In Sight KTR Podcast Episode 1 – Tradition vs. Innovation

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Julia Ures: „It’s nice to have you with us, welcome and hello here at In Sight KTR, which you are following as a video or maybe also as a podcast, because both ways are possible to follow this format. Each episode lasts about 20 minutes and gives you the opportunity to look behind the scenes of KTR, to learn more who is actually behind the products, which people are actually behind the products and also to give you an insight into the everyday life of this company.

My name is Julia Ures, I am very pleased to be able to accompany you through this format and would like to invite you to send us your questions for the next episodes. You can send them by e-mail to socialmedia@ktr.com, because the whole format lives from your questions.”

And so my two interview partners, who came here today, will also be interviewed in this virtual exhibition stand, from which we are reporting. So it is an analog booth, which was also digitalized. Both of them don’t know the questions that have been received today for this first episode and I am very pleased that you are participating today, that you are here with us.

Nicola Warning, the managing director of KTR Systems GmbH. Back in the company since 2017, previously 8 years in the management of the couplings division at Siemens and Ms. Warning, I would like to welcome you here in your own house, how nice that you are here. And at your side you have brought along Michael Brüning, Product Manager. Among other things, he is responsible for the ROTEX coupling. This has become the industry standard and has remained constantly successful in the market for 50 years. And about half of the time you are already in the company, Mr. Brüning. You both already know each other from the time before KTR through sports, what is the story?

Nicola Warning: Yes, we are both track and field athletes. At some point we found out surprisingly that we already know each other through sports. I am a sprinter, Michael Brüning a middle-distance runner, and now we both do long-distance running together, you could say, at KTR. We are united by the spirit of sport and I think we get that across quite well in our everyday work, I think we have a good connection.

Julia Ures: You are addressing this right now. Mr. Brüning, which sports skills that you learned there can be put to good use in a corporate context?

Michael Brüning: On the one hand you always need the sport as a vent somehow. So even now, that after work, after the end of the day, after the work is done, you can find a balance somehow. You can say that when you run, you can process a lot in your head afterwards because you have time and peace for yourself. When you get on your mountain bike, you can get rid of certain aggressions and then perhaps make certain decisions the next day with common sense.

Julia Ures: We have, as I have just explained, a number of questions that you are not familiar with and today you are here to answer them. These are questions with a reference to the company, also to products, and I would like to get started. Our topic today is this tension or perhaps the way in which tradition and innovation complement each other, enrich each other, perhaps are entertwined. Because that is the title of this episode today, tradition vs. innovation. And Ms. Warning, the first question is for you. KTR is an acknowledging family business, which affects a relatively large number of companies to which the same applies. But what are KTR’s core values?

Nicola Warning: Yes, you just said it, there are many family businesses, thank God there still are. The charm of the family business is of course an enormously high solidarity. The continuity, there is already a lot of thinking across the generations. After all, we are not working in the first generation. Everything is designed for the long term and not, as is so often heard today, based on shareholder value. This means that we really have the opportunity to do what is right for the company in the long term and that gives us a lot of freedom. We have flat hierarchies, there is a lot of communication and not necessarily just to take the next career step, but also very, very much about topics. I think this is a bit symptomatic of family businesses, a lot of communication, the team is close together and really this sustainability and orientation for the future.

Julia Ures: Mr. Brüning, the second question, or the second challenge, actually, that has reached us. Please complete the following sentence: “KTR will remain successful in the future because…”.

Michael Brüning: Because we are caretakers. That’s the way I know it since I am with KTR. It is not about having someone who knows and can do everything and who has a great education, but we are really a team here. Where we take care of each other, help and support each other and I believe that the customers also feel that if the customer has a request, that we take care of it all the way through, that finally the result is satisfying for him.

Julia Ures: Now we already have a reference. Ms. Warning, how does the sentence continue in your case? “KTR will remain successful in the future because…”

Nicola Warning: Because we are innovative, because we never stand still and always want to move forward.

Julia Ures: Thank you very much. Mr. Brüning, in recent years, and this is the next question that came up, the additive manufacturing of components, and this concerns 3D printing, has become much more important. Is KTR considering using this manufacturing process for samples or serial parts?

Michael Brüning: So for samples we do it already, especially when you develop new products and so on, it is inevitable, or of course much easier and faster to create prototype parts nowadays. For serial applications, of course, we have already thought about the fact that in the future we might only sell 3D files and the customer prints his elastomer, his coupling part on site. These are certainly some thoughts, but I don’t think that’s where we are going at the moment. In our case, the know-how parts in the couplings are more or less all from Germany. Made in Germany, and there is a lot of thought and a lot of development in it. Just printing it everywhere in the world so easily – I don’t think we are that far yet.

Julia Ures: Ms. Warning, we have just talked about the values that are deeply rooted in this family-owned company and which are also part of it for you. Now the question is directed towards the future. What is KTR’s vision for the coming years? Can the company continue as before?

Nicola Warning: No, we can never just go on like before. We always have to do something new, do it differently, improve, change. That is inherent in the system and that is also part of the success. I just said innovation. So it remains. Especially now in Corona times, we can see that very clearly, and a little bit of the vision for the future, the orientation of the company, which is very important for us, that the company is very much oriented towards flexibility and that we react. You can plan a lot, I can also spread out great visions here now, it always turns out differently than you think. Therefore, we make a rough plan, we have a rough idea, we also have a vision, but if things turn out differently on the way, we are especially good then and we make sure that we are flexible, energetic. These are the things that are very important for us to get ahead.

Julia Ures: You have just mentioned that communication is very important for you. I can imagine that particularly when it comes to the vision of the future, you can’t do without communication.

Nicola Warning: Yes, this is always such a difficult topic, because visions, which employee is really interested in a vision? They really want to know where it’s going, very specifically. There don’t have to be any catchwords, they have to understand what it is in actual detail. With KTR2022, we have developed a strategy that is very important for us and we attach great importance to the fact that everyone has understood what we want with it. So I think that over the last few years, and that is exactly right, as you say, communication, communication, communication. In principle, everyone from the woman at the gate to the shipping employee must have understood it, and then everyone runs in the same direction. I think the team has done that in the last 2 or 3 years, we have the strategy since 2017, and in the last 2 or 3 years we have spent a lot of time explaining it in detail to each individual.

Julia Ures: Mr. Brüning, another question to the product manager. With the ROTEX Standard you have placed an innovative continuous favourite within the industry for torsionally flexible jaw couplings, someone writes us. How much space does KTR generally allow for research and development?

Michael Brüning: Phew, this is actually left to everyone, one can almost say. Of course there are requirements that come from the customer somehow, quite clearly. But I think we still have a green field at KTR. That means that everyone who is innovative, you can’t impose that. At KTR they have a lot of possibilities, too. That means that if you pursue an idea somehow, you can push it forward and then present it to Ms. Warning or whomever, and then you will receive a tail wind and support, of course. But as I said, they don’t say you have to develop this and that, but it actually comes from the people themselves. So we have many young people who, when they are given responsibility, are really innovative. It’s really nice to see that we have this great mixture of young and old, where experience is paired with new ideas and I think that’s what makes the difference.

Julia Ures: What perhaps also makes this generational change particularly valuable for you?

Michael Brüning: Nicola told me the other day, during a customer visit, that I already belong to the old generation.

Julia Ures: One does not hear that gladly at first.

Michael Brüning: Unfortunately, this is now the case. After all, i have been around for a relatively long time. But yes, I would say that this mixture with young people, we are currently working on a project and there are two very young people who are coming from training or studies and who are, I don’t want to say in charge of it, but who are really good at this project and who are bringing it extremely forward.

Julia Ures: I just said that you have been with the company for 25 years. Where does experience help you then?

Michael Brüning: After all, it’s experience that you gain even before your job. This is the sport that has certainly taught you that you have to train when the others stay at home, i.e. in bad weather and the like. So you always have to step on the gas when it’s necessary. So we must always see that we are one step ahead. We are not alone, which means that we have a lot of competitors and also many in Asia and so on, who are also very meticulous. But we actually always try to be ahead of the competition, which means we try to be somewhere ahead of them. So that’s our claim, because if we hadn’t done anything with the product for 50 years, I think we might no longer be competitive with the product. But we are competitive with our product.

Julia Ures: Ms. Warning, mechanical engineering is generally considered a traditional industry. Sometimes also as a perhaps somewhat conservative industry. How important is the topic of “tradition vs. future vision”, and how important is tradition for you?

Nicola Warning: Yes, family business, when you walk into our entrance hall, you can already see the family history, the developments of KTR, we never lose sight of that. That is also always a good adviser of many things. It gives the company an identity. Sometimes you also look at what we have done wrong in the past and of course you learn a lot. So the “tradition” also means that things were done and also done wrong and also done right. I’m not someone who says tradition, we always do it exactly the same way, because that’s what we’ve always done, that would really contradict that. But we look at it with pride and say: “That’s where we come from and we’ve already done that and we’ve learned that and we’re moving forward on the basis of that.” And I believe that this is therefore always a good basis for the customer, because it is a basis for trust. Not always only for the employees, they have experience, long experience, sometimes over generations, sometimes the father has already worked here. So here too, tradition helps you in the workforce, but also with the customer. The customer sees that they we have been doing it for a very long time, that we are apparently able to do it and that they have the confidence that we will be a partner for a long time to come.

Julia Ures: Mr. Brüning, we have just talked about the fact that standstill is not good for any company. So I would like to summarize, that it is always important to stay on top of the game, maybe sometimes even to be one step faster than the competition. When it comes to the development of new products, it is of course always important to know what the market wants. How do you manage to find out, i.e. stay up to date and find out what the market of the future wants?

Michael Brüning: Yes, it’s not like going into a chamber and coming up with something new. Most of the time it’s related to problems in a drive system or customers somehow ask for something and say “Hey, there’s no coupling working anymore, what can you do?” And then you think about it. So we have a pretty good customer contact, let me put it this way. We have a great exchange with each other, which means that in the early days, if a clutch failed, which of course can happen, you might have received a complaint. Nowadays, however, customers have known us for a long, long time and when a clutch fails, you ask “Hey, what was the reason? Why did the clutch fail?” Now it is no longer the reason, after all it is that other external conditions may have caused the clutch to fail. Furthermore, we at KTR have an innovation team, which means that many are stuck in day-to-day business and do not necessarily have the freedom to develop new products. This means that you might have an idea that you roughly sketch out and also formulate. Then we have employees, young employees, who finally take up this package and then possibly develop something out of it. In other words, a preliminary study is created in the product area itself and the real development is done by the innovation team. That is actually a very nice thing. We used to do it ourselves in the product areas, but then it often comes off short. In other words, if the customer is more demanding, then innovation takes a back seat. And if people are really free and have time to take care of it, then it makes sense. Then you’re still involved in the project here and there, of course, but as I said, it grows in the germ cell and is then pushed back into the product area sometime later.

Julia Ures: By the way, if you hear one or the other sound in the background – there is work going on around us, and it has to be exactly like that, and of course there might be one or the other thing that can be heard there, but this only shows that we are here very realistically, in a realistic environment, and that work is going on around us.

A personal question to you, Ms. Warning, has reached us. You have been managing director of the KTR Group since 2017. Which challenges of the last years would you personally name as the biggest in your position?

Nicola Warning: So, of course you have challenges every day. When I really look back over the past three years: One big point was that we had many long-serving employees, we had a few department heads who brought the company to where it is today, who retired and took their well-earned retirement. So of course we really had to call on the next generation and form a team. I think that was quite successful, it looks that way. Now there really is a dedicated team that has grown into it. And this management team is of course one of the success factors in such a company, because it is important that all departments link up well and work together. I believe that this is becoming increasingly important, the cross-departmental work. And in the last few years this has been a multi-unit work, where many people had to help, of course, and so far I think it has been successful. I would see this as the biggest challenge so far and Corona is not making it any easier right now. Of course this is a challenge for everyone.

Julia Ures: Mr. Brüning, one more question for you as product manager. Is there a current trend in mechanical engineering which you consider to be trend-setting and if so, how does KTR react to this trend?

Michael Brüning: So trend, I would say, in the past it was often the case that many customers ultimately bought over the price. In other words, the buyer had quite a lot of power and said, I buy what is the cheapest. Nowadays you look a bit deeper into this and that’s what it’s all about. Is the operator who uses the product satisfied with it? That means: are the service times, are they acceptable or do I have to spend half a day on the clutch until I have disassembled and reassembled it. I think that’s it, and it also benefits us, because we have service-friendly clutches. The durability, the availability, I think these are issues that now play more of a role than in the past.

Julia Ures: And with that we slowly reach the 20 minute mark. We have of course just explained, 20 minutes approximately each episode should last, so that it does not become too long, so that it is also quite nice for you to watch these videos in between times and also to hear the Podcast. If you liked it or if you would like to read the whole thing again, you will find the written text on the KTR website and of course we invite you to share with those who are also interested in KTR where the podcast can be found, namely on all common podcast formats and on the channel on YouTube. There the whole thing is of course a video, if you are watching us at the moment, then you are of course also seeing us and I would like to tell you briefly what our topic will be next time. That is internationalization and next time my guest will be Torben Maybaum, Head of Global Sales at KTR, who has been with the company for 26 years, one year more than Mr. Brüning.

And I would like to say thank you both very much for our little interview, that you were also willing to answer questions that you did not know before. I don’t think it hurt at all, that’s what they always say at the dentist. Nicola Warning and Michael Brüning, thank you very much and you are very welcome to send us your questions to socialmedia@ktr.com. We would like to include them in one of the next episodes and answer them, so thank you very much for watching, for listening and see you next time. Bye!