Markus Hermann makes things mobile — preferably on two wheels. He has also devised a drive method with a future.
Turning your hobby into your profession — what choice could be more obvious? But Markus Hermann’s explanation of his decision to develop and manufacture downhill mountain bikes isn’t quite that simple. “We used to work purely as a supplier, but you can’t earn money with classic sheet metal components any more. You can get them just about anywhere,” says the general manager at Alfred Hermann GmbH & Co., located in Schorndorf. “That’s why we keep an eye peeled for products that embody more added value.”
He notes that more and more components come from Asia, and that even includes prototypes for the automotive industry, a specialty at this family enterprise. He and his dad, Bernd Hermann, run the company with its fifteen employees. Since 1993, Markus has also been CEO at Hot Chili GmbH, a firm founded specifically to manufacture bicycles. The team of five, each of them mad about bikes, is located in the same building as the Hermann sheet metal shop, uses the same machines, and also works in the manufacturing department.
Completely new clientele
While their sheet metal processing is classic, things are a lot more colorful at Hot Chili. The frames gleam in bright yellow and red. The creative team develops them and they are manufactured from aluminum tubes of varying thicknesses. Downhill biking demands, more than anything else, absolute stability. “The suspension forks look more like the ones you see on motor bikes. Some of our bikes actually weigh as much as 25 kilos,” says Hermann. “Riders jump distances of up to 20 meters and reach top speeds of 100 kilometers an hour.”
Several years ago, Hot Chili had its own racing team, which won junior world champion and world cup titles. Their bikes certainly attract attention — as the many inquiries prove. “We were able to access a completely new clientele,” reports Hermann. “Inventors, developers and large companies have seen that we know about mobility and are strong in engineering, design and manufacturing.” This is how the Streetstepper came into being, a kind of cardio machine on wheels, where you run to propel yourself forward. It started off as two prototypes made of wood and steel. Hot Chili then worked with external developers to improve it.
Hermann is well aware that the path from a good idea to a successful product can be long. “The idea constitutes just about one percent, then comes development with about twenty percent. When production starts you have reached the fifty percent mark. But then you enter the sales and marketing phase, which is very time-consuming and cost-intensive.”
A drive method with a future
The Elmoto project shows that pursuing ideas is worthwhile and Hot Chili now offers a mobility product with a drive — an electric motor, to be precise. Working on behalf of the EnBW power generating company, Hermann and his team joined with designers from ID-Bike in Stuttgart to develop a bicycle with an electric motor. Looking back, Hermann says: “It was right to tackle the concept from scratch with a specific focus on electromobility.”
For him, that meant not only dealing with the design of the aluminum frame, the oscillating crank, and the saddle, but also getting heavily involved with the drive concept, since this entails completely new challenges. “The battery compartments have to be sealed tightly and be extremely crash resistant,” he explains. He cuts the components with his TruMatic 6000 combination machine and shapes them with a TruBend 7036. “With this configuration we can do complex forming and stamping in a single operation, which is a great advantage.”
To make sure all the seams are properly sealed, a partner company powder welds them with lasers. “Welding robots let us reduce the sheet metal thickness from 1.5 to 0.8 millimeters,” says Hermann. This saves on material and weight. On Stuttgart’s streets, you see that the Elmoto has received a warm reception; 500 of these environment-friendly electrobikes are on the road. Hermann is convinced: “Electromobility is still in its infancy, but it’s certainly well on its way.”
A healthy mix
He is right on top of current developments in drives, since many of the orders filled by Hermann Blechtechnik also touch on this topic. Solid copper conductor rails for transformers make up a healthy part of the order book at the moment. The company has been producing fuel cell components for the last fifteen years. The fifteen-man team in the metalworking section also makes conveyor systems for blood analysis equipment — complete with electronics, photoelectric beams, motors and controls. “These complex units involve a lot of electrical and control technology,” says Hermann.
He sees this as the right way to go and wants to extend his product range by adding sheet metal solutions for handling medical samples to his line. “We are striving to achieve a healthy mix,” he emphasizes, “with mass-production items as the base, augmented by our own products and prototype manufacturing.” And so things will continue to move at Hermann Blechtechnik.
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This article was first published in autumn 2011.