Story of  a family run enterprise Spilker GmbH, where three generations have technically indulged to grow their venture  from humble beginnings to attain success at global levels. They strive to upgrade and cater to customer needs maintaining quality standards assuring reliability in German precision!

Humble beginnings
In 1963, Herbert Spilker, trained as an engraving master, set up his startup venture in a small garage. Without any equipment and relying on his engraving skills, he started engraving metal brass plates for trophies with the barest minimum hand tools. With three children to support, a son Andreas the present Managing Director of Spilker GmbH born in 1961, another son and a daughter, he worked hard all by himself to grow his maiden engraving enterprise. In 1970s he felt it was time to move ahead. Self adhesive labels were evolving at a fast pace and the die cutting process was in the process of transforming from flat bed die cutting to rotary die cutting. Herbert Spilker wanted to produce flat bed dies but as luck would have it, prospective customers were already considering moves into faster converting process using rotary dies. They resisted his offer for flatbed dies and advised him to consider supplying rotary dies which at that time were being supplied by only two companies i.e. Kocher+Beck and Gerhardt (now merged into Rotometrics). The delivery time was very long, almost 2-3 months. Herbert was convinced that rotary dies was the business to be in. In 1978 he produced his first rotary die engraved by hand for a company Ritter Etiketten, now a part of the Rako Group since 2006. That was the beginning of an exciting journey to success in rotary tooling.
The first step towards expansion
Herbert Spilker
A year later in 1979 Herbert Spilker’s son Andreas, also trained as a master engraver joined the company as its 12th employee. The other son preferred to venture out as a printer but his daughter did join the business and now looks after the HR (Human Resource) department of the company. When Andreas joined the company they were still working without any machinery. They bought solid metal blanks and outsourced all other turning, machining and grinding processes. Finally the father son duo “master engravers”, would complete the die engraving by hand. In 1981 with experience of having produced 25-30 dies,they decided to invest in used turning and grinding machines. The turning machine at that time cost 1000 DM or 500 Euros. The grinding machine was more expensive at 2500 DM. The Spilker enterprise took it’s first big step of buying a CNC machine for engraving and then there was no looking back. In 1988 they moved to their present building in Leopoldshohe, it was a big step and time to expand!
In the late eighties the cost of rotary dies was making label printers consider using the cheaper but slower flatbed cutting options. The costlier solid rotary dies made it imperative to sell labels at a higher price making it difficult to compete. Flexible dies developed in America and  much cheaper than rotary dies, started being imported by others into Germany. These were instantly opted for by label printers to maintain their production speeds and consistent quality. Once in their new premises, in 1988, Spilker GmbH invested in equipment to produce both magnetic cylinders and flexible dies. Andreas Spilker proudly states, “No one taught us how to make these flexible dies and magnetic cylinders, we learnt it all ourselves” he further added, “It was the need of our existing customers, so the investment and development became an imperative”. The next decade was spent in consolidating, growing the new business, expanding and making renovations in whichever department it was needed. Herbert Spilker a farsighted man understood the need to transfer management to the generation next at an appropriate time. He mentored his son and transferred the power step by step until 1998 when he decided to retire and hand over the reigns of his growing business to his son Andreas Spilker, the present Managing Director. In 2003 Spilker installed their first machine for milling and sharpening rotary dies. Till then dies were sharpened by hand. They were the first manufacturer to offer rotary dies sharpened by machines. In 2004 the variabase anvil roll was developed for adjusting the cutting depth. In 2005 flexible dies in bigger format 860mm X 1050mm were developed. Spilker also has now capability to produce magnetic cylinders in very wide width up to 2800 mm. In 2006 they developed their first rotary die cutting machine. In 2008 they added another 3200 square meters to their production shop floor. In 2013 the MEP (Mechanical Ejector Pins) dies were developed. In 2015 another 300 square meters hall was added to develop custom built die cutting and laminating machine, such equipment was showcased at the Labelexpo Europe in September 2017.
The Family in business

Spilker continues to grow and attain global success. Andreas, a technocrat himself and a hands on
Andreas Spilker, Harveer Sahni, Henrik Spilker & Anika
 technically indulgent business owner, attributes this success to the inertia set in by his father Herbert Spilker. Even the day when this interview was to take place, Andreas was busy on the shop floor managing a new development. He is technically involved in all technical aspects of his company. His wife Katja is a home maker. Two out of his three children are already in the company. His daughter Anika born in 1990 and son Henrik born in 1988, joined the business in 2006. Henrik trained in metal engineering as a milling machine operator. After a stint in the company left to join university in 2010 and graduate in engineering. He returned to the company in 2015 to pursue his passion for technical innovation in workplace. He now looks after development of new tools, machine development and automation. Anika who has been in the company since 2006 is a refreshing personality, an imposing leader and leading her team by delegation. However still, her authority is evident in her area of operation.  She takes care of sales of rotary tools and in recent times has been passionately indulgent to grow the machine building business. Her husband is a police officer. The youngest offspring of Andreas, Marie at 19 years is still studying and only time will tell if she too joins the family business. The entire Spilker family are technology driven, Andreas remarked that none of them are accountants or management experts. “We can hire professionals for that but I am happy that the family is involved in production so as to turn out excellent, technically advanced and precision engineered products.
Getting over difficult times
Flexible die in production
The economic slowdown of 2008 brought the most difficult time at Spilker. Ironically and with regret,at that time they had to give up loyal employees to stay afloat. The crisis came at a time when they had acquired an additional shop floor area from a neighbor to expand their production. They had to stall the production until things improved and they were back on their feet. Once out of recession they came out stronger and fit to carve out a path of permanent and fruitful growth. Spilker with 210 employees presently works out of shop floor area admeasuring 20,000 square meters or over 200,000 square feet. Sales at over 20 million Euros continue to grow steadily at 10% per annum. They try to find special solutions to customer’s problems and attend to them completely, offering combination of new processes and products. They endeavor to make perfect rotary dies helping customers to build required production systems to service their respective customers. Andreas says, “The more complicated is the problem, the better it is for us. We love challenges”.
custom converting machine

The present business is spread into three business segments;
·         Rotary tooling that include rotary dies and magnetic cylinders
·         Flexible dies
·         Custom built machines

The above segments cater to the following industries;
·         Labels and printing
·         Medical and Pharmaceuticals
·         Automotive supplies
·         Electronics.

Magnetic Cylinder in production
A walk through their factory shows perfect workflow, state of the art capital equipment and testing systems to turn out products of highest quality standards. New developments at Spilker include tools with nonstick coatings for clean cutting adhesive labels with aggressive adhesives, tools for adhesive tape and wound care products, MEP systems with ejector pins for medical plasters that have holes, Sonic dies for punching holes and suction of waste rounds, etc. As for expensive rotary dies they offer value to their customers by repeatedly sharpening the tools when they become blunt. 

Andreas is pensive in his thoughts about his future in the company. He asserts that now that his children are getting firmly involved in the running of Spilker, in 5 years he will like to leave the management to them and retire. His daughter Anika is optimistic on the future and asserts that the company will grow further in both label and non label segments. Both Henrik and Anika are making efforts to expand into machine building while maintaining the quality and growth of existing business. Indulgent youthful attributes guided by an experienced mentor parent is sure to take Spilker to another level of success.
Written exclusively for Narrow Web Tech, Germany by Harveer Sahni, Chairman, Weldon Celloplast Limited, New Delhi India May 2017 

The article maybe published with the permission of Narrow WebTech Germany giving credit to them and to the author

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