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Press report FAZ November 21, 2020

Pressebericht FAZ 21.11.2020

Masks from Kelkheim mass-produced

OF HEIKE LATTKA

There is no longer anything to be earned with machines for tanneries. But because of the business with respiratory masks, the company Kerber & Lampe from Kelkheim reactivated a closed operation.

An employee of the Hattersheim city administration has just called and ordered fabric masks. The only condition: they have to be black so that the cemetery employees at funerals give a pious impression at funerals of mourners even in Corona times. Such inquiries are not an isolated case: the Kelkheimer Bürgerstiftung had its logo printed on the masks, the regional association Frankfurt / Rhein-Main did the same for the masks of its employees. Guido Kerber, Managing Director of Kerber & Lampe, is happy to respond to special requests - even if production is booming in the meantime. The Kerbers, who have long been earning their money with other machine parts, have reactivated their old leather machine factory with a new business model. Since June, the decommissioned traditional company has been producing community masks with hydro-propylene nonwovens and tested mouth and nose surgical protection made in Germany on a specially purchased machine from China and, as a wholesaler, also sells FFP2 masks. In the online shop www.kela-schutzmasken.de explode the demand.

He took the risk with the expensive machine acquisition, but the business model is paying off, says Kerber - an estimated 700,000 masks from the Kelkheim production have been sold throughout Germany so far - and the number is increasing every day. A year ago Kerber would never have dreamed that he had to involve his sons Tim and Dennis in the reactivated company because of the onslaught, and that he now mainly earns his income with protective masks. But since March the business of his main company MZE, which produces graphic machines such as the “Eurocutter”, has collapsed. The pandemic contributed to this "crazy story" that he now has to tell.

The Kerbers are familiar with crisis-related bankruptcies: In the eighties, Werner's father was still the world market leader with his "Kela" special machines, large tannery machines were manufactured until the foot-and-mouth disease in 2001 brought the German leather industry and thus this business model to a standstill. Until March of this year, the company was only a pure holding company, explained Kerber. But with a new epidemic - Covid-19 - the company was awakened from its slumber and given a new corporate purpose.

"Nothing works with us anymore"

Because Kerber knew how to use his good contacts in China. Since 1999 he has had a business relationship with a large paper cutting company in China. When the orders failed to come due to Corona and he had to convey to his partner: “Nothing works with us anymore”, the idea for mask production emerged. In fact, the sister-in-law of the Chinese business friend was able to help, who in turn runs a company that makes machines for the production of protective masks. Kerber invested 150,000 dollars in such a Chinese plant, which guarantees the appropriate quality controls and meets the requirements of the most important test certificates.

In two-week chats, which, according to Kerber, "felt like it lasted day and night", the system - a conveyor belt with a difficult ultrasonic welding device and several automatic work stations - was set up together with the Chinese via video. The highest standard and an Oeko-Tex 100 certificate have been applied for and approved. This was important to him.

Of course, the careful production has its price, and it is not yet possible to predict whether the German masks will really be a future-oriented business model for him, reports Kerber. Because the Chinese dominated this market, and they could very quickly nip any German initiative in the bud with cheap offers. There are plenty of examples of this: cheap solar panels from China ruined their German competitors - they were no longer competitive with their prices. Kerber therefore hopes for a long-term memory among German buyers for hospitals: Everyone should remember how difficult and expensive it was to get masks in the spring and how much the lack of German production facilities was criticized.

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