„Two worlds – one alliance“

Bihler of America - Success story with an exciting future

Innovative, precision German engineering meets American ingenuity and experience at Bihler of America to serve the expansive North American market. Founded as a sales company in 1976 by Otto Bihler, Barry Littlewood, and Vulgens Schön, Bihler of America has grown into a leading supplier of state-of-the-art manufacturing solutions. Bihler of America (BOA) is a success story with an exciting future.

Maxine Nordmeyer, CEO of BOA, Mathias Bihler, President of BOA and CEO of Otto Bihler Maschinenfabrik (Bihler), and Andreas Strobl, Director of Operations and Sales North America, take part in an interview to discuss the evolution of BOA, the specialties of the North American market, and their current marketing strategies.

What makes Bihler of America different?

Maxine Nordmeyer: For 46 years, BOA has been a strategic supplier to our customers, ranging from small, family-owned businesses to OEMs, and Tier 1 – Tier 3 suppliers in the Automotive, Construction, Medical, and Electro-technical industries. We view ourselves as a Partner to our customers - working closely with them to develop turnkey solutions that meet their specific needs. Particularly now, with supply chain shortages, we believe it is crucial to our role as a reliable partner to support our customers with the most efficient manufacturing solutions possible. Our experience in partnering with our customers has shown it to be the optimal way for them to achieve success.

"I think we are on the right path – working together with our customers for a more productive future." Maxine Nordmeyer

Mathias Bihler: Collaborating directly with our customers at their facilities has always been part of the Bihler DNA. It gives us the best opportunity to identify and to fully understand their specific manufacturing needs. Even though the outsourcing of manufacturing to Mexico and to Asia represent new challenges - customers in North America and in Europe continue to appreciate the value of quality, integrity, and close working relationships. All our customers, from family-owned businesses to large corporations, understand – now more than ever – the importance of having a reliable and competent local support team, as well as the financial benefits they can offer. BOA plays a key role in effectively supporting all our customers throughout North America.

"Collaborating directly with our customers at their facilities has always been part of the Bihler DNA. It gives us the best opportunity to identify and to fully understand our customer’s specific manufacturing needs." Mathias Bihler

Andreas Strobl: The sales area of BOA covers Canada, the United States, and Puerto Rico. One advantage to having our headquarters in Phillipsburg, New Jersey is its proximity to airports and to seaports, which makes it easier to import machines and spare parts from Germany into the United States. We support the majority of our customers from our Phillipsburg location and we have two regional sales offices. One of our Sales Engineers deals primarily with the automotive industry and EV projects in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia. The second Sales Engineer works to extend our range of contacts in and around Chicago and the Great Lakes region.

"We want to be a one stop source where our customers can find everything, they need to gain the competitive edge." Andreas Strobl

Describe the relationship between Bihler of America and Bihler. What do they have in common, and how are they different?

Maxine Nordmeyer: While Bihler in Germany invests a great deal of resources to continuously develop and advance the performance of Bihler Technology, here at BOA we concentrate on testing, adapting, and marketing Bihler Technology for the American market. To do so, we work in close partnership with our German colleagues to ensure the solutions meet the specifications of our customers. Many of Bihler’s European customers have subsidiaries here in North America. These companies provide us with extremely valuable informational groundwork, in terms of making contacts for potential new US customers. What is more, we have many reference customers who will confirm that Bihler technology delivers the promised benefits. Our aim is to expand our international alliances and offer one seamless global service to Bihler customers.

Mathias Bihler: At the same time, BOA acts as a stimulus for us in Germany. Through their direct customer interaction, they complement our efforts here in Germany and provide us with vital information that we otherwise would not be able to obtain. If new customers want to see Bihler technology in action in a live production environment, the Phillips - burg facility gives them an outstanding opportunity to witness firsthand the benefits of Bihler technology. Moreover, practice has shown that new technology which is introduced in North American facilities very often catalyzes new needs in affiliates or parent companies in Europe. Ultimately, wherever we are located, we all have the same task – to support our customers successfully – and in so doing, build confidence and create long-term relationships.

How has the product range offered by Bihler of America developed over the years?

Andreas Strobl: The focal point has always been and still is Bihler Technology. BOA started as a sales division selling machines with limited customer support services. Nowadays, we offer complete turnkey production solutions with expanded customer support services including product design with prototyping, 3D printing and modeling, tooling development, spare parts, customer training, and manufacturing services. With the shift away from mechanical machines to the latest Bihler NC Technology with our Leantool concept, customers benefit from optimum flexibility, shorter tooling set-ups, faster time-to-market development cycles, and higher productivity. We want to be a one-stop source where customers can find everything, they need to gain the competitive edge.

How important is the Bihler 4 Slide-NC Machine for Bihler of America and the North American market?

Maxine Nordmeyer: Four-slide technology is one of the world’s oldest stamping and forming production technologies, yet it is still widely used by many North American manufacturers. The problem today is that these companies maintain large inventories of expensive tooling, but they lack the necessary spare parts and the skilled resources to retrofit and maintain the old four-slide machines. Recognizing this significant gap in the market, BOA developed the Bihler 4 Slide-NC machine, to specifically meet the needs of the North American market. With our “Baby Bihler,” as we call it, our customers will realize valuable cost-savings from the ability to utilize their existing tooling, with increased workflow efficiencies.

Andreas Strobl: Thanks to Bihler servo-technology, customers can expect to double their output compared to their old mechanical machines. Although it sounds like magic, it is in fact, purely innovative servo-mechanics, combined with our quick-change modular tooling concept and our high performance VC 1 control system. It is now possible to achieve tooling changeover and set-ups times in as little as one to two hours. On the old machines this would have taken as much as several days – if it was even possible at all. For example, we have customers who were able to replace 50 older four-slide machines with just 14 Bihler 4 Slide-NC machines, which enabled them to optimize their product workflow, and to dramatically increase their productivity. The North American market has enormous potential for the Bihler 4 Slide-NC machine, which also serves as an entrée to other Bihler Technology. Once customers have used the 4 Slide-NC machine and see the benefits of increased productivity and resource efficiencies, they are very much interested in finding out how Bihler Technology can help them in their other manufacturing processes.

Mathias Bihler: North American customers – and all customers, for that matter – appreciate proven manufacturing solutions that meet their production specifications – without incurring any development risks. To do this successfully, we first spend a significant amount of time consulting with our customers to fully understand their specific product and process needs for now and in the future. This process works best when it is based on trust and mutual respect, and it does take time. The focus for us, however, is not on short-term sales – the quick sale of a standard machine – but rather, on achieving long-term success for our customers in their day-to-day production activities. We believe that a long-term relationship of this nature is ultimately far more advantageous for both parties and is therefore, an integral part of the support that both Bihler and BOA offer.

What Customer Support Services does Bihler of America provide to its customers?

Maxine Nordmeyer: Our highly trained technical staff at BOA provides a complete portfolio of customer support services. Currently, our consulting services are focusing on cost saving solutions for product materials and automated processes. We maintain an inventory of over $2 million worth of parts in our spare’s division, which covers the full range of Bihler machines. Parts are kept on-hand here and are available for immediate shipment – this eliminates long delivery schedules and delays due to customs clearance. The increasing shortage of skilled resources and the need to optimize existing machine performances are making our Retrofit Program one of the fastest growing services at BOA. The extent of the retrofit depends on the condition of the Bihler machine, the customer’s requirements, and on the various control system options – such as the VC 1 system, which allows monitoring functions and network capability for digital remote services. Retrofits can be done in-house at BOA or at the customer’s facilities and come with a full Bihler warranty. The Retrofit Program lets you breathe new life into existing machines and in so doing, realize new manufacturing potential.

Bihler of America’s area of activity also includes manufacturing parts such as switches on behalf of its customers.

Bihler of America offers manufacturing services to its customers. As a supplier of Bihler Machine Technology, is this a conflict of interest?

Andreas Strobl: On the contrary, here in North America, this is viewed very positively. In part, this began over 35 years ago when we were developing several complex production lines for household, appliance, and medical products. While we were completing the final machine test runs at BOA, the customer asked – because of their limited capabilities at the time – would we consider running their production for them. We agreed, and in doing so, we created a new manufacturing service, which we continue to offer today. This service has proven to be very beneficial for our customers, particularly in the production start-up phase, as an excellent platform for extensive customer training. It also provides us with an excellent opportunity to demonstrate Bihler technology - in operation – to potential customers, when we are permitted. Based on my experience as Head of Sales in Europe, this service would be perceived there as competition. However, here in North America, the perception is very different. We are very open about our service, and we encourage everyone here at BOA to answer any questions in this regard.

What challenges for the North American market does Bihler of America foresee, and how will you address these issues?

Andreas Strobl: North America is currently struggling with a shortage of qualified skilled workers. The reasons for this problem are twofold. First, there is a lack of a skilled technical workforce coming out of the school systems. Second, experienced workers have taken early retirement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving companies with a large void in their production capacity. From one perspective, this is a positive for Bihler automation technology. However, our machines require skilled workers to operate them. To address this shortage of workers, BOA offers an apprenticeship program to train the next generation of workers with the necessary skills to effectively operate and maintain Bihler Technology. BOA is one of the few companies here in New Jersey to conduct an apprenticeship program of this nature, and we work closely with local high schools, trade schools, and universities to ensure the success of the program.

Mathias Bihler: Over the past two years, the pandemic and now the war in Ukraine, have affected all of us – through supply chain shortages and rising energy costs. These problems are in addition to the already existing challenges of the EPA CO2 neutral regulations and the uncertainties they present in the transformation of the automobile and energy industries. Shortages of raw materials, microchips, oil, and skilled resources have demonstrated to us the severe consequences of dependence. As a result, companies are re-evaluating how they do business. We are currently seeing a trend in both Europe and North America, where businesses now recognize the importance of their local supplier base. In Europe, we call it doing business “Local to Local.” Companies are bringing back manufacturing and concentrating it in their local markets to safeguard the stability and sustainability of their businesses, while at the same time reducing their CO2 footprint. Production which, in the past five years, would have been outsourced overseas without much thought or concern, is now being done regionally. We see this as an enormous opportunity for Bihler to support our customers and we are already seeing the benefits through new machine orders.

How do you see Bihler of America in the future?

Maxine Nordmeyer: As Bihler Technology continues to advance and as we at BOA expand our customer support, our goal is to be an even stronger partner in the future. We want our customers to confidently think of us first when it comes to their new projects. Currently, we are working with Bihler Germany to enhance our digital remote service capabilities. Through a Service Hotline using AR and VR technology capabilities - services that are already being offered in Germany - our trained technicians can provide immediate customer support, keeping them running 24/7. In addition, we are planning a Customer Training Center here in Phillipsburg. Customers will have access to the latest Bihler Technology for product design testing and extensive customer training. We want our customers to have confidence in Bihler and to see the value that we - Bihler of America – bring as their reliable local partner throughout their entire product lifecycle. This is a step-by-step process, and I think we are on the right path - working together for a more productive future.


> more