Covering all areas
Specialising in high performance extrusion equipment for the packing industry, SML is leading the market with unprecedented levels of innovation and technical development
Whilst the SML name may only be celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year, the company’s expertise spans back almost half a century. SML emerged from the internal works of Austrian viscose fibre producer, Lenzing AG, as a plastics machinery division initially intended solely for the company’s in-house packaging needs. However, with raising demand coming from the outside markets for their equipment, it became apparent the company had stumbled upon a new market and subsequently sold the division on to maintain focus on its own operations. “Twenty years ago, when SML became an independent company, it had already grown to 110 staff generating over 30 million Euros,” explains Managing Director, Karl Stöger. “Over that time we have seen growth of two and a half times to 270 people turning over about 80 million Euros, following growth on average of about five per cent a year.”
Serving a range of markets from food and pharmaceutical to general consumer and industrial, SML’s ability to deliver high quality, cutting edge extrusion plastic film and sheet making machines has seen it rise to a leading position in many of its target industries. “We are very innovation led, with our technology often beating everything else in the market in terms of output, productivity, energy efficiency, and film and winding quality,” highlights Karl. “Because of the competitive nature of these markets we have to be trend setters in bring new products to market and driving innovation through the industry. In this respect we have been the first to launch particular solutions many times over our history.”
This is all made possible by a technically superior R&D department, which SML nurtures with leading engineers and technical experts from a broad scope of disciplines and backgrounds. “Being based in Austria it is not cost effective for us to operate a lean, high-volume manufacturing process,” outlines Karl. “Therefore, we can only survive by having better technology and a focus on continuous improvement. However, with our strong technical departments we have the capacity to listen to new ideas and demands from the market and quickly turn them into reality.”
To demonstrate this market leading ability to develop cutting-edge innovations for its customer base, SML recently held an in-house exhibition to showcase every range of products in its portfolio. Karl points out that at this year’s event the company had two main highlights on opposite ends of its product scale to demonstrate its diverse range of offerings and technical capabilities. “On one hand we had our smallest, entry-level stretch film machine, the MiniCast which is important for providing smaller companies in developing economies around the world with SML quality,” he says. “And on the other hand we had the MasterCast machine, the biggest, most powerful and most innovative machine on the market, capable of producing in a reliable process stretch film at a web width of six metres wide.” Before this innovation the largest available stretch film lines had reached a possible limit of four to five metres, and it was widely considered that anything beyond this size was impossible.
“Everybody thought we were crazy,” continues Karl. “However we have had it running through a number of tests, even down-gauging the production to 12 microns on a high output test and we have seen it performing extremely well. We have already shipped a machine out to a customer in Poland and feedback from them and visitors to the show has been very positive. This has been achieved by the technical expertise in our R&D division and is testament to their world class capabilities.”
Aside from major, arguably industry changing, innovations such as the MasterCast, SML has a constant focus on making small innovations across its product range. This is done in pursuit of improved stability, film quality, sustainability and energy efficiency – all of which are vital to its customer’s remaining competitive in their respective industries.
In terms of market strategy, SML employs a smart approach to ensuring it can remain competitive throughout difficult economic periods. “We have to be a global company because individual markets can be unpredictable and fluctuate,” expresses Karl. “For instance Asia is currently showing signs of a downturn, but a strengthening market in the US is offsetting this at present.” SML is able to achieve this with sales offices in Europe, the US, Asia and Russia, as well as a number of agents in all key markets across the world. It employs a similar strategy in its product range, ensuring it has a diverse offering that can balance out any demand fluctuations.
Looking ahead, SML is set to continue its steady growth in order to keep up with growing operational costs. To cope with increases in demand it will be building an additional plant to expand capacity. “We will continue growing by bringing new products to market as well as improving existing ones,” concludes Karl. “Through a process of continuous innovation improving our products in ways that make them most cost effective and energy efficient for our customers, we cultivate a need in the market to continue investment in order to maintain competitiveness. We then of course have to support this with a high degree of customer service, so continuing to improve customer satisfaction with our service structure will also be key as we look to the future. If we can help our customers grow, and they are happy with us, then we will grow too.”
Products: Manufactures extrusion equipment for packaging applications
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