Nevertheless, that’s exactly what Vorwerk wants: “We are one of those companies that likes to keep its core competencies right at home,” says Walter Beaupoil from the company’s strategic purchasing department. “That’s why Vorwerk will keep investing into this location for some time yet.” There is plenty of evidence for this: A new motor plant and a state-of-the-art R&D facility on the premises are pegged for completion by late 2018. Some of the existing production halls will be demolished to make room for the bigger new buildings.
Products in tune with the zeitgeist
Technical expertise and a bold take on innovation are in the blood for this family-owned company, which started in the late 1920s with the Vorwerk engineers turning a gramophone motor into a compact and versatile vacuum cleaner. The name given to this, Kobold, soon became synonymous with the company’s reputation for specialized sophisticated domestic appliances, all distributed through direct sales. This strategy has proved enormously successful ever since. “Being in close contact with our customers provides important development stimulus and makes it easier for us to identify new trends,” says Beaupoil. “This has helped us develop a number of very special products that are right at the forefront of the market today.”
The current star of the Wuppertal company’s product range is the Thermomix® TM5, which has been causing something of a revolution in kitchens across the world. This Internet-connected kitchen whiz offers a total of 12 functions for chopping, mixing, and cooking. The Thermomix® links up with the Cookidoo recipe portal to access specifically-developed recipes that are shown on the appliance’s display; the Guided Cooking function then provides step-by-step instructions for preparing the meal. With such a recipe for success, Vorwerk has made cooking both easier and more versatile than ever.
Even for the well-established appliance manufacturer, the success of the Thermomix® TM5 was a bit of a surprise, and since its launch in 2014 more than one million units have been produced every year – all for direct sales. “It seems our product has really hit a nerve,” says Beaupoil. To him, it’s the combination of smart and simple: an intelligent solution paired with intuitive operation and a modern design. Fittingly, the Kobold has also received a facelift, and as a roaming robo-vac it now cleans floors and carpets autonomously – all controlled via a mobile app.
Motor manufacturing is precision work
No matter if it’s a Kobold vacuum cleaner or a Thermomix®, there is one aspect that all of these devices have in common: Their motors are made in Wuppertal, and the motors are built using electrical steel from thyssenkrupp. For more than 30 years, we have been reliably supplying high-quality steel to Vorwerk, more than 3,000 metric tons per year. Currently, this takes the form of narrow strip coils at a width of 53-122 mm, bundled into shipping units weighing 500-1,000 kg.
“Manufacturing motors is a precision job,” says Robert Prim, a customer adviser from thyssenkrupp in Bochum. On the Thermomix, the rotor and the stator – the rotating and stationary components of the motor – are each made of 60 stacked laminations of 0.5 mm thick electrical steel. The motor’s magnetic field is generated in-between these two components, which are separated by an air gap that should be as small as possible. “Vorwerk has extremely tight stamping tolerances,” says Prim. “In order to maintain consistent motor quality, the electrical steel’s grain structure and strength need to comply with very stringent quality requirements.”
Vorwerk will continue to bank on innovations from its R&D department, aiming to release one new appliance per year. This may be an ambitious goal but it is in keeping with the ever-shortening production cycles of the digital age. For the development of its electric motors, Vorwerk will continue to rely on thyssenkrupp steel. “The technical demands on materials such as this will keep rising,” says Beaupoil. “That’s why it is crucial for us to be working with a competent, well-established supply partner – one that we can collaborate with in the development and integration of suitable materials.”