From its rural base on Herzogenaurach, near Nuremberg, INA Walzlager Schaeffler has become one of the largest privately-owned automotive suppliers in Germany. It is a world force in its core businesses of bearings and engine components.
INA is both a Tier 1 and Tier 2 supplier. It counts DaimlerChrysler, Ford, General Motors and Volkswagen among its top 10 customers, together with Tier 1 suppliers such as Bosch and Continental Teves.
The automotive industry accounts for 60 percent of INA's DM5 billion (E2.5 billion) annual sales.
Automotive News Europe's Edmund Chew talked to INA President and CEO Jurgen Geissinger about the company's future strategy.
INA Walzlager Schaeffler's future depends on engineering innovations, not major acquisitions, says Jurgen Geissinger, president and CEO of the German supplier.
The large, but little-known maker of bearings and engine components is developing smart innovations that deliver improved fuel efficiency and performance, and reduce costs. But productivity demands and rising material prices have imposed growing cost pressures on the company, says Geissinger.
INA is based mainly in Germany, with 15,000 employees there - 6,000 in the home town of Herzogenaurach. But the company is growing overseas. It has started construction of a fifth plant in North America - in South Carolina. It is also building a new plant in India and opening engineering facilities to add to its plants in Korea and China.
The company's main strategy is to push new technologies, says Geissinger.
'INA's culture of innovation and technical excellence will continue to be core to its growth,' he says.
For example, 'there is a big demand for light-weight technologies,' he says, 'and we can capitalize on that demand with our drawing and forming expertise.'
Geissinger sees continued growth in premium mechanical parts despite the increasing importance of mechatronics - mechanical systems with electronic control.
Some innovative ideas are transferred from other non-automotive applications within the INA group. The company developed a one-way clutch system that was first used for drills. It was then applied to ski boots before being used to reduce vibration in turbodiesel engines.
'And now it is being applied to fishing rods,' says Geissinger.
As its automotive business grows, INA is increasing the number of engineers it employs by about 10 percent a year.
There is growing demand for good engineers in Germany, says Geissinger.
'We have difficulty filling all of our open positions, but once the engineers join they tend to stay,' he says. 'Our people are treated like entrepreneurs and there is a great freedom for them to follow their own ideas.
'INA has a very short process to evaluate product releases,' says Geissinger, 'and then we let them go.'
Most of INA's 10-15 percent annual growth is achieved organically through product innovation.
With regard to acquisitions, 'we will only buy a company if it adds something to our product portfolio,' says Geissinger. 'We are very, very selective and we are always looking to see if we can carry out the technological development ourselves.'
The company's most recent acquisition was in December 1999 when it bought German engine component specialist Rege GmbH. Rege has annual sales of DM400 million, and is based in the Thuringia province of east Germany.
'The acquisition of Rege gives us the capability to build complete cylinder heads,' says Geissinger.
INA is currently building a new engineering center and headquarters at Herzogenaurach to consolidate its centralized staff and its development and testing facilities.
INA is also expanding its US presence with a new technical center in the Detroit area.