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Customised technology

| Author: Stéphane Itasse

Employees with know-how and experience are a solid staple at Ottemeier.
Employees with know-how and experience are a solid staple at Ottemeier. (Bild: Ottemeier)

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It was 1958 when Rudolf Ottemeier seized the moment at the age of 23 and became the founder of a company. Using a die-cutting unit he had built himself from used parts, he began with the production of collar stays.

Collar stays or collar stiffeners are the small strips that are inserted into specially made pockets on the underside of a shirt collar to stabilise the collar's points and to keep them in the correct place. Originally, these collar stays had been made out of sheet metal or sometimes horn.

The former materials had been replaced by plastic when Ottemeier produced them. The polyester Mylar had come on the market just a few years earlier, making the collar stays for men's shirts suitable for washing and ironing. In comparison to the previously used collar stays made from sheet metal, they didn't have to be removed from the shirt before washing. Due to this advantage, the plastic collar stays were well received by the then numerous textile manufacturers in Ottemeier's homeland of East Westphalia.

The start to self-employment was a success, also thanks to the help of his future wife Maria-Elisabeth, who was initially involved in production at the die-cutting unit. Owing to his foresight, Ottemeier recognised something else: More and more companies within the textile industry transferred their production to countries with lower labour costs. Soon after founding his company, he recollected his learned profession as a toolmaker and launched a second division of the company. Among the very first customers Ottemeier supplied with tools were Tenge in Rietberg, Nosag Drahtfedern in Neuenkirchen, Hörmann in Steinhagen, Werne and Bielefeld, Miele in Gütersloh, Westfälische Metall Industrie in Lippstadt and Benteler in Paderborn.

The production of collar stays continued until the end of 2014 – and it still characterises the company logo to this day. “Initially, my father acquired all of his customers by himself,” remembers Marion Ottemeier-Esken, daughter of Rudolf Ottemeier and current managing director. To accomplish this, he drove through all of Germany with his BMW Isetta. Soon after, his collar stays attracted customers from abroad.

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Rapid growth creates the need for relocation

The company proliferated, which meant that the company headquarters at Paderborner Straße 502 in Verl soon became too small. Ottemeier therefore moved into a new building in 1972, located in the commercial zone of the district of Kaunitz at Kapellenweg 45, which remains the address of the tool and custom machine manufacturer to this day. “Back then, the area was all green meadows, we were the first in this business park,” recalls Ottemeier-Esken.

In the beginning, the business premises were still comparatively small: Initially, the location amounted to only 1,080 m². However, the company built new halls about every five years and was able to acquire the adjacent site as a result of insolvency in 2001. This was followed by renovation of the building resulting in a total of more than 11,000 m² of production and office space today. At that time, wire-cutting EDM was still being carried out at the initial location. Both machinery and staff only moved to Kapellenweg in 2008.

Custom machinery complements tools

1976 was to become another milestone for the company as the tools that were already being produced individually for each customer were further complemented by custom machinery. “At that time, there was a great demand for automation but only a few manufacturers,” the managing director reports. Accordingly, the employees went through a lot of trial and error. Two of the manufacturer's first machines were a unit that could automatically produce credit cards and a press that could apply new types of brake pads after the use of asbestos was prohibited.

To this day, the subject of automation is still relevant: “Industry 4.0 defines our daily business, it is what customers want,” says Ottemeier-Esken. In this context, the company supplies components for a machine or complete systems. “Often, we are also commissioned as a general contractor, for example, by Rittal or Hörmann – that requires trust,” says the managing director. Moreover, she adds, “We have great customers, it is a pleasure to work with them.”

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1980 marked not only the beginning of Ottemeier-Esken's apprenticeship at her father's company but also the purchase of the first large milling machine, a unit from Droop+Rein. The employees were sceptical at the time: What could the boss want with such a big device? Nevertheless, following a retrofit, it is still running.

The subject of automation and Industry 4.0 is not just a topic of interest for the customers of Ottemeier; it is also pursued in-house – based on sound judgement. “Robot automation within the area of wire-cut EDM has been operational for a year. However, this is not viable for milling, since we tend to work on individual and large rather than many small parts. That is why we are planning to replace the machine park with the inclusion of machining centres and pallet changers to be able to carry out these processes simultaneously,” says Ottemeier-Esken.

Despite all the innovations, however, Ottemeier Werkzeug- und Maschinentechnik is characterised by one big constant: the employees. Twenty of them have been with the company for more than 26 years, and the turnover is extremely low. “Wages must be fitting, but the rest must also be right,” says Ottemeier-Esken in explaining the secret of the company's success, and continues: “All work must be respected, it is irrelevant whether it is that of an engineer or unskilled labourer.”

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