Company - 2014-01-15
Premium global bearing manufacturer NSK is celebrating 50 years of its European operation and is closing in on its mission target: ’Number One in Quality.’
Strongly positioned in the industrial sector and with a reputation for high-quality bearings, ball screws and linear guides, NSK - Japan’s first bearing manufacturer when launched in 1916 – took its first tentative step into Europe in 1963 with the opening of a small sales office in Düsseldorf.
“We started from being very small, from almost nothing to being a €1 billion company in Europe. In 50 years we have become established as one of the top full product range companies, and ‘the alternative’ to the original European bearing makers,” said Volker Polonyi. “It’s a success story to be proud of. Fifty years of passion and dedication to the automotive sector and industry.”
Follow the Customer
Active also in the field of automotive technology, developing and producing wheel bearings and rolling bearings for power trains and electric power steering systems (EPS) for cars, NSK’s first major step in Europe was the opening in 1967 of an auto bearing production centre at Peterlee in north east England. Close to the Nissan’s Sunderland plant, it was an early example of NSK’s strategy to ‘follow the customer.’
In 1990 NSK opened a second UK factory following the acquisition of RHP at Newark in the English north midlands, establishing a production centre of super precession bearings mainly for machine tool applications.
Further sales organisations were set up in Europe and in the 1990s NSK bought out the ISKRA Group, a major bearing manufacturer in Poland. Currently NSK Europe employs over 3,000, including approximately 300 at Newark, 600 at Peterlee, and 1,200 at Kielce.
Newark is the European group manufacturer of ball and precision bearings and linear sliders for linear guides. “We are very much specialised on machine tools at the Newark plant,” affirmed Mr Polonyi. At Kielce - in the biggest factory of its kind in the world - NSK produces industrial and auto industry bearings, while at Munderkingen, Germany, a small plant makes double row angular, contact ball bearings mainly for pump and compressor applications.
NSK has two core business segments, industrial machinery – such as bearings, precision machinery and parts - and automotive products. “We supply the big European car makers such as Volkswagen, Renault, Peugeot, and of course the Japanese car makers like Nissan, Toyota and Honda, mainly for machine tools rather than OEM equipment.”
Electrical power steering, which NSK Europe supplies into the German, French and Japanese auto manufacturing sector, is a current high growth segment. “It’s a strong industrial trend, and the move away from hydraulic to electrical power steering is a trend we are following very successfully,” said Mr Polonyi.
NSK = Technology
What separates NSK from its rivals said Mr Polonyi is foremost the originality and muscle of its technology. “NSK stands for technology; material, simulation and application engineering. I would say we are leading in total quality. Our approach is typically Japanese - nothing gets out of our plant unless it is 100 per cent high quality.
“In steel quality and materials for bearings we are certain market leaders. And we are not competing in the lower cost market, we compete at the high end.”
Research and development is a key discipline, operating across five key areas of activity; new product design and development, detailed analysis of bearings and surrounding components, application-related testing, development with steel suppliers, and technical support for customers, distributors and manufacturing operations.
In each area there is a single and identical objective – total quality. “By continually investing in our state-of-the-art regional R&D centres we ensure customers can respond to the challenges in their business environment,“ said the Director.
2,000 employees are currently working in 14 research centres in nine countries, and three European Technology Centres - at Kielce, Newark, and NSK’s European headquarters at Ratingen in Germany.
“They are all linked. And this is our real strength and out of it comes high quality products.”
Equally impressive is the passion for training and up-skilling. “Young people are moved around the NSK global network, with young Japanese for example going to Europe and the US, while we send people to Japan, to increase their inter-cultural competence, work in a different environment and respect other people’s opinions.
“At our global management college, NSK people from India, China, the US and Europe come together in project teams, and move around the world. All of this brings enormous benefits both to our employees and to the company.”
Despite this, NSK Europe grapples with an almost universal problem – attracting talented young people into industry.
“They all want to go into business,” said Mr. Polonyi. “But in Germany I see some signs of recovery with more and more young students putting their faith back into engineering. Traditionally in Germany engineering has a strong reputation, more so than in the UK.
“But it’s clear we have a lack of graduates, and the fact is we are attracting more and more people from Spain in particular; very well educated young people moving in to Germany. But on a European level this is not really helpful and it certainly isn’t helping Spain.”
“Ultimately, it is our employees who are responsible for our success,” said Dr Jürgen Ackermann, CEO of NSK Europe. “The anniversary is a good opportunity to celebrate together.”
Volker Polonyi agrees. “At the beginning and entering a new market place, it was real pioneers work for us. Hard to imagine now, but back in 1963 Japan was officially an emerging country. The people were very ambitious and highly motivated. I think it fair to say that the best capital we have in NSK is the people.
“We have a very good team all over Europe. We have a very good team approach and we have passionate people who are responsive, creative and open.”
NSK Europe’s growth over the past ten years – despite the challenging global economic situation – has averaged five to six per cent.
Eastward for Growth
It has been, said Mr Polonyi, “a volatile period. At the moment it is a clear buyers market and has a huge element of uncertainty. This means our customers are still driving on very low stock levels.
“The challenge as a manufacturer is to provide the availability, and today it isn’t clear whether our customers will ever come back to the former high stock levels.
“Organic growth in Europe is a critical issue. Europe is not a growing market, and corporate growth is correspondingly modest. But if we separate Western and Eastern Europe, then we are growing very fast in Central and Eastern Europe and Russia. The growth is in these emerging economies.”
The strategy for continuing success is according to Mr Polonyi, sustainable growth and client-focus. “For our customers and potential clients we say that we have the solutions. And our aim always is sustainable relationships. We don’t move out of customers; we are reliable partners.
“In 2016 NSK will celebrate its centenary - the number one in total quality.”
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