Montratec: High-Tech from the Black Forest | Economy | DW

They’re called Heimliche Weltmeister or Hidden Champions – many of the small and medium-sized businesses that are mostly located in southwestern Germany. Some are so hard to find that even the two taxi drivers who are about to hit the company have never heard of Montratec. The company’s technology in Niedereschach near Villingen-Schwenningen is literally the basis for contact lenses, car doors and mobile phones. Technology – these are high-tech wagons that combine production processes in factory halls on sophisticated rail systems. This is intralogistics, explains Sven Worm, Managing Director of Montratec.

There are large plants in the production hall that give the room a pleasant atmosphere. It hisses everywhere and you hear a whistle as cars that are the size of a shoe box and powered by tiny electric motors accelerate.

A pendulum system instead of a conveyor belt

This state-of-the-art Carrera track replaces conventional belt conveyors. As the shuttles move autonomously, their sensors detect obstacles and then stop. Compared to a conveyor belt, the individual trolleys can run in tight turns and “with us, the front always stays ahead,” says Worm, because the alignment of the production parts always remains the same.

Newborn baby with venture capital investors

As early as 1996, a Swiss watch manufacturer developed a trolley to combine production processes with little vibration. Meanwhile, the product was continued by the machine-building company Schmid Group, based in Freudenstadt. The turning point came in 2017: Sven Worm, who had been in charge of the product since 2010, joined forces with two equity investors – so he relied on private equity.

Sven Worm and Montratec’s commercial director Sarah Glatz will show you around their production hall

Together with investors Rantum Capital Management and Cedarlake Capital Partners – both specializing in German medium-sized companies – they bought Montratec from the Schmid Group. Investment firms have stayed out of the operating business, says Worm, and “are more like a parent that you can ask after you move out.”

The business model of these investors is “to buy companies over time to sell them back at a profit,” explains Christoph Scheuplein. A sociologist conducts research on private equity at the Institute of Work and Technology (IAT) in Gelsenkirchen.

Since around 2015, a new trend has emerged in the private equity industry in Germany: investors are also buying smaller firms, “because there are too few firms to buy,” says Scheuplein. Investment firms in Europe had EUR 300 billion in 2020 to search for investment opportunities. S&P market analysis published the data indicating that it was the so-called dry powder has doubled since 2012.

According to Montratec, in 2021 it had sales of 20 million euros and made a profit for the first time. The capital of the owners’ companies was the basis for surviving the corona crisis.

Also delivered in the corona crisis

To date, Montratec still supplies 60 percent of its swing solutions to the automotive industry. The medical department has expanded significantly over the past two years. One of the crown vaccines approved in Germany is also filled using the Montratec system.

After the diesel scandal, the company did not do so well in 2019. Dependencies on the car industry were too great. But Worm decided to take a chance with the owners, he says.

Since the company’s production data in the Black Forest is easy to control, the company has always had to rely on larger stocks – especially when it comes to aluminum, the main raw material. And the Worm had bought it on a large scale shortly before the Corona crisis. So things turned out well for Montratec during the crisis. “It’s not that we didn’t feel it. But we just didn’t get the results we couldn’t deliver, ”says Worm.

Innovations in intralogistics

It’s not easy for a company in the Black Forest. Because the intralogistics market is also very competitive and the main competitor is the industry giant Bosch; So the innovation of October 2021 helped.

Since then, Montratec shuttles have been able to carry over 50 kilograms of cargo. Managing Director Worm shows such a structure in the laboratory: Another frame is attached to a small trolley, so that a complete car door can be transported in a relatively small vehicle.

The most important part of the rails that guide the bogies: a current passes through them and pushes the shuttles. But any other external device can also be supplied with energy in this way. The displays can be tested on trolleys while they are in motion, and a Black Forest customer has changed the rule: his production robots move through the production stages on Montratec trolleys.

Thanks to a significant capital injection, Montratec became its own company. You rely on a strategy to diversify to other sectors. Because they only have one product; but if Sven Worm dreams, it should then be used in the aerospace industry.

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