Interview: Robert Saller
Trevor Galbraith (Editor-in-Chief) interviews Robert Saller, CEO at DELO about the tremendous growth of the company and the secrets to its success
I want to go back and look at some of the history of the company. It was Sabine Harold and her husband who acquired DELO through a management buyout (MBO) back in 1997. Since then, the company has grown quite aggressively. What do think of the significant changes that led to this growth?
Not so much the changes, I think there were two things: Perfect timing, They had taken it over from a much larger company that had invested a lot into R&D, which gave us a really good starting point. Then also, the mood in the company changed – we are now one family. We are now much more committed to the company and its growth.
How many people are now in the company and how does that breakdown geographically?
People wise, we are roughly 650. At headquarters, we are about 550. We have three major locations, which are the Americas, where we have an office in Boston and in total we have something like 10-15 people all over the country. We have 30-plus people in China, East Asia, and another 15-20 in South East Asia.
That is quite a footprint really. It appears you have focused heavily on the automotive industry and electronics sector. Are there any other technologies where you are pretty active?
We try to balance the fast-growing but high-mix consumer electronics and then compensate with automotive and longer-term industries like aircraft.
That is two very different areas. Consumer electronics is very different than high-reliability electronics such as aerospace and automotive. Do you have different teams for these things?
Absolutely, we divide all those businesses into what we call application fields and we have specific people working only on that application field, for example, smart cars or cameras. Even in cameras, we distinguish between automotive and consumer cameras.
From what I can see, you are spending 15 percent of your turnover on R&D, which is a reasonably healthy number for sure. What differentiated products have become your top-sellers over the years?
For us when we talk to a customer, it is not so much only his problem of bringing two things together and keeping them reliable together, it is much more focused on the process. We are a process-driven company and we do much more consulting into process.
As an outcome of that, we have a lot of dual-curing adhesives. This dual-curing gives it the advantage of a fast-fixation of components. Then you can move onto a secondary curing step, which can be heat or room-temperature or even humidity. Most of the time it is heat because it is the most predictable curing method.
Is your product development principally customer-driven or is there any blue-sky stuff there?
Blue sky? I don’t know. We always try to base it on what trends we can see.. For about 40 percent, we go on interesting customer projects. For the rest, we go on projects where we think this is the future. But even the customer project has to fit our corporate strategy at the end of the day.
You recently introduced a series of curing lamps. What challenges do you face with light curing? Is light curing a more favorable system to use than baking?
I think with the light curing, we have a big advantage. There are two things, it’s curing on demand – you switch on the lamp and the curing starts, you switch off the lamp and the curing stops. You also transfer much more energy in a very short time. This, from a processing viewpoint, quick-curing or quick-fixation, then you can do other things.
Certainly with LED curing, for example, the exposure time is critical. So the fact that you have the immediate switch-on, switch-off is useful.
For example, when I started with the company, post-curing was something like 30 seconds. In the meantime, we talk about milliseconds with curing steps. In consumer electronics, you have 1.5 billion smart phones produced every year each with three to five loudspeakers in there. You have a quantity of hundreds of millions that you have to produce every year for a single company. So curing steps of 0.2 seconds are quite normal in this application.
What other benefits do you have with your curing lamps?
We’ve adapted the exact needs of our products. We have both in-hand, the photo-initiator and the right emission of the light. We can match that properly and therefore the customer really gets the right iteration at the right time. To match that gives a big advantage to our customer.
The automotive industry at the moment is pushing the boundaries for thermal testing, they are trying to go above 150-degrees C. What sort of challenges is that bringing you?
The problem is any adhesive, at the end, is a piece of plastic – a polymer. Polymers do not like heat too much. We recently launched a product which has a temperature stability of 250-degrees, not for ages, but for relevant times. This is something that a lot of people look into. Bring again the processing, we can do a heat-stable product with an off-processing via dual-curing is really a benefit to really old-fashioned technologies like heat-curing or something like that.
Your most recent office opening was in Japan. That is notoriously a very difficult landscape for companies to navigate. How is DELO approaching the Japanese market?
Number one, the difficulties are there. I think Japan opened up a bit since the bad earthquake happened there. This created shortages in their supply chains which caused them to look outward. Our set-up of consultancy brings new solutions our customers are looking for. There is a quite interesting success there.
Where do you see your big opportunities for success in the future for DELO moving forward?
The two markets you’ve mentioned, automotive and electronics. In automotive, there is a big switch now, nobody really knows where it goes to. Is it hybrid, is it electro-mobility? There are a lot of things going on. Every time something changes, we are in the game because we bring new technology. We are developing something with our customer to enhance their new ideas. This is a really interesting time for us. Whether you are talking about consumer electronics or electronics in general, things are growing, with smart-homes, smart cities, whatever. There are so many opportunities which we foresee for our future, we are pretty confident about it.