"Give me your most difficult part and I will find a solution", said Günter Blase. He had to take a risk in order to win over Pierburg, his very first customer. Two children sat at home and had to be provided for. Money was in short supply. He had just set up igus with his wife Margret and the first injection-moulding machine still had to be bought. The order from Pierburg was urgently needed.
Günter Blase actually received an enquiry from Pierburg. The most complicated problem part was a valve cone for a carburettor. In 1965, no-one would have come up with the idea of using plastic to make this small metal component and, what's more, to do so with an injection-moulding machine. The manufacturing process was simply too complicated. For Günter Blase, this was no reason to lose heart. He went into his double garage and experimented until the first perfect plastic valve cone came out of the injection-moulding machine.
The creation of the first energy chain made of plastic is symptomatic of igus GmbH: it was developed because Günter Blase listened carefully to the textile manufacturer Schlafhorst. Schlafhorst was looking for a new concept for his textile machines in order to protect cables on long travels in his rough factory environment. igus was already manufacturing plain bearings made of high-quality plastic successfully. The so-called series 20 was then created in conjunction with the mechanical engineer. An automation milestone.
The double garage in Cologne-Mühlheim soon became too small. In Bergisch Gladbach near Cologne, Günter Blase found a suitable building in the historic industrial area of Lochermühle. Located above the old grounds where the first mills had settled as early as 1595, due to the location next to the river Strunde, there existed exactly the right entrepreneurial spirit to lend impetus to igus as a company.
The innovative energy chain made of high-quality polymers had now been developed further and several variants had become available. In order to market the product effectively, the first catalogue for energy chains was designed and printed. The design of the double-spread catalogue with spiral binder was the precursor of all the igus advertising material and printed documents of today.
Günter Blase is known for his inquiring mind and pioneering spirit. It was therefore only a matter of time until he developed his own materials for his plain bearings instead of relying on material from suppliers. iglidur G was the first material that he used to make plain bearings with the injection-moulding method. The iglidur G plain bearing, also called "the classic all-rounder" at igus, is still part of the company's product range today. What makes it stand out is its versatile usability as like all the company's plain bearings, it is lubrication and maintenance-free.
By this time, Frank Blase had joined the company and saw an opportunity to achieve success in the USA faster with the range of plain bearings. Two additional materials, iglidur X and iglidur M250, were developed and assigned the necessary dimensions in inches. The start in Rhode Island however was more than sluggish. In 1986, younger brother Carsten Blase took over and Frank returned to Germany. Today, igus USA is one of the largest of the 35 subsidiaries that exist abroad.
People make igus what it is today. Not just the employees but the customers as well. In order to illustrate the igus philosophy and make it easier to internalise, Frank Blase developed the igus "solar system", which visually represents the corporate structure of igus GmbH. It includes everyone and everything: teams, team leaders, managers and executives, and also the customer as the vital centrepoint of the company's existence. After all, it is the customer who, like the sun, is a source of energy. Everything acts together within a system oriented to the rules of chaos – and is guaranteed not to be static.
Wherever wood is planed, there is always a lot of chippings and dust. In more and more branches of industry, e-chains are successfully protecting cables against the many stresses that movement involves. The R68 energy tube was developed in order to be able to offer a cable-friendly system to the woodworking and material-transportation industry as well. Thanks to its enclosed design, the best possible protection can be provided for cables in rough environments. Moreover, it makes installation easy.
The e-chain was being used in industry more and more frequently and it was therefore inevitable that suitable cables became a focus of attention. When talking to customers, Frank Blase often used to hear that poor cable quality led to corkscrew effects, core rupture and loop formation in instances of acceleration, large cycle numbers or high speeds. igus had already mastered this challenge in the case of e-chains. The company therefore decided to develop its own tribologically optimised cables with innovative bundled stranding and assume responsibility for an entire system consisting of energy chain and cables.
Catalogues in paper form no longer came up to the standard that igus had set itself. Customers were to be given more information and also be able to find the energy chains for their individual application. The first e-chain expert was programmed and published on CD-ROM, a simulation program that could suggest the right configuration and offer different forms of interior separation. An important step towards "Moving energy made easy".
Everyone has always asked an important question at igus: How can we improve something for the customer? As only one answer of many, igus launched readychain on the market, the energy chain that is harnessed in advance, with the desired cables in the appropriate dimensions and is therefore ready for immediate installation. And that's not all. Ordering was made easier for the customer as now only one order had to be submitted. The readychain can be delivered and installed faster and needs less space for installation, improving logistics, and can be produced more cost-effectively.
The customers of igus were asking about solutions for linear motion more and more frequently. They wanted to make movements quieter and lubrication-free, with all the advantages that they already knew from the iglidur range of plain bearings. A liner with clearance compensation made of especially low-friction material was the first product to come on the market in this context. The name "drylin" itself was indicative of what it was for: dry linear guide. In other words, lubrication-free.
The factory within old walls became too small, igus was growing continuously in all areas. More production space and more space for staff were needed. Not just for a few years but for the long term as a fixed base, a factory that could grow with the company. The renowned British architect Sir Nicholas Grimshaw was fascinated by the briefing and also by the image of the solar system, which reflects the corporate culture. A building was created that has striking yellow pylons and stands out due its openness, flexibility and an unusual bright design that has since then been leaving an impression on employees and passers-by alike.
Making self-aligning bearings was the logical consequence of the continuous further development of materials and the increase in the number of possible applications. Manufactured with the 2-component injection-moulding method, the housing is formed over the inner spherical ball while at the same time remaining movable. The igubal product range continues to grow continuously but, whatever new materials and shapes are used, some things remain the same: the bearings are lubrication-free, maintenance-free and more cost-effective than metal bearings.
China was increasingly becoming a worthwhile market for igus. Energy chains, cables and plain bearings from Porz-Lind in Cologne were in demand here as well. For better coordination and management of business relations, a subsidiary was set up in China just before the turn of the millennium. Today it is the largest foreign subsidiary.
In many areas of production, industry is increasingly introducing automation and therefore the use of robots. However, due to their large radius of movement, robots give rise to special requirement for safe and reliable energy supply systems. igus presents the first special solutions for robots that can cope with torsion and round-the-clock operation, and are very adaptable. The triflex in-house product series is launched. The matching cables that can cope with the same conditions follow later.
igus produces its first profile guide in the form of drylin W. In this case as well, the winning arguments were that the sliding elements are completely lubrication and maintenance-free. Their resistance to dirt, dust and moisture make them usable in many difficult environments. That they operate very quietly is a further advantage, especially in the case of long periods of use when many machines work in parallel. With the modular system, igus makes it easy for its customers to configure the appropriate linear guide. They are all wear-resistant.
Every child is familiar with ball bearings, they are found in roller skates, children's scooters and so on, and are almost an everyday component. Tiresome lubrication is something all users come into contact with at some stage. This is where igus also went back to its box of polymer tricks and developed the first ball bearings with plastics that cause very little friction. "xiros" is derived from the Greek word for "dry". These products are also lubrication and maintenance-free. They weigh less than metal ball bearings and, because they are more hygienic, are suitable for a considerably wider range of applications.
The forward-looking design of the factory with the yellow pylons now pays off. igus increases the size of the factory by a huge 60%. More machines, more tools, more storage space, there is a place for everything in the airy building. And there is still enough space for further expansion.
robolink W was the first cost-effective robot arm made by igus. Development began with the purchase of a patent for an articulated arm with rope drive. Just a few years later, robolink development took a great step forwards and the D series was developed. The drive was the main difference to the preceding models. The robolink D articulated robot was moved with the help of direct drives.
With the twisterband, igus launches its own energy chain for rotating energy supply onto the market. With a rotary movement of 7,000 degrees in horizontal and up to 3,000 degrees in vertical installation positions, it is a cost-effective solution for rotary movements in an extremely small space. While the design looks futuristic, it is very easy to handle. Spoiler alarm: in 2011, this energy chain will win the red dot design award.
igus already has high-performance polymers in many different forms. Why not bar stock as well?, thought igus GmbH in 2010. Since then, iglidur bar stock has been available in the form of plates, round bars or hollow bars. The advantage is that, with bar stock, customers can make their own customised part themselves and make use of the advantages associated with many different iglidur materials. As an alternative, igus offers a manufacturing service and machines iglidur bar stock according to the customer's requirements.
"E" as in "electric" says it all. igus now supplies drives and motors for drylin linear axes. In the online shop, the customer can now configure a complete linear axis, including motor, connecting cables and built-on parts, with just a few clicks of the mouse. In addition, the product finder calculates the individual price of the linear axis as well as the utilisation rate of the motors and the service life in strokes. In this case, the "E" could also stand for "easy configuration".
As if Günter Blase had already expected this in 1994. He had probably hoped for this at least. igus GmbH continues to grow and needs more space again. Fortunately, this was already foreseen in the planning phase and the production areas and desk workstations shifted once more within the four walls in Spicher Strasse. The forward-looking architecture of Sir Nicholas Grimshaw makes it possible.
On the 30th anniversary of iglidur, a Smart car was fitted out with iglidur plain bearings and sent on a journey all around the world. The small car travelled through 30 countries in 14 months. With this campaign, igus demonstrated the many possible uses of its polymer plain bearings and the special advantages of the iglidur materials all over the world.
Filaments with an up to 50-times greater wear resistance, 3D-printed parts that can cope with just as many movements as injection-moulded parts – this was the promise with which igus started its 3D printing service. SLS powder, printed injection-moulding tools and free online services were also offered by the company. The possibility of calculating the service life of the parts online is unique worldwide. igus keeps its promise.
Components from igus are wear-resistant and always last longer in applications, as a result of which there is less maintenance work for entrepreneurs to do. With its smart plastics, igus introduces sensors and transmission systems that detect wear in good time and make planned replacement possible by emitting a corresponding signal. This rules out the possibility of a worst-case scenario, namely damage to or failure of the machinery. This saves time, trouble and money. And it increases productivity.
igus launches a platform that brings together users and suppliers of low-cost robotics components quickly and easily. Users can put together a low-cost robotics solution that matches their requirements and budget. Suppliers of robotics components can present their products to a larger public in a new marketplace.
When the market demand for a product is high, then manufacturers and their suppliers are required. Customised parts, such as plain bearings in special shapes, have to be delivered quickly and easily. But it is not unusual for the production of special parts by injection moulding to take several weeks. With the FastLine Service, lubrication-free plastic plain bearings in special dimensions can be supplied at cost-effective prices within just a few days.
When Günter Blase entered the plastics industry in 1955, he discovered the potential of plastics. And the opportunity to help designers make their designs better, simpler and safer. The first years after the foundation of igus in 1964 were not easy but the customers trusted him. Having the best solution for the customer as the priority brings success and is the guiding principle for all igus employees to this day.