Schmidt + Clemens GmbH + Co KG: Achieving Innovation Together

Schmidt + Clemens GmbH + Co KG is a family business with a passion for customized products, creative research and development tasks and innovation. 145 years of tradition and experience in the production of cast stainless steel has carried the company through the constant changes in the industry and in society. Lars Niemczewski, Head of Corporate Communications, spoke to Stainless Steel World Americas about the upcoming digitalization, artificial intelligence, the company’s sustainability efforts and investments, and about the reasons why he is proud to be part of the S+C family.

By Sonja Wingels, Stainless Steel World Germany

“We are a niche stainless steel plant. You do not get anything off the shelf from us. We listen carefully to the problems our customers describe and then look for the optimum solutions that we can offer, with our patented alloys and manufacturing processes, or for innovative solutions that we can create together. We develop the product specifically for the customer’s needs so that it is perfectly tailored to their facility,” explained Lars Niemczewski. He works as the Innovation Manager and is also responsible for global corporate communications as well as press and marketing at Schmidt + Clemens.

By constantly facing new challenges, S+C employees continue to drive innovation in the stainless steel industry. “Because what works today may be outdated tomorrow,” commented the Niemczewski. This is why the company operates one of the largest research and development departments in the industry with over 30 researchers, scientists, and engineers who are constantly working on developing solutions. These can be products or services. In the holistic optimization service, the customer’s machinery and system operating data are examined and analyzed, whereupon goals such as more output, less energy consumption, and the like are defined with the customer and a solution is then developed together.

Innovation Thanks to Tradition

“Our success is based on passion, innovation, and tradition. All the innovations that we have developed and the patents that we have registered would not have been possible without the wealth of experience from our 145-year history with its long-standing tradition and the passion of all our employees to fi nd and develop solutions for customers,” said Niemczewski.

Schmidt + Clemens is a family business that is now managed by Jan Schmidt-Krayer in the fourth generation. Founded in 1879 by Ludwig Schmidt and Wilhelm Clemens in Frankfurt am Main, Schmidt + Clemens was initially a stainless steel trader. However, the urge to manufacture products of their own was great and so the company settled in the founders’ place of origin, Lindlar in the Upper Berg region in Germany, near Cologne. This location had a stream that served the company as a source of energy to power the forging hammers. From there, the company quickly developed into a foundry, which started its own mold casting production in 1932. This expanded its production a few years later to include horizontal and vertical centrifugal casting as well as investment casting production. Today, the company, which supplied centrifugally cast pipes to the petrochemical industry for the first time in 1962, is the world market leader for tube systems for the petrochemical industry.

In the 145 years of the company’s history, S+C has also been able to establish many international footholds. The company has more than 30 commercial agencies worldwide and, in addition to its headquarters, also produces in the Czech Republic, Spain, and Malaysia. There is also a sales office in Houston, Texas. S+C employs around 1,100 people worldwide, with around 650 at its headquarters. Niemczewski said: “We are very firmly rooted in the locations where we operate. It is of great importance to the entrepreneurial family that we take responsibility in these regions. We are committed to charitable and non-profit causes at all locations and support food banks and schools. Once or twice a year, our trainees also get involved as part of a social day, where they help out at food banks or renovate a playground, for example.”

Process Optimization on 1.5 Kilometers Factory Site

The plant in Malaysia has just been optimized through investments. This year, despite the high energy costs, the focus is on the German facility. The problem there is that the location is in a narrow valley. Many factory halls and other buildings have grown organically – they were built where space and resources were available. Nowadays, if goods have to be transported from one end of the plant to the other, the distance can be up to 1.5 kilometers. Restructuring measures are therefore being implemented to optimize throughput. This year, in particular, the largest hall in which the main product, centrifugally cast pipes, is manufactured is being overhauled. The company is also investing in digitalization and using artificial intelligence to achieve a very significant optimization of processes.

Supported Through AI

“One topic that affects us all is artificial intelligence. Where can we use this artificial intelligence to improve our products and our processes?” explained Niemczewski. “As a medium-sized company in our industry, we see our plans with AI as very advanced and we will already be using it this year.”

Schmidt + Clemens is already using AI in marketing. Its use is planned in other areas of the company. A dedicated project group consisting of engineers, computer scientists, and AI experts has been formed to examine and plan various fields of application within the company.

A Family Business That Lives Family Values

An employee survey revealed that the value that is most appreciated in the company is honesty. This honesty is reflected in the error management culture at Schmidt + Clemens. Niemczewski explained: “If you want to work innovatively and create something new, you have to try things out, make mistakes, allow mistakes, communicate honestly about mistakes, and learn from mistakes. That is the key to success.” However, this honest way of working is not only of the utmost importance for product development but also for the company’s continuous improvement efforts. This way, the company is also constantly developing internally as an employer, in its work processes and all other internal structures.

Schmidt + Clemens also wants to take responsibility: for its employees, their well-being, health and safety, but also for society, which is why sustainable action is a clear focus of the company.

Products for More Sustainability

“We are currently investing in new machines with the aim of using the earth’s resources more sustainably. Schmidt + Clemens is doing a lot to organize itself more ecologically,” said Niemczewski. The company currently operates a small photovoltaic system. All lamps in the factory have been replaced with energy-saving LED lights and employees have been trained in environmentally friendly behavior. However, this does not make a foundry CO2-neutral. For this reason, electric furnaces are operated, and investments are made in centrifugal casting systems that are heated electrically to avoid the use of fossil fuels.

The biggest contribution that S+C makes to sustainability is the products that are developed to help customers reduce their CO2 emissions. The SCOPE pipe, for example, is a centrifugally cast pipe with which S+C is the world market leader. The company has patented a process that creates an internal profile in the pipes to optimize heat transfer. The surface area of a smooth pipe is much smaller than that of a SCOPE pipe. By increasing the surface area in the pipe, much better heat transfer is achieved, and the turbulence ensures better mixing inside the pipe. The customer can decide whether they want to use less energy or use the same energy but get a significantly higher output. “The SCOPE pipe has prevailed and was selected for the EU-funded ‘Steamcracker of the Future’ project. The material is patented, as is the process we use to create this profiling in the pipes. Increasing the inner surface area seems obvious, and many have tried to copy it, but no one has yet succeeded,” Niemczewski explained. “But this is just one of the products with which we make our contribution.”

Passionate Workers Thanks to Company Ethics

Schmidt + Clemens is proud of its products that reduce the industry’s CO2 emissions. “We cannot undo the damage that humans have done to the environment and climate, but we want to make our contribution to the corrections that will make a cleaner tomorrow possible,” emphasized Niemczewski. “We reach many young people with this commitment. We often hear complaints from other companies that the younger generation does not want to work. However, we have found that there has simply been a shift in values and that most of them need to feel that they can stand behind what they do and be proud of what they achieve. When this is the case, they are passionate and energetic about their work. The reliable relationship between employer and employee and the feeling of being heard with their ideas and feedback also plays an important role for almost all employees, but especially for young employees. Although we have been operating in an ‘old economy’ for 145 years, we are always able to adapt to such changes and create modern and attractive workplaces thanks to our constant striving for innovation and flat hierarchies.”

Employees are brought on board with innovations and their opinions are trusted. “The employees know best what we can do better, both in terms of processes and as an employer,” relayed Niemczewski. This approach is paying off. In March, Schmidt + Clemens received the “Highest Innovative Strength” award in the “Innovative Strength” study conducted by the information channel “Welt” and the analysis institute “ServiceValue.” The analysis is based on around 215,000 assessments by managers who rated the innovative strength of German companies. In the steel industry, S+C secured the top position out of 19 companies surveyed.

Schmidt + Clemens has launched “Innovation Now” to organize feedback and generate ideas. This is an idea collection portal where all employees can suggest ideas on a wide variety of topics. Niemczewski explains enthusiastically: “The company’s internal social media network ‘Innovation Now’ was introduced three years ago and is a transparent program where anyone can see, like and comment on any idea – totally interactively. There are also ‘confidential ideas’ that can be sent to a specific team without public visibility, but this happens very rarely because everyone really values the exchange and joint development of ideas. Every idea has a tile, and because people can like it, you are able to see directly: who is moved by what, how many people find which idea relevant?”

“If you take a broader view of sustainability, the fact that our employees often stay with us for 25-50 years is also very sustainable. If someone has a permanent job where they feel comfortable, in a beautiful region with a high recreational value, good schools, and an excellent healthcare system, then they also avoid environmental pollution. Simply because employees are motivated to live close to their workplace and can therefore avoid emissions caused by long daily commutes. Avoiding constant changes of workplace and place of residence also reduces stress, waste, and emissions,” commented Niemczewski.

Commitment to Education

There are currently 17 vacancies at Schmidt + Clemens. Among others, the company is looking for smelters who do not necessarily need training as foundry mechanics, but only experience with an electric arc or induction furnace, two skilled hands, and passion. In addition, the S+C Academy trains around 50 apprentices in a wide range of industrial, technical, and commercial professions. The academy also provides training for other companies, partly out of a sense of responsibility for the region. If smaller companies are unable to adopt certain topics from the training framework plan, they can book these modules with the academy and S+C will then train their trainees in these topics or help them prepare for their exams.

“We are proud of the fact that we actually take part in the IHK’s (chamber of commerce) award for the best trainees every year and have already trained Germany’s best foundry mechanic in 2016 and the best cutting machine operator in 2022. We have such modern equipment that we are also an IHK examination venue for many professions. We are also involved in the examination boards. Lisa Büchle, for example, is one of our employees who sits on the examination board for industrial clerks. She does this on a voluntary basis and, like the firefighters among our employees and other volunteers, is exempted from working hours,” concluded Niemczewski.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the profiled company and may not reflect the position of Stainless Steel World Americas.

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