Hannover Messe USA

THONI ALUTEC Interview: Founder & CEO Lothar Thoni

1. Mr. Thoni, the history of your company started in the early 1940's. Can you describe the most important milestones?
I still remember the hardship we suffered in the last years of the war with nights of bombing, the retreat of the already defeated German army through my village and the takeover by the Americans. Only in 1948 after the currency reform, when every German received 40 Deutsch Mark starting capital, the country started to progress.

At the age of thirteen (1952) I took up an apprenticeship as a hand molder in a grey iron iron foundry where I was already a journeyman when I was 16 years old. At the age of 20 I joined an aluminum foundry. I immediately realized that this will be my future in which I will find my professional fulfillment.In the year 1967, at the age of 28, and with 5,000 Deutsch Mark I started my own foundry. After only 3 years of self-employment, I built up about 25.000 square feet of production space in a small town near Ludwigshafen.

In the meantime, within a radius of 100 kilometers many aluminum casting consumers became aware of Thoni Metal Casting, because I also cast brass and bronze. I added the low pressure casting process to the existing sand casting process. The 70s and 80s were boom years in Germany and and the large cities nearby took up all the labour force and it was impossible for me to expand.

In 1988, I decided to start a production in southwest Ireland having an unemployment of nearly 30%.
The Hannover Exhibition in Germany was the only advertising we had at that time. My son Lothar joined the company in Germany as an apprentice at the age of 16. He was a great support and at the age of 20 he moved to Ireland. I recognized the potential in him and wanted to expand the business.This was difficult in Ireland as there was no history of foundry industry. Therefore, in 1998 a new production was set up in Poland. The owner was my son Lothar Thoni. With diligence, extraordinary skill, great expertise and entrepreneurial spirit, Lothar and I pushed the business forward. Today we have a state-of-the-art foundry with a very big vertical integration run by a fantastic team.

2. What is your core competence? And what can your company do better than others?
Our core competence are large aluminum castings with high demand regarding mechanical requirements and design. To serve the global market with such products we do all necessary services and processes in-house from casting design, tool making, casting, machining, testing, painting and assembly. Even though our regular size is
lower, but castings up to 10 tons and length of 30 ft have been made at our facility. This shows to what level we have developed the aluminum casting process.

3. For which customers do you produce today? What are the main customer industries?
Multinationals and medium sized companies who are among the world leaders in their segments are our customers. We search for innovative partners which require innovate cast aluminum solutions. Energy, medical, robotic, vacuum, wind power and railway are only a few industries we supply to.

4. Do you remember any orders that have challenged you more than usual?
There were many “beautiful” projects which require the highest level of craftsmanship paired with high-tech facilities. Such projects keep us striving for more technical challenges. So far, I can’t recall any project which has caused us exceptional difficulties as such. All our projects require thorough document review and preparation. After that it is down to our well experienced team to make use of our state-of-the-art equipment through the whole supply chain. This all is precisely planned with our ERP system and leaves very little room for any surprises once we push the button.

5. How is your company positioned in worldwide business?
Next to our plant in Poland we have now set up factories in India and Mexico. For us our aluminum castings need to be produced local to local as they are not a simple commodity and should be made closer to the final customer. Mexico is serving North- and South America and India’s focus is the whole of Asia. Looking at current global political tension and trade wars causing custom barriers and currency fluctuation local to local makes even more sense.

6. How important are the aspects Industry 4.0, digitization and networking for your company?
We have ERP fully implemented in all 3 locations and they are all connected with each other. Without Industry 4.0 our company would not be ready for the future and therefore Industry 4.0 was made an essential part of our expansion and strategy. Digitalization is already very well implemented in all our departments as it streamlines our processes and enables us to connect people with each other. The amount of data we produce, collect, share and analyze could not be handled without digitalization.

7. How do you want to develop and expand in the future? What are major upcoming projects?
What are Growth will come by new demand in the market. Anything that is moving needs to be lighter and more efficient. This is what we can offer to our customers transforming their current design from steel fabrication or iron casting into cast aluminum solutions. I use the term solution as our castings are the solution for the today’s market requirements rather than a plain product. We want to expand globally and bring our service into markets and companies which are not aware of the big benefits they are missing so far. We want to achieve a change of mindset of the mechanical engineers to be more open minded and creative like their counterparts in Biotech or IT. This is our “project” and if we succeed it will open up doors and create unlimited possibilities.

8. From your point of view, what are the most important qualities and abilities that you as a human being have to bring with you to successfully run your company?
Success in the foundry business requires mainly a lot of hard work, assertiveness and the ability to accept own mistakes. But for me the most important point is honesty which creates a sustainable team spirit and trust by the customer. A foundry requires an exceptional commitment. After all ups and downs I would again start in the same business and today I consider my work as my hobby. This makes every day I work a gift and pleasure.