31 July 2007: 137 patents and a lot of future

Whoever used to ask people in the textile branch for the future of the sector in this area most likely got nothing but a weary shrug. This is not the case with Dr. Christoph Schwemmlein. When the managing director of Klöcker Bros. talks about the prospects, he contrarily gets bright eyes.

In many cases, John Doe does not know what is made out of fabrics nowadays. “We think of clothing, we think of Asia”, he says – and lists what weaving machines in the entire world additionally produce: fabrics that make concrete more stable and earthquake resistant, glass inlets being the base for almost every electronic printed circuit boards, webs which serve for the production of artificial arteries or bulletproof vests, and fabrics which make the wings of wide-bodied aircrafts light enough for take-off.

And here is something that John Doe also does not know: All these products are produced with the help of the inventions of the company in Weseke, Germany. For instance, about 50 employees puzzle out how to smoothly bring together the lengthwise and crosswise threads of complicated fabrics – while taking into account speeds of up to 1.200 “picks” per minute. An abundance of patents which decorate the walls of the seminar room show that the Borkeners are good at what they are doing. “We have 137 valid patents at the moment”, Schwemmlein says.

When having in mind this development, it is hard to believe that the 160 year old company’s roots initially were chairs and tables, then wooden constructions for weaving looms. Subsequently, Klöcker manufactured shuttles with which the crosswise threads used to be transported back and forth. When the era of wood came to an end about 30 years ago, mechanic entered the market. Roughly twelve years ago, electronic controls followed, and four years ago mechatronical controls for weaving machines which combine mechanical, electronic and mechatronical elements.

The quantum leap for Klöcker was, however, when the former owners Franz and Heinz Klöcker let Schwemmlein and Matthias Klöcker come to the fore as managing directors in 1990. Without any reservation, which certainly is not always the case in family businesses.

“We have dared to try new things” Schwemmlein says today. While the R&D department experienced a noticeable enlargement, the production more and more was sourced out to the company’s daughter in Indonesia in 1995. In Indonesia, 112 employees now are working in the production department – in Germany only ten. This period of relocation was “the hardest time ever in my life” Schwemmlein remembers, but: The decision was right. In the meantime, the academic quota in Weseke has grown up to 50 %. “At our site in Germany, nobody hits himself with a hammer on the thumb anymore”, the Dr.-Ing. and graduated industrial engineer who is trustee at the US-American Juniata College laughs. Juniata College ranges among the 100 best colleges of the United States. Moreover, Klöcker stays in close contact with further universities, such as FH Gelsenkirchen/Bocholt, Germany, or FU Berlin and supervises students’ thesis. Recruiting well-skilled young employees is another important element of the company’s philosophy.

“Good people are always scarce”, Schwemmlein knows – especially for the small and medium sized companies in rural areas and – still – for the textile branch. Also on the international level Klöcker always tries to stay on top of things in terms of developments in the textile industry: “About 50 self-employed travelers do nothing but keep an eye on the markets”, the Borkener says. Since 65 % of the turnover have been realized through technical textiles, but after all 35 % via high-quality clothes, Klöcker has a further foothold in the capital city of fashion of Europe, Milan.

Apart from all these manifold activities Schwemmlein knows that “without our patents we would have no chance in the sector of technical textiles”. Even though a more or less airtight patent costs € 40.000,00 to € 50.000,00 – and even though it gets copied despite the protection.

Luckily, the international courts tend to take more rigorous steps now, Schwemmlein says. Moreover: It is always the good product which is copied…

Source: Daily newspaper “Borkener Zeitung”, July 31st, 2007