Question: Dr. Bettenhausen, could you give us a brief introduction to HARTING?
Bettenhausen: HARTING is a leading global provider of connectivity solutions for the transmission of data, signals and energy in automation technology, mechanical engineering, robotics and, particularly important, in railway technology. We also supply entire checkout zones and provide the automotive engineering sector with actuators, magnet systems, etc. Our big growth market there is power transmission for electric vehicles with on-board charging cables, as well as charging cables and connectivity solutions for charging stations. We are a tier-1 supplier to the VW Group, supplying for example a cooled fast charging solution for the Porsche Taycan.
Question: HARTING has successfully defied the coronavirus pandemic and saw a slight increase in revenue last year. What factors played a role in this success?
Bettenhausen: First of all, close proximity to customers and to the markets and responding quickly to their requirements. The second factor is a strong sense of responsibility. We have ensured that our employees can work safely, be it in the office, on the production floor, in the testing laboratories or in logistics, and thus maintained our ability to deliver at any time. The third factor is that we quickly adapted all our market communications.
Question: In which industries and markets are you experiencing the greatest growth?
Bettenhausen: One area is undoubtedly electromobility, which really took off in Germany last year, thanks in part to financial support measures. This is where we recorded the highest rates of growth percentage-wise. But we have also enjoyed growth in the fields transportation/railway technology, automation and logistics. The fact that we are able to grow in a time when many companies are shrinking means that everyone has made a contribution.
Question: You recently established a cooperation with MIT. What kind of impetus do you hope this will provide?
Bettenhausen: We hope to find partners for collaboration and co-creation. MIT is one of the top addresses worldwide when it comes to thinking outside the box. With its hardware sector, the ecosystem in the northeast of the USA is a deliberate counter-pole to Silicon Valley. Companies that are part of this ecosystem via the Industrial Liaison Program are able to come together more quickly with the aim of solving tasks or developing initial prototypes.
Question: How innovative is HARTING? How "young" are your products on average?
Bettenhausen: We have a large number of new products in every sector. But we also continue to develop the products that our customers have known and valued for years. Countless variants of HARTING's HAN connector, which we patented at the end of the 1950s, are still available today. It is constantly being expanded to include new modules, such as ID modules and current sensors, and new power ratings.
Question: What challenges does HARTING face in product development? How global is your product development?
Bettenhausen: We have globally distributed teams to ensure that we drive development forward close to and together with our customers, even though development is still primarily carried out in Germany. This means making note of customer requirements in a quick exchange and developing innovative answers ourselves.
Question: Aren't connectors standard products?
Bettenhausen: We cover a whole range of connectors. The basis is provided by standard connectors from the catalog. They have a modular concept and you can configure them to meet your requirements. Then there is the Customized Solutions division, where we develop complete solutions together with customers. The jumper cables between two railcars are a good example. Every railcar manufacturer has its preferences as to what it wants to exchange and how it wants to exchange data, signals and power.
Question: What does this wide range of products mean in terms of your digitalization strategy?
Bettenhausen: It has to offer an appropriate level of flexibility. An off-the-shelf digitalization solution only offers us help with our standard products – we need flexibility for everything else. It begins with our colleagues, who first have to understand the task for which they are supposed to provide a solution together with the customer. PLM tools that offer a corresponding level of flexibility are needed to plan and produce this solution.