Dec 15, 2023
How It All Started—from a Family Business to a Global Player
Fifty years ago, in July 1973, Pepperl+Fuchs founded its first overseas subsidiary in Oldham, Great Britain. This expansion proved to be the starting point for the company's successful international growth. Today, the company boasts 80 locations, including six production sites, spread across all continents. Being close to its customers has always been a priority for Pepperl+Fuchs.
What began as a radio repair workshop in Mannheim, Germany, back in 1945 has developed into an internationally successful company, with a large portion of that success owing to its groundbreaking invention of the inductive proximity sensor in 1958. Valuable contacts were made at international trade fairs and the first sales activities outside Germany began. On July 4, 1973, Pepperl+Fuchs founded its first overseas sales subsidiary in Oldham, Greater Manchester, Great Britain. Back then, the company's offices were located in a large Victorian-style building.
Sandra Webster was one of the first two employees to start working at Pepperl+Fuchs GB Ltd in 1975 and is now the Group's longest-standing employee worldwide. She can still remember her first days at Pepperl+Fuchs as if it were only yesterday. "Pepperl+Fuchs was completely different from other companies in which I had previously worked—in terms of the family environment and the industry, which was completely new to me. The sensor product designations such as NJ1.5-6.5N seemed very strange at first, but I got used to them quite quickly," recalls Sandra Webster.
"Back then, all the processes were still manual, with no automated systems or central customer database, let alone an ERP system. We had to record everything manually. It goes without saying that, given today's huge order volumes, manual processing would no longer be possible. We all needed to learn how to multitask, since we were still a very small and hands-on company at the time. I quickly became part of a real family business," continues Webster.
To this day, Sandra Webster still remembers a unique customer request: "We received a call from Alton Towers, a large amusement park in the UK. They urgently needed one of our sensors, and since the owner did not want to close the park, they asked if they could land a helicopter somewhere to pick up the sensor. Of course, this wasn’t possible—Oldham isn’t really known for its green belt," jokes Webster. "We transported the sensor to Alton Towers the very same day to ensure that the park continued to run smoothly. Regardless of the size of the company, we have always managed to get the most out of it for our customers, and this is still our ethos today," says Sandra Webster with pride.
Regardless of the size of the company, we have always managed to get the most out of it for our customers, and this is still our ethos today.
Growth, Hurdles, New Beginnings
Growing success and an increasing number of employees meant that the British subsidiary moved to a new custom-built location, which included production facilities, in 1980. The new R&D department in Oldham developed a series of intrinsically safe 4…20 mA isolated barriers, while also developing and manufacturing the first Zener barrier.
By 1988, the number of employees had risen from 26 to 110. Manual systems became automated, the company enjoyed year-on-year growth, and even the corporate color changed. "When I started at Pepperl+Fuchs, the corporate color was a shade of blue instead of the unique green it is today," recalls Webster. "Another milestone was the introduction of an automated ordering system, which made our work so much easier and gave us plenty of time to get on other key tasks."
The subsidiary's continued success meant that it once again had to look for new premises to accommodate its steady growth. In 1991, Pepperl+Fuchs GB invested £1.3 million and moved into its new premises—where it is still located today—at 77 Ripponden Road, Oldham. These premises span an area of 35,000 square feet.
The production facilities were relocated to Singapore in 1999, but the research and development expertise remains in Oldham. With the acquisition of the company ecom Instruments in 2016, Pepperl+Fuchs established a completely new business unit in the field of explosion protection: The portfolio includes intrinsically safe smartphones, tablets, and wearables for use in hazardous areas. This provided the company and also the UK subsidiary with a large sales growth rate and opened up new market opportunities.
With Britain's exit from the European Union in 2020, Pepperl+Fuchs—like many other companies—finally faced the huge challenge of overcoming the negative impact of Brexit and the resulting economic barriers. "We had to ensure that we were still meeting customers' expectations and that Brexit had no appreciable adverse impact on the delivery of our goods," Webster reports.
Looking back over the almost past 50 years, I can say that Pepperl+Fuchs is a fantastic company that people like working for. Our product developments, acquisitions, and a good workforce have always ensured that we are at the forefront.
"Looking back over the almost past 50 years, I can say that Pepperl+Fuchs is a fantastic company that people like working for. Our product developments, acquisitions, and a good workforce have always ensured that we are at the forefront. I am very proud that I have contributed and still continue to contribute to the success and growth of the company for more than 48 years," summarizes Sandra Webster.
Singapore—the Gateway to Asia and the World
With their keen business acumen and big plans for the future of their company, Ludwig Fuchs and Walter Pepperl, pioneers in the industry, took the big step into Asia in 1979—a mere six years after founding the first overseas subsidiary in Great Britain. The pair founded their first subsidiary—with its own production facilities—outside of Europe in Singapore. The aim was to gain access to the Asian market while still remaining competitive in Europe.
With the Singapore location, Pepperl+Fuchs entered the Asian business world. The Group's Asia-Pacific headquarters are still located there today. Singapore is home to the Group's competence center for photoelectric sensors and the largest and most modern of its three global logistics centers. The fully automated, IoT-capable automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) and an intelligent warehouse management software (WMS) system enable short delivery times worldwide.
Pepperl+Fuchs founded its first Asian subsidiary in Singapore in 1979.
Today, the Singapore site, the company's headquarters for the Asia-Pacific region, shines in new splendor.
The Group's global state-of-the-art logistics center was put into operation in Singapore in 2016. From here, Pepperl+Fuchs sensors and components are shipped all over the world.
Insights into the production in Singapore.
Quality is a top priority for Pepperl+Fuchs.
This includes a state-of-the-art production environment.
Besides the production facilities in Singapore and Europe, Pepperl+Fuchs established two other key Asian production sites in Bintan, Indonesia (in 2000) and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (in 2008). Asia is one of the automation specialist's most important sales markets. With its broad network and subsidiaries in most Asian countries, Pepperl+Fuchs remains close to its customers to provide them with the best possible service and expert on-site support for integration and technical questions.
Pepperl+Fuchs Goes to the USA—40 Years of Success
Just ten years after the opening its first overseas subsidiary, company owners Walter Pepperl and Ludwig Fuchs succeeded in making the leap over the Atlantic and founded the US subsidiary Pepperl+Fuchs Inc. in Ohio, USA in 1983. The Land of Opportunity also proved to be a success story for Pepperl+Fuchs. The US company started in Solon, Ohio, with just four employees. They later moved only a few miles away to Twinsburg, where Pepperl+Fuchs still has its US headquarters and now employs more than 200 staff. Pepperl+Fuchs serves the North American market from here, with its products and solutions for the automation of processes and plants.
Chris Romano, Product Manager for Purge and Pressurization Systems, has been there from the start and remembers it well. "At the beginning, the Pepperl+Fuchs brand was still an unknown quantity in the US market—the new kid on the block. We sold proximity sensors, the first ultrasonic sensors—at that time still from Siemens—and some intrinsic safety barriers. Our inductive proximity sensors gained in popularity over mechanical switches in industrial applications, but intrinsic safety barriers were still considered a science fiction concept back then," Chris Romano laughs.
Our inductive proximity sensors gained in popularity over mechanical switches in industrial applications, but intrinsic safety barriers were still considered a science fiction concept back then.
"Although we were still an entirely unknown entity in the market and had difficulty finding suitable distributors and sales staff, we enjoyed rapid growth—from a few daily orders to multiple daily orders in a very short span of time. From the very beginning, customers valued our product quality and competitive prices. That helped us grow quickly," Chris Romano continues, looking back at those early days. But there were hurdles that virtually no one remembers. This may be unimaginable for many today, but back then there was no internet, no computers, no smartphones, no PowerPoint presentations. "As a source of information for new products, applications, and potential customers, we used traditional trade fairs, trade magazines, sales staff, and the Thomas Register of North American manufacturers and suppliers. Google was not around back then. Orders were typewritten, technical drawings were drawn by hand, and we had to carry a huge projector around to give presentations to customers. The subsidiary communicated with the German headquarters in Mannheim exclusively via fax. Calls were only made in absolute emergencies, since transatlantic calls cost a small fortune back then," remembers Chris Romano, adding with a laugh: "I am glad that we got smarter."
From the very beginning, customers valued our product quality and competitive prices. That helped us grow quickly.
With the expansion of business activities in the United States, Pepperl+Fuchs eventually grew into a global group of companies. The USA and the entire American continent still represent a vital sales market for Pepperl+Fuchs. The Group-wide competence center for human-machine interfaces and purge and pressurization systems is located at the US headquarters in Twinsburg, Ohio.
In the spring of 2013, one of five Solution Engineering Centers (SEC) was established in Houston, Texas, where Pepperl+Fuchs develops tailor-made solutions for various applications in hazardous areas. The SEC spans an impressive 1000 square meters and puts Pepperl+Fuchs in close physical proximity to many of its customers in the oil and gas industry, providing a definite advantage for close cooperation and things such as factory acceptance tests, which are vital for customized solutions.
October 2019 saw Pepperl+Fuchs open a state-of-the-art distribution center in nearby Katy, Texas. The plant, measuring more than 110,000 square feet, is the smallest of its three global logistics centers. It serves as a showroom for the wide range of applications of Pepperl+Fuchs sensors in intralogistics.
The distribution center in Katy, near Houston/Texas, is one of three Pepperl+Fuchs logistics centers worldwide and enables short delivery times throughout the USA.
The high-tech distribution center also serves as a showroom for the use of Pepperl+Fuchs sensors in intralogistics and can be visited as a guided tour.
The warehouse management software (WMS) system provides an overview of all incoming and outgoing goods at all times.
The US headquarters is and will remain in Twinsburg, Ohio. The company is currently investing in the construction of a completely new building with modern offices and R&D space, which is expected to be ready for occupancy in 2025. The requirements of the modern and hybrid working world, which has changed considerably in recent years, were also taken into account when designing the premises. Pepperl+Fuchs is thus also positioning itself as a future-proof and competitive employer in the region.
Family-Owned and a Global Player
Boasting eighty locations, six production sites, ten Competence Centers, five Solution Engineering Centers, and three modern logistics centers, Pepperl+Fuchs is now represented all over the world and has grown into a global player in the automation industry. At the same time, the company always remains true to its philosophy, "Your Automation, our Passion", by staying close to customers and being passionate for automation. Despite, or perhaps because of, its success story, Pepperl+Fuchs has remained a family-owned company with its headquarters in Mannheim, Germany, to this day—it is still completely in the hands of the descendants of its founders, Walter Pepperl and Ludwig Fuchs.