Delivering holistic solutions in plant construction, CHEManager, 28 May 2014
Service from design to construction of complex and sustainable process plants
M+W Process Industries is an engineering and plant constructor for the life sciences industry. Its scope includes integrated process solutions and efficient, sustainable concepts for pharmaceutical and medical production, biotechnology or chemistry and fine chemistry. CHEManager asked M+W Process Industries Managing Director Dr Tobias Lücke about trends in plant construction and about the mission and objectives of the company. The questions were asked by Dr Volker Oestreich.
CHEManager: In the past, M+W Process Industries has been associated with a very varied history with the names Meissner + Wurst, Zander and LSMW. What is the constant in your corporate history to date?
T. Lücke: Firstly, without a doubt: our team. Regardless of the legal form or name, we have been on the market for almost 20 years and systematically expanded our range of services. Many colleagues have been with us from the start and we have gained others along the way. We are constantly developing the continuity of our customer relations, which is very important to us. This can be achieved only with a core team that knows the customers and their specific problems through many years of collaboration.
On the other hand, naturally, our aim has been and remains to offer our customers the most holistic solutions possible, whether in consulting or turnkey delivery of a complete plant. We have developed this over the years.
What role does the European market play for you and how are you addressing the strong growth in chemical plant construction both in the Asian countries and recently again in the USA?
T. Lücke: As an overall organisation, M+W opted for regionalisation at an early stage. As such, of the over 8,000 employees, only 25% are assigned to the European sites. Most work in the other growth regions such as Asia and the Middle East as well as in North, Central and South America. We are pursuing a clear strategy of regional platforms, so we are able to provide very flexible support for our customers. It is easy for us to conduct the first project phases with our customers at their head offices in Europe or the USA, then subsequently to process the project in the regions. Of course, it also works the other way around: indeed, we support companies from the emerging markets on their way to Europe. This is the clear advantage of a regional presence.
How is the regional distribution of your business looking at the moment and which particular projects have you handled in the last three years?
T. Lücke: On average, the M+W group has approx. 1/3 of turnover in America, 1/3 in in the EMEA region and 1/3 in Asia, although strong fluctuations do occur. In this respect, the option of exchanging resources worldwide is a major asset for us.
Are there trends here in terms of the size and delivery scope of your projects?
T. Lücke: That depends very much on the customer. Some customers split services a lot. For example, one of the global players from the field of life sciences is currently asking us specifically about pure engineering services. Other customers tend to towards general planning or go straight in the direction of turnkey delivery of complete systems. Flexibility in contract models is therefore essential to our survival. As we are convinced of our holistic approach, our first choice would be the turnkey design, planning and construction of plants.
How do you see the development of the European chemical industry and what does it mean for you?
T. Lücke: There is currently a wave of investment sweeping through the chemical industry, primarily affecting the base chemicals. As such, very large plants are now emerging in Germany for the production of MDA and TDA with all the necessary auxiliary systems. Proximity to the consumers and the associated reduction in complexity of the supply chains, the significantly increased cost level in individual emerging markets and the use of economies of scale in the large European combined sites play a role here. In this respect, it was right for us never to have lost sight of our home base in Germany in the past. We will continue to develop this strongly, particularly in the chemical sector.
Industry 4.0, integrated engineering and virtual commissioning are now more than just catchphrases. Which technological trends do you consider have trendsetting significance and which services can you already offer your customers here?
T. Lücke: Integrated project delivery based on databases is now the standard. Plant data from the engineer are transferred into the lifecycle of the plant after completion of the design. The 3D design tools are so powerful that plants today and particularly their operation and maintenance are simulated in virtual reality in advance. As such, we do not use 3D glasses simply to sit in the cinema with our families but rather we go through as yet unconstructed plants together with our customers, always looking for optimal solutions.
Are there any other particular technological trends that will affect or even change plant construction?
T. Lücke: Certainly, there is a series of trends. In biotechnology, the cells are becoming more and more efficient. That results in reduced fermenter volumes which in turn have resulted in completely new plant concepts. Disposables play a big role and a good measure of engineering has gone from the plant construction company to the suppliers. Naturally, we have had to face up to this. Modular solutions are becoming increasingly important, although we always look closely at whether modules are really the right solution in the individual case. Our experience is constantly growing here: recently, we have increasingly delivered modules, particularly in sterile healthcare areas. One highlight derived from this experience was doubtless the development of a complete plant for antibody production on the basis of prefinished building modules together with our colleagues from GE Healthcare.
The healthcare and pharmaceutical market you target is relatively strictly regulated. How will development continue and which differentiation options are available to plant constructors in this market segment?
T. Lücke: We are seeing a certain amount of international harmonisation of the GMP standards and stabilisation of those regulative normative requirements that have a direct effect on the plant technology. Many technologies such as isolators have now also become mature and the regulatory requirements are relatively clear. The potential for differentiation here also tends to be low. However, we face very different challenges with our customers: increasing product diversity, lower batch sizes, shrinking stock levels and significantly shorter lead times almost through to “just in time” supply. Traditional plant concepts that take into account only economies of scale are therefore losing their justification. Elements of lean manufacturing und the integration of logistics processes into production are becoming increasingly significant. We now do a lot of work for highly cost-driven sectors such as the food and consumer goods industry. Here, lean manufacturing and the development and implementation of flexible, lean-based plant concepts are essential for survival. Naturally, this has an impact on us. To this end, we have also specifically strengthened our team, as we see this as being the dividing line between merely good engineering and real innovation.
One more question about differentiation: How do you measure your success, other than by turnover and returns, in order to hold a stable position in the market in the long term?
T. Lücke: As well as KPI such as EBIT, we naturally also measure soft factors such as the volume of repeat business and customer satisfaction. Ultimately, it is the customer that pays our wages. Moreover, a certain level of technological and practice leadership is important to us. Specifically in the area of biopharmaceuticals, together with our customers, we have won the prestigious “facility of the year” award from ISPE in various categories in recent years. That is only a “soft fact” but it too has shown us that we are on the right track.
What should the company look like in ten years’ time?
T. Lücke: I do not think a preview of the next 10 years can be reliable today. I have been the Managing Director of M+W PI for ten years. Back then, I could not really have imaged the breadth to which we work today. In addition to the pharmaceutical and biotech sectors, this also includes food, the consumer goods industry, healthcare and even the chemical industry.
What is primarily important for the future is also what has guided us in the past: we want to manage our existing portfolio in a professional way and above all to use experience across the sectors. Also, we want to remain inquisitive. This is the only way that business grows – together with realism and a healthy sense of what is achievable. Then everything else will follow.
About the M+W Group:
M+W Group GmbH, based in Stuttgart (Germany), is a leading global high-tech engineering company. Established in 1912, the company operates in more than 30 countries. M+W Group manages projects of all dimensions on behalf of clients from various sectors, including electronics, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, energy and information technology — from semiconductor plants to nanotechnology research centers. The company offers a full range of services from concept and design to turnkey solutions. During the financial year 2014, the M+W Group generated sales of 2.46 billion euros with around 7,050 employees worldwide. For more information please visit: www.mwgroup.net.