Kelkheim: From leather machines to protective mask production
The long-established Kelkheim company Kerber & Lampe revived for Corona aid.
Muenster. It whistles, hisses and rattles sometimes. Eight hours a day. The signs on Benzstrasse are blue. The outer fleece of the 17.5 by 9.5 centimeter "kela" mouth and nose mask is blue. The blue upper fleece is carefully unwound at the same speed together with two lower fleeces and a thin, plastic-coated wire from four oversized spools. All the technology belongs to the production plant of the Kerber family. Werner Kerber and his son Guido started their mouth and nose protection production in June. Since then they have been producing so-called community masks made in Germany.
The three fleece layers including the nose wire run as a long, never-ending carpet past three folding knives, which leave three folds on the fleece that has not yet been cut to size. The conveyor belt continues in the direction of the ultrasonic welding device. “The noises come from the ultrasound. That's around 20 megahertz," explains Guido Kerber. He and his father are the managing directors of the Münster-based Kerber & Lampe GmbH.
The company has actually been around for decades. "The name 'kela' is from the 1960s," says Werner Kerber. In 1965, however, he was not producing masks, but rather machines for the leather industry. The decline of the German tanning industry meant the closure of the production of the father's business. However, Kerber & Lampe always remained as a holding company. In April, the Kelkheimers were therefore able to change the company's purpose. Since then, Kerber & Lampe has been producing medical and non-medical products.
Grandchildren take control, packaging
A second ultrasonic welding process attaches the ear straps to the fleece rectangles that have now been cut to size. The cords wind from the ceiling in the direction of the production site. "So nothing gets knotted," informs Guido Kerber. The last step is quality control and packaging. Tim and Dennis, Guido Kerber's sons and thus the third generation of the entrepreneurial family, take on these two tasks.
All fleece materials come from Germany with Oeko-Tex quality, and the company can still keep up very well with the prices from China. "We are better and cheaper and have already received a lot of praise," reports Kerber proudly. At the beginning of the crisis, they jointly developed the idea of entering the mask business. Here Guido Kerber's second mainstay, the company MZE Maschinenbau, came in handy. With MZE, Kerber sells cutting machines and peripheral systems at home and abroad and has contacts all over the world. “We then ordered the mask machine from our suppliers in China. Simply buying masks in large quantities there to resell them here was not in line with our business idea," says Guido Kerber.
Major MZE customers also buy the masks. "We mention mouth and nose protection in sales and maintenance talks and we keep getting inquiries," explains Michael Lunkenheimer, Sales Director at MZE. The production line, which is around ten meters long and a good four meters wide, is located in an adjoining room of the MZE company, so that technical and organizational synergies can be realized more easily.
The "kela" mouth and nose masks made in Germany are intended to be the springboard for further market diversification by the Kerber & Lampe company. “We are currently making community masks, i.e. the usual disposable masks. When you speak, they hold back the aerosols and protect the person you are talking to,” explains Guido Kerber. In the short term, the company also wants to produce medical masks, called surgical masks.
Up to 7000 copies produced daily
Guido Kerber's two sons are moving with them. Tim has entered the "kela" mask business professionally. His younger brother Dennis is still at school. However, he does not use the summer holidays to chill out, but oversees the packaging process. The brothers defied the noise of the welding machine in a good mood with loud music. The work motivates. Even if Tim admits with a wink: "Sometimes the masks accompany me in my dreams."
Currently they produce between 5000 and 7000 masks daily. Production could easily be increased. "Our personnel capacities allow shift work," says Guido Kerber. Customers include private individuals, car dealerships, pharmacies, lawyers and medical supply stores in Kelkheim, Hofheim and the surrounding area. There are also national orders and inquiries from neighboring European countries. Anyone can order directly via the online shop. The stock is currently around 50,000 masks.
Medical masks the next step
The copies can be designed with lettering or company logos on request. An in-house design team makes this possible. The entrepreneurs are convinced that the purchase of the mask production system will still pay off in the long term even after Corona. "We assume that people will be sensitized after the pandemic," believes Guido Kerber. In the near future, the company would like to generate additional customer groups with the production of medical surgical masks for hospitals and medical practices. “The federal government estimates that 1.75 billion medical masks are used annually. If only a small part of that comes from our Kelkheim facility, that's a great success," concludes Guido Kerber.
Contact and order
The address of the Kelkheim "kela" online shop is: www.kela-schutzmasken.de