When he joined the, at that time, much smaller team of Berghof Fluoroplastics about 15 years ago, after many years in machinery and plant engineering, Ralf Hummel was confronted by a totally new world in which he had to work intensively to learn the ropes. Why he risked this step, what he is particularly proud of and what his favourite sport, handball, has to do with the material PTFE in his opinion, Ralf Hummel, Technical Manager at Berghof Fluoroplastics, explains in this interview.
1. PTFE, the material from which Berghof Fluoroplastics manufactures its comprehensive product portfolio has been well-known for more than 80 years. Berghof has been successfully developing innovative material solutions based on this high-tech plastic for more than 50 years. But in the last few years, especially, the company has grown stronger than ever before. What, in your opinion, are the ingredients of this recent success story?
One very important step is definitely our new production building in which we literally have considerable room for growth. Many of our longstanding customers but also new customers were already here – and are now more convinced than ever that, here at this site with our no-compromise quality standards, our special competences, our modern machine park and our experienced and highly motivated team, we are the right partner. But what also pays off for us is that we have always been driven by development and have specialized in complex projects which can only be put into practice with a great deal of know-how. PTFE is, after all, an absolutely unique material – you have to work really hard and need a lot of experience to “tease” everything out of it. Our customers know that we offer them exactly this combination – and are therefore happy to recommend us further. So, step by step, we have grown healthily and sustainably – even in these recent difficult times in which the effects of the pandemic have badly shaken many companies.
2. Speaking of experience: What is your own personal career history – and how did you come join Berghof Fluoroplastics?
I had a classic start to my career with a mechanic’s apprenticeship in the metalworking branch followed by various further technical and commercial training courses over the years – back then, the mechanical engineering technician. Oliver Walter, now Managing Director of Berghof Fluoroplastics, and I went through training together and stayed in contact, also because of our shared enthusiasm for handball. In 2007 he convinced me to come to Berghof Fluoroplastics – but he also told me point-blank that a whole new world was waiting for me and that there was a lot I would have to learn. But that did not deter me at all, in fact it rather motivated me. I always find it exciting to face new challenges and constantly get opportunities to broaden my know-how.
3. Was he right?
Yes, he was. Although I often had to do with polymers and with PTFE and its special properties in my further training, when I delved deeply into the subject for the first time at Berghof Fluoroplastics, I was absolutely fascinated – and I still am. What evolves out of the combination of this unique material with the technical creativity of our team and our highly modern production, day in day out, makes me really proud. How we constantly succeed in pooling our efforts to put complex, new projects into practice, that’s just great fun. And, in my opinion, these are once again extremely exciting times: Our constant growth impels us to continuously adapt our entire production control and logistics, become even faster and more efficient and expand our machine park rationally – a daily challenge that we are happy to take on. After all, not only Berghof Fluoroplastics, but the entire Berghof group is investing massively in our future – this is a great encouragement to us all of course and gives us a positive outsight on the future.
4. Sounds as if you were someone who always forges on ahead. Is that also the reason why – as you already mentioned – you are such a big handball fan?
Quite possibly. Once the handball fever has grabbed you, the sport usually does not let go for the rest of your life. It’s the same for me. This sport is pure excitement – just like the work with PTFE. Unfortunately, my own active career as a handball player ended earlier than planned due to injury. But I was involved in the game for a long time as a youth trainer and passed on my experience. Because I am someone who enjoys working with people. I like the personal contact, also with customers, and I am always in close contact with our production team. Many of our customers have been with us for decades and constantly develop new, ambitious material solutions with us. When you have successfully cracked many hard nuts together, a special relationship develops – that’s true both in sport and at work.
5. Speaking of hard nuts to crack: One of the branches that Berghof Fluoroplastics does a lot of work for is the automotive branch. This branch is currently experiencing radical change in the shift towards e-mobility. Is that also a subject that you and your team deal with?
Absolutely, years ago, before everyone started talking about the subject, we enabled the development of a pressure compensation unit with emergency degassing function for batteries with our burstable, semi-permeable membrane made from our symmetrically porous PTFE Permeaflon® which, today, has proven itself in practice as an important safety feature in numerous e-vehicles. We have also based our quality management on the international IATF 16949:2016 standard and regularly have ourselves successfully certified. The word has got around with automotive suppliers and earned us many further exciting inquiries from this branch. We can already safely say: there will often be no getting round PTFE or a PTFE compound for the optimum material solution in e-mobility.
6. Working together with your team and customers on tricky, individual problems, adapting the production planning and logistics to further growth – as Technical Manager at Berghof Fluoroplastics you need a lot of energy. Are you also constantly “on the go” in your free time – or do you prefer to relax?
When I go to watch handball games, I get carried away by the excitement of course. Otherwise, my motto for my free time is rather: strength lies in staying calm. I enjoy being outdoors, skiing in winter or hiking with the family, for example. That’s one good thing the pandemic did for us by the way: We went hiking more than ever during that time, especially locally – and we discovered a lot of new, nearby beauty spots. We will definitely stick with these weekend trips, because, on these outdoor hikes, I often come up with the best ideas how our team can successfully solve the next complex challenge.