Masks from Kelkheim mass-produced
OF HEIKE LATTKA
An employee of the Hattersheim city administration just called and ordered fabric masks. The only condition: they had to be black so that the cemetery employees gave a respectful impression to mourners at funerals even in Corona times. Such inquiries are not an isolated case: the Kelkheimer Bürgerstiftung had its logo printed on the masks, and the Frankfurt/Rhein-Main regional association did the same for the masks of its employees. Guido Kerber, Managing Director of Kerber & Lampe, is happy to accommodate special requests ? even if production is now booming. The Kerbers, who actually earn their money with other machine parts for a long time, have reactivated their old leather machine factory with a new business model. Since June, the closed traditional company has been producing community masks with hydro-propylene nonwoven fabric and tested mouth and nose surgical protection made in Germany on a specially purchased machine from China and also sells FFP2 masks as a wholesaler. In the online shop www.kela-schutzmasken.de explode the demand.
He took the risk with the expensive machine purchase, but the business model pays off, says Kerber? an estimated around 700,000 masks from Kelkheim production have been sold throughout Germany so far? and more every day. A year ago, Kerber would never have dreamed that he would have to involve his sons Tim and Dennis in the reactivated company because of the rush, while meanwhile he mainly earns his income with the protective masks. But since March the business of his main company MZE, which produces graphic machines like the ?Eurocutter? manufacture, broken in. The pandemic has led to this ?crazy story? contributed, which he now has to tell.
The Kerbers are familiar with bankruptcies caused by the crisis: In the 1980s, father Werner was still the world market leader with his "Kela" special machines, large tanning 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 purely a holding company, explained Kerber. But with a new plague? Covid-19 ? the company was awakened from its slumber and given a new company purpose.
?We can't do anything anymore?
Because Kerber knew how to use his good contacts in China. Since 1999, he has maintained a business relationship with a large paper cutting company in China. When there were no orders due to Corona and he had to convey to his partner: "We can't do anything anymore", the idea for mask production was born. In fact, the Chinese business friend's sister-in-law, who in turn runs a company that manufactures machines for the production of protective masks, was able to help. Kerber invested $150,000 in such a Chinese system, which guarantees appropriate quality controls and meets the requirements of the most important test certificates.
In two-week chats, which according to Kerber "felt like day and night", the system ? a conveyor belt with a difficult ultrasonic welding device and several automatic work stations ? set up together with the Chinese via video. The highest standard and an Öko-Tex 100 certificate were applied for and approved. This was important to him.
Of course, the careful production has its price, and it cannot yet be predicted whether the German masks are really 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: how did cheap solar panels from China destroy their German competitors? they were no longer competitive with their prices. Kerber is therefore hoping for a long-term memory among German buyers for hospitals: everyone should remember how difficult and expensive it was to procure masks in the spring and how much the lack of German production facilities was criticized.