Kelkheim: From leather machines to protective mask production
Decommissioned traditional 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 large “kela” mouth and nose mask is blue. The blue top fleece slowly unwinds at the same speed, together with two bottom fleece and a thin, plastic-coated wire from four oversized spools. All the technology is part of the Kerber family's production facility. 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 that 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 is around 20 megahertz, ”explains Guido Kerber. He and his father are the managing directors of Kerber & Lampe GmbH in Münster.
The company has actually been around for decades. “The name 'kela' is from the sixties,” Werner Kerber knows. In 1965, however, he did not produce masks, but machines for the leather industry. The decline of the German tannery industry meant the closure of the father's business. However, Kerber & Lampe remained as the holding company. In April, the Kelkheim-based company was 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 bands to the fleece rectangles that have now been cut to size. The cords for this wind from the ceiling in the direction of the production site. "So that nothing gets knotted," says Guido Kerber. The last step is quality control and packaging. Tim and Dennis, the sons of Guido Kerber, 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 yet the company can keep up with the prices from China very well. "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. Guido Kerber's second entrepreneurial pillar, the MZE Maschinenbau company, came in handy. Kerber sells cutting machines and peripheral systems at home and abroad with MZE and has contacts all over the world. “We then ordered the mask machine through our suppliers in China. Simply buying masks in large numbers there in order to resell them here did not correspond to our business idea, ”says Guido Kerber.
Major MZE customers also buy the masks. "We mention mouth and nose protection in sales and maintenance discussions and keep receiving inquiries," explains Michael Lunkenheimer, sales director at MZE. The approximately ten meter long and four meter wide production line 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 the further market diversification of the Kerber & Lampe company. “We are currently producing community masks, the usual disposable masks. They hold back the aerosols when speaking and protect the person you are talking to, ”explains Guido Kerber. In the short term, the company also wants to produce medical masks, known as surgical masks.
Up to 7000 copies produced daily
The two sons of Guido Kerber move with them. Tim started his career in the “kela” mask business. His younger brother Dennis is still in school. However, he does not use the summer holidays to chill out, but takes care of the packaging process. The brothers defy 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 dreams."
They currently produce between 5,000 and 7,000 masks a day. 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 supraregional orders and inquiries from neighboring European countries. Anyone can order directly from the online shop. There are currently around 50,000 masks in stock.
Medical masks the next step
The copies can be designed with lettering or company logos on request. An in-house team of designers makes this possible. The entrepreneurs are convinced that the acquisition of the mask production system will still pay off in the long term after Corona. "We assume that people are 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 this comes from our Kelkheim plant, it is a great success, ”says Guido Kerber's conclusion.
Contact and order
The address of the Kelkheim “kela” online shop is: www.kela-schutzmasken.de