In 2018, Bühler invested CHF 118 million into its asset base – in line with its Strategy 2020. In addition to the acquisition of the Austrian Haas Group and US-based Sputtering Components Inc., the funds were used primarily for the development of new digital technologies and process solutions, the modernization of our production and service network, as well as for strengthening our innovative capabilities. We have proactively utilized our capital, without overstretching our room to maneuver.
The added value of the union of Haas and Bühler was clearly apparent in the first year following the acquisition – the closing took place in January 2018. Haas is a highly respected manufacturer of systems for producing wafers, cookies, and biscuits and is the clear market leader. The machines and solutions from Haas and Bühler ideally complement one another. This fruitful fusion has unlocked a multitude of opportunities for both companies to jointly take a leading position in the consumer foods market.
From the time of the announcement, the liaison between Bühler and Haas met with approval. Customer responses were positive: “Haas and Bühler are a perfect match. The amalgamation opens the way for innovations.” And: “The fact that Haas is coming together with Bühler is very positive for us. It is easier to do business with one company than with two.” Another example: “Haas and Bühler support us as confectionery producers, and we support both companies, for example, in the development of new machines and applications.”
The merger has already resulted in many joint projects, and has created a great deal of value for our customers. As a result of this positive momentum, we decided to accelerate the seamless integration of Haas. For this reason, the technically related Bühler business units for chocolate, baked goods, and coffee have moved from the Grains & Food segment and fused with Haas to make a new, third Bühler business pillar – Consumer Foods. The new organization is led by the previous Haas CEO, Germar Wacker, who was also made a member of the Executive Board. Both moves came into effect on January 1, 2019. Bühler continued to invest strongly in innovation with expenses for research and development (R&D) of CHF 145 million (previous year: CHF 119), representing a ratio to turnover of 4.4%. The transformation to digitalization, initiated in 2016, moved forward at an impressive pace in the 2018 reporting year. About 20% of our innovation spending went into developing digital solutions.
Dynamic digital transformation
The e-commerce solution myBühler, which enables existing customers to request services and replacement parts on the portal, significantly contributed to our digital offering. About 4,000 Bühler customers were connected at the end of 2018.
Bühler and Microsoft committed to an alliance in April 2018 that will enhance food safety and traceability with the rollout of cloud-based solutions. The Bühler Insights digital platform is another milestone launched in September. It is our secure, high-performance, and reliable cloud platform for digital services. It sets new standards in security, traceability, transparency, and data availability across production value chains. Bühler developed the new platform in close partnership with Microsoft. The result is a single solution to run all of Bühler’s digital services.
Today, more than 85% of our solutions can be connected to it. It offers numerous interfaces with standard industry automation and control systems, thus enabling the connection of a wide range of technologies.
At the Microsoft Ignite trade show held in September 2018 in Orlando, Florida, Bühler presented a selection of its digital services. This included MoisturePro, a cloud-based digital service that greatly reduces the energy costs of thermal processing for the food and feed industries. MoisturePro is just one of a range of services that are connected with Bühler Insights. Another is LumoVision, an optical sorting solution that makes it possible to identify and sort corn contaminated with aflatoxin, a carcinogen produced by mold. LumoVision uses ultraviolet cameras and sensors to cut rates of contamination in corn by as much as 90% – as well as maximize productivity.
Two image-processing solutions are also connected to Bühler Insights: GrainiGo for corn and TotalSense for rice. These enable customers to analyze and document the quality of these raw materials using the portable units, their smartphones, an app, and sample trays where quality parameters have been set. A photo is made via smartphone and sent to the secure Bühler Insights platform for analysis. It produces a report that dates and locates the sample for quality traceabilty and as proof of quality compliance. A short time later, the reports are already available. Saving time is critical when adjusting machinery on a production line to maximize output and profitability.
PastaSense, also launched in 2018, uses sensor technology to allow producers to monitor their entire process from raw materials to the end product, completely eliminating the need for manual checks.
Other new digital solutions from Bühler include safefood.ai, which has the potential to revolutionize food safety management by scanning thousands of web pages, databases, news, and social media channels for relevant information. It identifies the products affected and provides customized early warnings to companies so that they can quickly respond. PreMa, meanwhile, facilitates safe grain storage by measuring and tracking the key functions of silo plant equipment, including cleaning machines, filters, elevators, chain conveyors, and silo bins.
Currently, customers can choose from a digital portfolio of over 30 digital services. A further 30 will be launched during 2019. This is just the beginning. Bühler, in partnership with Microsoft, is also actively exploring the potential of blockchain technology to achieve full traceability in the food chain and significantly increase safety and transparency. Blockchain will enable companies to trace the source of any contamination in no time, averting potential problems of illness, production losses, and reputational damage.
Global innovation and production network
For investments in Bühler’s global production network, three projects stand out: the opening of a new battery application lab in Wuxi, China, the move of Bühler’s Die Casting revision business to a new site in Brescia, Italy, and the modernization and expansion of the Uzwil, Switzerland site.
In view of the rising demand for lithium-ion battery production, Bühler opened a 400-square-meter application lab in Wuxi to support customers with concept trials, formulation, and process optimization. China is witnessing a high demand for electrode slurry plant projects, thanks to ambitious government plans to electrify the automotive sector. In China, 40% of all cars sold should be partially or fully electrified by 2030. Another field of application is the intermediate storage of solar or wind energy. As a consequence, substantial market growth rates are forecast for lithium-ion batteries. This new application center sets a new standard for innovation within the Bühler Group. In Brescia, Die Casting moved into a new home with its revision business, which is now geared to double in volume, underlining the commitment to customer service.
The work to modernize its Swiss location is running according to plan. The goal of the five-year project is to develop Uzwil into one of the world’s leading production sites using Industry 4.0 technologies. This should maintain the competitiveness of the Swiss location for the longterm. The first phase – to refurbish production and logistics for massproduced parts – is completed. The construction and refurbishment of innovation labs and application centers is ongoing as part of the CUBIC innovation campus project.
The CUBIC is nearing completion. In early 2019, Bühler employees began moving in, and the official opening of the fully operational innovation campus is set for spring. The CUBIC connects to the application centers where customers can conduct tests with Bühler technologies and experts. The considerable investment of about CHF 50 million over a period of three years is a sign of the company’s dedication to innovation, technology, and Switzerland as a location. The campus will create new opportunities for cooperation both internally and with external partners. We want to sustainably increase the innovative strength and market leadership position of Bühler for the longterm, and work together with partners from industry, science, NGOs, and start-ups to develop innovations for a better world.
With positive energy into the future
We continue to view the future with optimism. We are aware of the accelerated changes of the digital age and are keeping an eye on the uncertainties in current world events, including geopolitics, currencies, interest rates, and opposing trends in free trade. Meanwhile, new business opportunities are emerging, such as in the developing countries of Africa or China’s new Silk Road initiative. We are convinced that the opportunities for Bühler are greater than the risks.
We are well placed to achieve the leading position in the consumer foods market with our new business pillar, and we have fully embraced the new and exciting opportunities offered by digitalization. We are investing considerable resources in developing and harnessing these opportunities. And in the spirit of our partnership-based innovation philosophy, we will continue to work with our customers and to expand our innovation network to make our physical world better with digital means. We will host a broadly scoped Networking Days event in Uzwil in August 2019, which for the first time will cover all Bühler business units.
Under the Networking Days 2019 slogan “Creating Tomorrow Together,” we will continue to work together with our customers, partners from industry and science, as well as academia and start-ups to explore new, sustainable solutions for food production and mobility. We want to leave our children and following generations with a planet that, at the very least, offers them the same life and development opportunities it offers us. It is our responsibility today to ensure a sustainable tomorrow.
Bühler anticipates its growth course will continue with further improved profitability in the 2019 business year.