Alimex – Strength in Lightness

Leader in aluminium cast plates, German alimex is set to meet the growing demand for the material of the future.

The most abundant naturally occurring metal in the earth’s crust, aluminium is an essential element of modern life. Lightweight, durable and infinitely recyclable, value-added aluminium products can lower energy costs and carbon emissions in dozens of applications. Aluminium is critical to a modern society increasingly focused on sustainability.

One of the companies that are helping to address the rising need for aluminium across industries is alimex (the spelling is alimex). Headquartered in Willich closed to Düsseldorf, this medium-sized family company is a leader in quality and innovation in the aluminium cast plates process. Established in 1970, the company last year celebrated a landmark anniversary of five decades as a successful, growing operation.

“50 years ago, our founder, Helmut Geller, set up this company and invented a complete new aluminium market segment as he invested in a new technology, the aluminium cast plate process,” says Dr Philip Grothe, the Managing Director.

He himself joined alimex in 2014 and under his management the company has expanded the business to Malaysia and the United States, where local manufacturing units were established to serve the local markets, thus significantly reinforcing the company’s position on a global scale.

Processed to suit

The company’s core business is the production of the “ACP 5080” machined cast plate. Beyond this key product, alimex offers a wider range of cut products and precise aluminium components. These are used in the semicon and solar industry, mechanical engineering, automotive, medical technology and many other sectors.

Dr Grothe points out that in production, one of the most important steps is the heat treatment – annealing. As a result of the process, aluminium becomes a material with very special properties such as particular corrosion resistance, and various degrees of hardness and surface structures.

“The process, subcontracted in the past, is now conducted in-house under our own control, in our state-of-the-art furnace installed a few years ago at the German plant. This technology is one of Europe’s biggest furnaces, and is one of the factors that set us apart from our competitors.”

In the new facility, up to 600 tonnes of aluminium can be treated in a single production process. By annealing within sophisticated parameters, the aluminium is freed from stresses, preparing it for further production processes. Removing as much stress as possible is essential in the further processing of aluminium, as it guarantees the dimensional stability of the aluminium products.

Dr Grothe points out that the set-up of serving global markets from three hubs on three continents is another unique feature unmatched in the industry. “We have invested a lot in this coverage, to serve our customers all over the world as a reliable partner. The production facilities in the US and Malaysia are currently smaller than our main German plant but the plan is to invest in their technologies as well.”

Alimex operates in a highly competitive environment, and loyal partnerships with suppliers and customers around the world are key, says Dr Grothe. “We stick to what we promise and our relationships are based on trust; we learn together with customers and develop together.”

Sustainability at its best

Aluminium as such is a fully sustainable material and sustainability is the main focus of alimex’s operation. Alimex’s ecological, economic and social activities were extensively audited by the German Institute for Sustainability and Economics and as a result, the alimex Group was awarded the sustainability certificate, including a seal of approval. “For us, this is both great recognition and a further incentive.”

“As an aluminium processor, we are aware of our responsibility to protect the environment and so for years have practised systematic sustainability management. Our aluminium is 100% recyclable with no loss of quality. We also continually invest significant amounts in modernising our value chain, which not only helps us make a substantial contribution to conserving resources but also helps us increase our competitiveness.”

He points out that the core factor in alimex’s continuing success in global markets is a resource of a different kind – the workforce. Alimex practices ‘de-centralised’ responsibility to allow its staff to grow and develop within a transparent organisation that keeps the people informed and motivated.

Dr Grothe says: “Without an excellent team you cannot be successful. A skilled and motivated team is a key success factor, and good communications and supportive company culture are essential to motivate employees and advance the company.”

With its innovative focus, the company has participated in exciting projects with student teams of TUM, the Technical University of Munich. The current project, which is about innovative tunnelling, is called “The Not-a-Boring Competition”, hosted by Elon Musk’s The Boring Company, challenging teams from around the world to drill a 30m long and 50cm wide tunnel as quickly and accurately as possible. “The Munich team was selected from over 400 teams worldwide as one of 12 finalists to compete in the race in the US this summer, “says Dr Grothe.

Growing company

The company’s performance and its unique position have been recognised across the country and beyond. The most inspiring awards include the European Aluminium Award, an initiative of the Dutch Aluminium Centre in cooperation with important aluminium industry associations, and the 2018 Innovator of the Year Award presented by ‘Die Deutsche Wirtschaft’ (DDW), the voice of the German “Mittelstand”.

However, recent developments have not been without challenges – the coronavirus pandemic, the most severe economic crisis since WWII has affected the company as everyone else, bringing increased price pressure and an accelerated shift towards digitisation – a process that the company had embarked on already before the pandemic, and implemented in its smart factory in Germany, step by step to be followed by the other two production facilities soon.

Dr Grothe affirms that when progressing into the future, it is key to stay brave and positive and make investments with confidence and courage. “Although the whole world is becoming increasingly complex, without a clear plan you will not succeed. Our plan for the future includes the expansion of our international activities and the consistent launch of customer-driven innovations. Over the next 3 to 5 years, we expect to achieve substantial annual growth, and to further improve our presence in our key markets.”

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