Hoppecke’s batteries are firmly established as the ‘green’ motive power choice for industrial trucks, in every sense. The technology the batteries and charging systems run on is cleaner and kinder to the environment than others; the manufacturing happens in environmentally aware factories; and to emphasise their outstanding ‘greenness,’ HOPPECKE’s batteries and chargers are also painted bright green, in line with the company’s corporate colours.
This commitment to the environment is overt, but it’s not new. HOPPECKE has been concerned about sustainability issues since 1927, when the Zoellner family began developing and producing motive power and standby batteries and systems “Made In Germany.” Since then its innovations have led the market worldwide in performance, sustainability and lifetime costs.
Further reinforcing its green values, the name ‘HOPPECKE’ comes from a river near Brilon, two hours east of Düsseldorf. The factory is in a beautiful valley, hence the significance of the pine trees in the Hoppecke logo. The current CEO is Dr Mark Zoellner, great grandson of the founder, and the business is still family-owned.
Heading up HOPPECKE’s UK operation is Bernard Molloy, Managing Director of Hoppecke Industrial Batteries Ltd, who is currently celebrating 40 years in the materials handling industry. With Bernard on the UK management team are Angus Whyte, National Accounts Director, Paul Butchard, Head of Special Power and Reserve Power, and Richard Grant, Accounts Director for Projects.
We last profiled HOPPECKE Industrial Batteries three years ago. Since then HOPPECKE has become a preferred supplier to many blue chip UK companies, largely because of its sustainable credentials, and the UK service force has grown substantially. Over the same period Hoppecke has invested substantially in training and systems to underpin its UK customer support and reinforce its market position.
In recent months HOPPECKE has won some major contracts with big retailers and food manufacturers, due to its outstanding combination of products, performance, service expertise and lower running costs. It is also committed to investing in its future and developing its staff here, particularly its apprentices, an area Bernard Molloy is also pursuing in his other role as Chairman of the CILT Warehouse & Materials Handling Forum.
A CULTURE TO BE ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT
Bernard Molloy joined HOPPECKE in June this year, and is extremely enthusiastic about its ethos and culture. Bernard has known both the Zoellner family and HOPPECKE as a business for many years, and was drawn by their commitment to service and solutions. Hoppecke is the third German company Bernard has worked for in recent years. He says it has “much the same qualities” as his previous company Hako, in being a “Hidden Champion,” as defined in Professor Hermann Simon’s book about the top German SMEs driving Germany’s export market.
“The recession has changed the structure of our market, and to survive and even thrive in this industry now, we need to find new ways of collaborating across supply chains. At Hoppecke we intend to pioneer communications systems that support our engineers and salesmen in offering tangible, long term value to our customers.” HOPPECKE received the coveted award of “German Customer Champions 2009.” HOPPECKE attained their success in this competition by demonstrating consistent development of the company’s in-house sales and service network in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.
In a typical week Bernard spends 60% of his time with customers in the UK and Ireland. “I see all the main truck OEMs – I’m a cross between the family priest and a doctor analysing problems and finding solutions!” He is also involved with R&D and talking to customers to identify ways to help reduce the amount of batteries in service and ‘sweat’ assets to produce more cycles and lower battery costs.“
Bernard is forthright about the challenges facing him and his colleagues: “We need to lead the development of sustainable systems, inform customers about the possibilities, and educate the fork lift truck suppliers and the end users alike to take a longer term view on the whole area of costs. You can shoot yourself in the foot by choosing the wrong capacity battery and charger, but with a little more investment up front, you can recoup the cost very quickly and, in addition, achieve a greener environment, which generates major savings across the business.”
The European number three supplier of industrial batteries and systems, HOPPECKE’s main market sectors are motive power, from golf buggies to lift trucks, accounting for 45% of turnover; reserve/standby power for ‘mission critical’ operations, such as power stations, hospitals and banks, which represents 25%; and rail and heavy machinery, the remaining 30%. The fourth leg of the business is the mobile service force, which works across all these product areas.
HOPPECKE has subsidiaries in most countries around the world, with particular strengths in Europe, Asia and the Americas. It has factories producing batteries in Germany and China and assembly plants in USA as well as in most of the European countries. The UK operation was set up in the early 1980s: the current base here is in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, home to final battery assembly and of battery changing and charging systems.
“We are different from the rest of the UK market,” says Bernard, “in that the forklift truck market as a whole tends to rely on dealers for sevice, while we have direct employees. The other difference is that the UK motive power market is more intensive than other countries, with warehouses working 24/7, with higher equipment use and three shifts per day. This means we have to work closely with the customer to supply a service level that fits their business.“
Hoppecke employs its service engineers directly, and asset-manages battery operations for both large scale industrial truck end users and the truck OEMs who supply them. Bernard explains: “We look after large truck fleets, providing remote monitoring to spot systems that are failing, and notify the customer in good time. We prefer to service our own batteries and equipment, but often customers call us in because they’re dissatisfied with their current vendors, in which case we take over and manage the existing kit alongside the new equipment we supply.”
HOPPECKE works to DIN and British standards, and has won several international awards for the excellence of its products and service. In 2008 it was honoured as one of the top 100 innovators in Europe, coming 40th, the only battery company in the list. Bernard Molloy says HOPPECKE spends more on R&D in Europe “than all our competitors put together.” He points out that with battery volume sales dropping recently in many markets, other suppliers have cut and run, but HOPPECKE has held its ground. “Many of these companies are publicly owned companies and are in trouble, and don’t have our resources and independence.”
Another major difference that Bernard highlights is HOPPECKE’s values: “We’re all about customer relationship management and doing things in traditional ways, based on quality. Our brand values are very high and customer perceptions of the business are very positive. Our ‘backstage’ systems are also very strong to support our ‘front stage’ customer relations efforts.”
HOPPECKE offer a full equipment range, from portable equipment to static equipment for large battery rooms, and leads the field with a combination of fibre structure nickel technology and metal hydride technology. The Hoppecke portfolio spans lead/acid, nickel/cadmium and nickel/metal hydride batteries, plus different chargers and changers. Bernard sums up: “Lead/acid continues to be important in our world, but we’re also seeing growing demand to lithium/Ion and lithium/metal hydride and Nickel/Cadmium. As Nickel/Cadmium broadens its application from use in power for consumer products and into the motive power area, we’re using it to produce batteries for smaller powered pallet trucks which are lighter in weight, fast recharging and smaller, with bigger charge capacity.” Those batteries also offer outstanding properties for use in refrigerated warehouses.
HOPPECKE’s overall biggest selling product line is the trak®air A, a package comprising a high frequency charger and a trak®air A -branded battery. Circulating the air in the battery creates an even air balance throughout the cell, so it charges faster and lasts longer.
Depending on the spec of the truck and the battery, between 20-30% of the initial capital cost is the battery and the charger. Batteries and chargers are also a major element in the truck’s total lifetime cost, making actual power consumption a very important consideration.
“As a motive power supplier we stand apart, because we can meet any challenge and use space-saving methods to guarantee optimal energy density, and consistently achieve power savings for the customer of up to 30 per cent.”
HOPPECKE’s batteries are painted green, but how “green” actually are they? Bernard Molloy is emphatic: “Our batteries are green in their construction. Other batteries use rubber seals between the post and the case, and in use become dirty on top, but we weld plastic to the casing to prevent seeping and gas escaping, which prevents shorting. This means our batteries look cleaner and smarter.”
Gus Whyte says, “High saving in energy consumption contributes to reduce carbon footprint. Furthermore, lower water consumption and recycling of old batteries in their own smelter are some of HOPPECKE’s environmental credentials.”
The other side of the environmental coin is that, as previously mentioned, HOPPECKE produces its batteries in a very rural area. “With a river flowing alongside our factory, it’s essential we don’t cause any pollution. We’re in a beautiful setting, of which we’re custodians. As an industrial nation, the Germans set the environmental standards before there were any regulations about such things.”
POWERING CUSTOMERS WORLDWIDE
Hoppecke works on an international basis with customers with large-scale materials handling operations and warehouses, offering them an outsourced battery management service for their forklifts and other industrial trucks. These global battery management customers include some of the world’s leading car manufacturers. Hoppecke also has major contracts in place with Siemens and others to service the battery systems on trains in various countries.
“We’re much more cost-effective than other people,” says Bernard. “In everything we do, we look to make continuous improvements and savings and share them equally with the customer.”
Here in the UK, in the last few months Hoppecke has signed contracts with two of the top five supermarket chains, for battery management in their distribution centres and stores, and with several of the top food manufacturing companies for their factories and distribution centres.
Pharmaceutical manufacturing and distribution is another growing sector for battery management solutions. The Hoppecke UK team frequently takes prospective clients to see pilot sites.
FACING THE CHALLENGES
With the price of lead and other raw materials rising rapidly in recent years, Bernard Molloy says HOPPECKE recognises recycling batteries as a key priority. “We collect spent batteries anywhere in the UK, and if there’s a big quantity will even buy them, and take them back via a very efficient reverse supply chain for processing in our own smelters. This enables us to use as much as 20 per cent recycled lead in our batteries.”
It sees the next challenge is to provide its customers with their energy needs on demand through kWh billing according to energy consumption or monthly flat rate offers. In this case HOPPECKE will operate the complete charging stations by fully trained HOPPECKE personnel.
“We’re all exposed to sharp rises in commodity prices,” says Bernard. “Lead is lead and has a cost, but we’re making it less painful for the environment. We’re also taking out costs wherever possible for our customers, and striving to deliver product solutions at a lower cost.”
Training is another challenge Bernard Molloy is concerned to address. “We have a major social problem with training our national workforce. In Europe they have 350 plus Apprentice frameworks concerned with training; here we’ve 150. There just aren’t the opportunities for jobs with meaningful training that you find in Europe. A lot of money is wasted on QUANGOS and training schemes, but it’s not getting through to the kids, and there are no clear career paths to give them self-respect. The UK government should set up structures we can work to. In the construction industry, when the slump came hundreds of apprentices were just kicked out. If they’d been kept in training-related employment, you’d have direction planning and consistancy; you still have to pay unemployment benefit anyhow, so why not keep them in work as they do in Germany?”
FUTURE LOOKING BRIGHTER
The recession has had a drastic effect on use of motive power batteries in the UK, says Bernard Molloy: He quotes the BITA figures showing UK sales of trucks have halved, while hire contracts have extended from five to seven years or more: “At HOPPECKE we’re putting in more replacement cells,” says Bernard, “which is good for us, and we’re extending the life of our customers’ existing kit.”
The outlook is looking brighter, says Bernard: “In recent months we’ve been seeing distinct signs of recovery and a marked difference in attitude, with people realising you can’t just stop everything altogether. Extended supply chains around the world have been very thin: they’re getting shorter now, with more manufacturing nearer to home, in such key areas as clothing and toys.”
Bernard feels Hoppecke Industrial Batteries is going from strength to strength: “We’ve moved away from being product-based to solution-based. It’s our mission by 2015 to be a value-added energy supplier, in which service is a key differentiator. We’ll get there in the same way as we have succeeded so far, by a combination of product and people development.
“I’m also Chairman of the Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport’s Warehouse & Materials Handling forum, where we spend a lot of time talking about the major issues – how to improve operations through the better design of warehouses, sustainability, education and so on. We achieve this within Hoppecke and the Institute by working together with 3PLs and retailers on sustainable solutions education and the development of cutting edge supply chain solutions.“
Hoppecke Industrial Batteries Ltd Tel: 01782 667305 www.hoppecke.com