Looking around the world, in nearly every vehicle are high-strength automotive parts on board that have been designed, developed, and produced by the Hirschvogel Automotive Group. Serving as one of the top automotive suppliers since the company’s founding in 1938, we sat down with Witold Salandyk, President and CEO of the company's U.S. division, to talk about the evolution of the company over the years, and the dynamic presence they bring to each and every partnership. Steve Engelhardt reports.
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Hirschvogel is a privately-owned company whose roots stretch all the way back to 1938, when engineer Willy Hirschvogel, together with his brothers Anton and Hans, decided to found an industrial forging operation out of their garage in Denklingen, a small town in Germany about an hour south of Munich. Starting off with a few used machines and presses, they initially sought general industrial work before deciding to primarily focus on the needs of the automotive industry that emerged after World War II. In order to accommodate demand, they eventually built their first major production facility in 1963, and growth soon exploded.
Throughout the 70s and 80s, under the leadership of Dr. Manfred Hirschvogel, son of the founder, the company rapidly grew its footprint and reputation in the global automotive market so much so that by 1988—50 years since its original founding—Hirschvogel decided to establish operations in the U.S., marking the first of string of international expansions that have paved the way to it becoming one of the largest forging companies in the world today.
“The global growth we have achieved just within the last 30 years has been remarkable, and our US presence has been a big part of that,” says Salandyk. “Today, Hirschvogel products deliver the complete package in not only quality and innovation, but in delivery speed as well, given our strategically setup market proximity.”
With regards to Hirschvogel’s U.S. operations, the company’s headquarters are located in Columbus, Ohio. “Our U.S. presence was a very small operation initially, with one press and a few people working under one roof, however, today we have more than 300 individuals at work full time and our revenues have grown to over $115 million as of last year.”
It’s why the company recently decided to invest $50 million into its Columbus facility, a project that will add 37 jobs and expand the plant’s floor space by 65,000-square feet, bringing the total footprint to more than 200,000-square feet. “Given the location of Columbus and its close proximity to many of the major players in the U.S. automotive market, we felt it was the right decision to expand here,” he says, adding, “The area has access to a strong manufacturing talent pool as well, but furthermore, the move speaks towards Hirschvogel’s long term commitment to the American market and our role in delivering high quality, innovative components to automotive companies for many years to come.”
With regards to the automotive components Hirschvogel’s U.S. division offers, Salandyk says it’s really across the board. “Our focus is on cold and warm forging of steel-based products, and we will consider anything that our capabilities can offer,” he says, continuing, “Specifically, we can do everything from gear boxes and cylinder heads, to camshafts and injectors, and if I’m thinking about a component or two that we are second to none in, it would be pinions and CV (Constant Velocity) joints.”
He says that the focus for Hirschvogel in its partnerships is to produce highly sophisticated, high volume parts strictly for automotive companies here in the United States. “We follow a ‘local for local’ strategy across our global platform where parts produced in a given region are made specifically for customers in that region, which allows us to maintain a tight level of control over our quality and overall performance.”
While quality and the control of such defines much of Hirschvogel’s identity, so too does innovation. “In many cases, forged products are treated as commodities, but Hirschvogel has made a name for itself in taking an innovative approach to each and every component it designs and produces,” says Salandyk.
The engine of development comes from their headquarters in Germany, where a large team of dedicated researchers work to engineer solutions for existing and potentially future needs in the marketplace. He says the company is currently in the midst of developing a revolutionary material to serve as a lighter alternative to traditional steel, something particularly notable given the increasing global demand for weight reduction technologies within automotives.
But beyond the development of new technology, Salandyk says Hirschvogel’s innovative capabilities allow them to take on a dynamic role for their customers. “One of our distinguishing traits as a company is that we encourage our customers to come to us directly with their issues, where we will work together to develop a tailored component that meets their exact needs.”
He adds that customers are often taken aback when approached by Hirschvogel for such services, but only because it was simply something they didn’t expect from the partnership. “Sometimes we surprise our customers with just how far we are willing to take the partnership, but we do so because we know that improving their products leads to us improving our own practices, and the outcome is something that both parties benefit greatly from.”
Hirschvogel’s proactive relationship with its customers is something that Salandyk is perhaps most proud of. “We work with some of the biggest names in the automotive business, from GM and Magna Corporation, to BMW and Daimler, and most of these companies have well-structured requests that we are happy to fulfill in an efficient manner” he says, adding, “But we also work with plenty of small- and mid-sized companies as well, and often these businesses may have areas where we can not only fill a void, but go above and beyond and assist them with overall product development and improvement as a whole.”
In fact, he says that they recently visited with one of their customers and after lengthy conversations, decided to partner their respective engineering teams with each other to see how they could better enhance their product relative to their customers’ needs. “They were initially caught off guard by our willingness, telling us, ‘We thought you were only a manufacturer!’” he says with a laugh, adding, “But ultimately they found out that Hirschvogel is so much more than that and were very happy with the result.”
Looking across the automotive supplier market, those who put an emphasis on high quality, efficient manufacturing are going to be the most successful. When you add in the ability to be innovative and dynamic in each and every partnership, the competition begins to bottleneck. Those who emerge are the true leaders, and Hirschvogel can certainly count themselves amongst such a group. And with a new expansion underway, and a proactive attitude towards the marketplace, it looks as though they’ll remain as such for many years to come.