• Aufbau Erde schematisch mit Statistiken im Hintergrund

Ziehl-Abegg celebrates 50 years of production in Schöntal-Bieringen

Company in general

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When people think of Ziehl-Abegg Bieringen they often only have the foundry in mind. That’s natural since this part of the Schöntal is the location of the world's only die-casting foundry in which aluminium rotors up to one meter in size can be produced in one casting – but there’s much to the work of the 550 employees than just die-casting: Bieringen Ziehl-Abegg has been synonymous with accumulated expertise in axial fans for 50 years and has developed ground-breaking technologies that have now become standard in the global fan industry.

The name of the former plant manager Helmut Friedl is inseparably linked with Ziehl-Abegg in Bieringen. With just 10 employees he laid the foundation for the start of production back in mid-1964; the site was purchased in 1965. Together with a team of 25 employees, Friedl then began supplying the headquarters plant in Künzelsau. He gradually moved into the halls of the former weaving mill, the aim of which was to locate the production of external rotor motors in the Erlenbachtal.

Just 11 years later the site was ready for its first expansion. The existing 2300 square meters of production space was no longer sufficient for growth. The company constructed four more halls next to the shed halls for the sheet metal fabrication at a cost of approx. 600,000 Deutschmarks, thus enabling Ziehl-Abegg in Bieringen to continue expanding.

By the 1980s the Bieringen site was already employing 280 people. Because the focus in the area between the Kocher and Jagstal was still on agriculture, many farmers eyed the bustling industrial activity and expansion with suspicion. “I assured everyone who sold us a piece of land that their children would receive training with the company", remembers Friedl. Once the first of Bieringen’s young people had actually joined Ziehl-Abegg, Friedl - and therefore Ziehl-Abegg - had gained the trust of the local population.

Just how closely the employees in Bieringen identified themselves with "their" plant was demonstrated in December 1993: shortly before Christmas the Erlenbach overflowed its banks to such a level that at around 10 pm water flooded into the foundry. Under the leadership of Helmut Friedl, the staff endeavoured to avert even more extensive damage. Even when the EVS shut off the electricity supply after midnight, everyone continued to work using emergency lighting. The situation was dire because the logs from the sawmills in Aschhausen and Bieringen had formed a dam at the Erlenbach bridge. On the West side of the plant the mass of water carried scrap and metal along with it. The workers on the early shift who arrived at 5 a.m. simply went back home only to reappear later at the factory wearing waterproof clothing.

Once again the factory threatened to burst at the seams: so on 6 May 1994 the first turf was dug for the next phase of expansion. The aim was to concentrate ventilation engineering in the Erlenbachtal. The motto was ‘performance centres’ instead of centralisation and initially this was somewhat controversial because Helmut Friedl’s idea was considered unviable by his colleagues in Künzelsau. However, the plant manager won them over and following the expansion in the mid 90's, Bieringen had 20,000 square metres of production area where 460 people earned their living. The highlight of the expansion was the inauguration of a so-called Power & Free plant: the conveyor system transports computer-controlled raw materials, semi-finished goods and end products throughout the plant. The system, which is spread over several floors, is 4 km in length.

The spatial opportunities for development on the Bieringen site have been utilised to the full since an additional extension was completed following the turn of the Millennium when new buildings were constructed for the foundry and the dispatch area and service side expanded. Since then the Executive Board’s focus of attention has been on process optimisation and upgrading the manufacturing facilities. The relocation of the service area to Künzelsau in Spring 2015 brought further opportunities for optimising the process organization at the Bieringen plant which is now being implemented on a gradual basis. 100 tons of aluminium ingots are smelted at Ziehl-Abegg every week and then dispatched from the plant as fans.

“I have the utmost respect for the employees at Bieringen” says Peter Fenkl. The Chairman of the Board of Directors travels across every continent to identify new customer trends - "but there is no other foundry in the world which manufactures fans up to one metre in size 'in one casting”. The experts in Bieringen even coped with the challenge of the bionic ‘owl wing’ fans, with the characteristic serrated trailing edges: “The liquid aluminium runs right to the very edge, without cooling in the mould beforehand – no-one else can do this. A masterpiece of engineering by our foundry foremen and engineers" says Frankl with pride.

There are currently 550 people working at Ziehl-Abegg’s Bieringen plant, about ten percent of whom are women. "We produce around one million drive units and fans each year", emphasised Factory Manager Ralf Heiland who took over the management of the plant from Günter Kress at the end of 2013. Heiland attaches importance to Bieringen being more than just a pure supplier within the ZIEHL ABEGG Group: “We manufacture complete fans with motor, control unit and guard. “Whenever anyone goes shopping in a supermarket, uses his cell phone or draws power from an electrical socket, there’s every probability that a fan made in Bieringen will be operating in the background, providing the cooling and ventilation for the technology. The use of the fans is normally only clear to see in the ventilation for animal stables – the products manufactured in Bieringen are actually used in systems for cooling milk or meat, operating reliably and quietly in the background, almost invisible to the layman.

The Ziehl-Abegg Bieringen plant has a total covered area of 31,700 square meters – and yet the buildings blend in ideally with the course of the Erlenbach and the shape of the valley. Visitors from other parts of Germany or from abroad in particular are amazed at this successful symbiosis of nature and manufacturing company. And for the people around Schöntal, living near to their place of work in the scenically spectacular Erlenbachtal is an important aspect.