The very first company we visited was ABO where we were met by commercial director Mr Student. Asked about the reasons why Czech manufacturers are doing so well, he pointed to positive social factors such as the free education, excellent technical schools, successful immigration policy and also the low crime rate. These issues all contributed to a well-trained and motivated labour force which, he noted, is a pre-requisite for any country looking to encourage manufacturing.
“What I am also pleased to see is that many of our youngsters grasp the opportunity to go abroad for study and work, but after a time tend to migrate back to the Czech Republic to settle down and start a family. This means there is a tremendous input of knowledge and skills which are very beneficial to the country as a whole.”
However, he freely admitted that some Czech citizens were less outward-going. “Some people have not yet understood the unwritten rules of globalisation. They want to stick to the old ways of doing things, limiting themselves to the geographical area of Central Europe, and are not interested in learning foreign languages,” he commented.
Mr Student joined ABO in 2009 and has helped to grow the company ever since. Highlights in that growth include the opening of additional offices and automation centres in key locations world-wide, the transition from a commodity supplier to one producing engineered valves and, last but by no means least, the forthcoming construction of a brand-new production location. “Like many Czech companies we have grown strongly,” comments Mr Student. “When I joined the company ago I was employee number 29. And now we have around 200 people!”
By this stage Valve World had to distinct impression that companies in the Czech Republic are not afraid to invest in the latest machinery, and this impression was confirmed when visiting ARMATURY Group. In one production hall, for example, we saw a row of very new CNC machines, including a rather special HERMLE unit from Germany. Daniel Hagen, who is one of ARMATURY Group’s machining experts, explained that this cell has a so-called five-axis control as well as a very large table that can both tilt and rotate while the workpiece is being machined. “The precise degree of control available on each axis means that complex shapes can now be made much more efficiently than when using conventional CNC equipment,” he said.
And it is not just in machining that ARMATURY Group has invested. In an adjacent area we saw two automatic welding stations, which our host Libor Kremel explained can cut welding times by up to forty per cent. “In fact ARMATURY Group has recently invested over 30 million Euros, of which fully 12 million was spent on machinery alone,” he commented.
Asked about sales channels, Mr Kremel indicated that ARMATURY Group was strong in the power and oil & gas markets but had also developed lucrative niche markets such as valves for steel-making plants (click here for video interview with one of the valve’s design team). “Our customers rely on us for quality. In this light, I should add that we don’t just assemble components; we make practically all the items we need ourselves. This gives us a much better control over the final quality of the product.”
Recent investments at ARMATURY Group include this HERMLE five-axis CNC machine
Another valve maker that we visited which also voiced the need for quality was ARAKO. In fact, here we had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Švamberg, who is ARAKO’s Quality Director. He stressed that quality should not be considered as the sole responsibility of a separate quality department, but rather that every employee needs to know why quality is important, no matter what their contribution to the final product.
This message has clearly been embraced by his colleagues at ARAKO, as this company, too, continues to go from strength to strength. Says Michal Škobrtal, Chief of Technology Department “Historically, we focused mainly on globe and check valves for power engineering - including the nuclear power sector - whereas gate valves or swing check valves were produced for chemical or petrochemical appliances. However, we are actively looking to widen up our scope of supply. This is why we have developed a high-pressure gate valve for conventional purposes in power engineering and nowadays we are progressing even further with a new prototype, currently being tested for use in nuclear power plants. Our present range is geared for needs of Russian-speaking and European markets, although using our knowledge and expertise can enable us to modify our basic designs to suit other markets as well.”
Joining in the conversation, commercial director Petr Hlaváč said that with such a small domestic market, Czech companies have long understood what it takes to sell goods abroad. “In China for example we established cooperation with a partner about five years ago and that has certainly paid off. Obviously there are a huge number of valvemakers in China, but our customers say that for demanding high-pressure applications they prefer foreign, established brands. I would say that getting started is the hard part; once you have established a good relationship the rest is easy.”
From The Shopfloor: interview with ARAKO's Quality Director Mr. Švamberg
ARAKO´s gate valve development team members
Valve World’s final visit was to well-known valvemaker MSA, who were featured in our September 2012 Cover Story and who will be profiled again in the August 2017 issue.
On arrival, we immediately asked Mr Zdenek Herudek (Sales Technical Support) if he could explain what makes Czech valvemakers so successful. His reply was typically thoughtful. “You know, it’s not just valves, it’s engineered products in general.
Companies here have a long history in technology, starting from the steel mills, the glass industry, ceramics, etc, and moving on to complex products such as valves, cars, electronic components, etc. Some people say this is in our DNA, but I reckon we are all successful because we pay attention to detail. Take the coatings on our valves for buried pipelines which are applied with the utmost care to ensure they will last and give perfect service for years and years.”