is a metallurgical task that we have mastered at thyssenkrupp. The second aspect is the thickness of the material. Of course it’s clear that if the material is more stable, it can also become thinner. This is the logic for application. Today, we are in a position to manufacture sheet thicknesses that are much thinner than those that the customers can produce themselves. Here our task is to ensure that customers with the thinner sheets that we can already offer today also put their customers in a position to handle it on the process side and turn the advantages into productivity advantages. For this we have customer advisors and application technology.

AEROSOL EUROPE: You employ more than 2000 people in Andernach if we have been informed correctly. Where do you recruit your employees? Do you train them yourselves?

Dr. Peter Biele: We train them ourselves. We believe it is necessary to train our own employees, whom we use primarily on our systems, but also in the research and development sectors. We offer a wide variety of training professions, ranging from process technician to IT specialist to electrotechnician, on through to mechatronics engineer. Each year, we train approximately 60 young people. We do not hire all of them, but rather only the ones we need. Naturally we also need academic trainees. For this there are programs and cooperation agreements with universities across Germany, even in foreign countries.

AEROSOL EUROPE: And another word about sustainability: Sustainable engagement plays a large role at
thyssenkrupp Rasselstein. How is sustainability regarded at your company?

Dr. Peter Biele: We have a series of ground rules that we have established as a company. These include handling resources responsibly, not consuming any more than is necessary. Using replacement materials instead of using undesirable materials if these are available and technically feasible. The goal is to make our footprint as small as possible. The same applies for topics such as occupational health and safety. We want to act in environmentally-appropriate fashion so that our employees remain healthy. This is a measure of sustainability that does us a lot of good, I think.

AEROSOL EUROPE: What challenges do you see in the medium term in our industry?

Dr. Peter Biele: In the medium term, I have already mentioned two aspects that are very positive. The market is there, as staunch Europeans, we are there for our core market Europe and occupy qualitative niches in the rest of the world, ones that we like to fill. On the technology side, we are also very satisfied. It’s in our DNA to develop, to drive markets forward, to invent technologies, and implement. What will occupy us in the long term is regulations. On the one hand, there are the CO2 certificates. I believe that you will find few industries that have already done everything of their own accord to demonstrate efficiency as the steel industry has done. However, if in addition we are presented with goals that are more ambitious than the most efficient systems make possible, then we will have a comprehension gap, also with our employees. What will remain a topic are topics that arise from renewable energies, such as the German Renewable Energy Act…there we will have to see that we keep talking and protect our interests in the end.

AEROSOL EUROPE: Dr. Biele, we thank you for the conversation.