Looking back, the history of a successful company may seem like a no-brainer, as though things could never have gone any other way. However, Optima’s rise was not a foregone conclusion, but rather based on the consistently high level of commitment of the entire workforce, a strong focus on customer needs, and bold decisions – one of which (may well have) had an extraordinary impact.
A, B, and C mark the beginning of a new phase of expansive growth. The management divided the company into these divisions in the early 1980s. The A division focused on packaging solutions for paper hygiene products, in other words, sanitary napkins, diapers, and rolled goods. Divisions B and C focused on filling and packaging chunky, granular, and powdery products, as well as weighing and dosing processes.
What might come across as simply an organizational decision was actually much more than that – it set a course that reflected a fundamental change. Optima started seeing the world more consistently through the eyes of its customers and was evolving from a functional and technology-oriented organization into a company with individual business units. The questions explored in the new A division each and every day were: What challenges do our customers face, especially with regard to paper hygiene? What kind of solutions do they expect, from product manufacturing to packaging and delivery? And what can Optima do to contribute to an effective solution? It was therefore decided that focusing on industry and customer-specific requirements would be the top organizational priority.
Without question, Optima’s original expertise lay in the B and C divisions. The company’s success was initially based on weighing, filling, and packaging dry products. Thanks to the skills acquired in packaging of “soft goods”, such as bread baked at industrial bakeries, the A division was able to successfully develop paper hygiene products, while the B and C divisions provided solutions for packaging in bags or cardboard for the food and chemical industries.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the worldwide boom in paper hygiene products generated a sharp increase in demand for high-performance, economical packaging solutions. The demand for a wider variety of formats and handling and compressing elastic and soft products (see also page 14) increased and with it the challenges of new processes. Many companies shied away from this complex task, which not only called for a high level of engineering skill, but also a great deal of experience and the right touch.
Seeing the world through the eyes of the customer – this also meant being continously receptive to new requirements. Therefore, Optima became increasingly interested in companies that were successful in specific market areas. Like the Italian machine manufacturer Amotek, which supplements Optima’s portfolio with its machines in the medium output range. The decision was made: in 1999, Optima acquired a new subsidiary – and this was not the first and shouldn’t be the last.
While Optima was enjoying considerable success in paper hygiene, the B and C divisions were by no means idle. The diversity of industries and products created new opportunities for proven Optima solutions. The product portfolio was expanded and supplemented with innovative new and advanced developments.
In 1998, the opportunity to acquire Kugler arose. Kugler had earned an excellent reputation, particularly in the cosmetic and food sectors and, more recently, in the non-sterile pharmaceutical industry. Kugler also had practically the same customer base as Optima. Kugler systems were renowned for their outstanding flexibility and modularity. Optima did not hesitate. With the acquisition of Kugler, Optima could now master all types of consistencies, from granular to liquid products.
In 2007, all of Optima’s cosmetics activities were consolidated in Kugler GmbH. Hans Bühler managed to recruit a highly qualified addition to the management team – Rainer Feuchter, a former Kugler executive. After leaving Kugler, he and his wife founded “SF Vision”, which was successfully established on the market. Optima also had some shares in the company. The entrepreneur Feuchter knew that his work would be in good hands with Optima. In 2011, the two companies merged and Rainer Feuchter contributed his ideas and creative power under the umbrella of Optima Consumer GmbH as managing director.
By combining these diverse competencies and strengths, successful and, in some cases, revolutionary solutions began to emerge. For example, in 2008 Kugler received one of the largest single orders in the company’s history for the cosmetic sector – a highly flexible, large-scale system that processes numerous individual ingredients fully automatically and “composes” customized perfumes as a single order. Fragrances, flacons, and packaging for truly unique creations are included. This concept provided the basis for the system that none other than German Chancellor Angela Merkel would admire at the Hannover Messe, a trade show in Hanover, Germany, in 2015.
While the A, B, and C divisions were vigorously expanding, the early 1990s also witnessed a move in a completely different direction, one that would later contribute significantly to the Group’s growth.
Sterile liquid filling for the pharmaceutical industry showed great new potential. Traditional Optima strengths and values played a unique role – first and foremost in safety and precision. In 1992, the opportunity arose to acquire Inova, a company developing machines for sterile syringe filling. Inova became the first pharmaceutical subsidiary. Optima continued to grow as a group and
the product portfolio was expanded to include equipment for sterile vial filling. Inova and non-sterile Kugler applications were united under the diagnostics branch, and incorporated into Optima’s pharmaceutical division.
The demands of pharmaceutical customers are increasing, and with them the requirements for solutions for additional container types such as cartridges, vials, and special shapes.
Toward the end of the 1990s, Inova made its mark in the market with a complete sterile filling line – including isolator and secondary packaging. Initially, the isolator still had to be purchased. As the German saying goes: Finally, what belonged together came together. The companies Klee and Metall+Plastic provided specific expertise to supplement the sterile pharmaceutical sector. With Klee freeze dryers and M+P isolators, Optima Pharma was now truly becoming a full-range supplier – reaching a whole new level.
Additional acquisitions and start-ups gave access to the medical care sector that later formed a pillar for the Optima Life Science Division. The company Medicon develops manufacturing and packaging equipment for wound care products, such as wound dressings and sterile patches. Special applications for web processing and converting technologies opened up additional markets for this young subsidiary. With the ImmuCoat series for ELISA test kits, the Diagnostics business unit expanded its portfolio for small batch production. Whereas, Optima Pharma developed equipment for high-scale production. In 2012, the company Doyen Medipharm expanded the converter portfolio of the Group.
Parts of a strong family
For decades, committed and high-performing companies have continued to come under the umbrella of the Optima Group. Some are still operating under their own names. With their respective portfolios and highly qualified employees, they too make important contributions to the expertise, performance, and ultimately, the success of the entire Group. An overview:
2008: Over more than two decades, the A, B, and C divisions evolved into flourishing business units, each of them dynamically driven with the goal of providing comprehensive customer support and the corresponding industry focus in terms of sales, technology, and service. Now the time has come to give the divisions names that reflect their particular expertise.
Optima Consumer consolidates expertise in the food, chemical, and cosmetics industries, each organized in its own team. Optima Nonwovens, the former A division, focuses on packaging solutions for paper hygiene products. Optima Pharma offers high-performance sterile filling equipment. Wound dressings, transdermal patches, and ELISA test kits expertise were combined under the name Optima Life Science in 2012.
In 2008, Hans Bühler addressed the employees in a foreword to the new and first Group-wide Corporate Design Manual:
“Our companies have earned a good reputation as specialists in very specific sectors thanks to our sophisticated customer-oriented technology, innovative software, and reliable service. Together, we will build on this reputation. Therefore, we are focusing our competencies on specific applications, leveraging our synergies, and realigning ourselves within the Group to better meet the increasing demands of a global market and more effectively meet the growing expectations of our customers. Together, we are stronger.”
At that time, Optima had approximately 1,100 employees.
In the years to come, additional high-performing companies greatly enhanced this powerful group structure. The Gevas and Senning brands have expanded the portfolio in the nonwovens sector. Emkon, Rianta and Maier Packaging have contributed specific know-how for the consumer sector. They are all part of a strong group of companies; it is rare to see a group with this technology diversity in the packaging industry.
As impressive as the development and outward growth are, the step Optima is taking within the organization is even greater. Companies that become full-service providers assume responsibility – they no longer see themselves merely as suppliers, but are rather gradually transforming themselves into true partners and consultants.
As a result, this holistic approach to the customer is now also expressed in innovations that go beyond the conventional product landscape. For example, Optima Pharma, under the leadership of Chairman Gerhard Breu, developed CSPE (Comprehensive Scientific Process Engineering), a comprehensive, systematic concept that drastically reduces delivery times and accelerates the commissioning of pharmaceutical equipment, while incorporating state-of-the-art digital technologies and processes. Two new buildings, the CSPE centers, now provide the technical requirements for setting up several complete systems and conducting integrated FATs (Factory Acceptance Tests) under virtually real operating conditions.
Today, Optima Life Science exemplifies the forward-looking potential that can emerge. The knowledge is creatively transferred to completely different fields – the experience gained in the high-speed and high-performance wound dressing manufacturing in a wide range of material grades, now forms the basis for an efficient and economical fuel cell production.
So what is in store for Optima as a Group? The focus is increasingly on what we have in common and on the knowledge transfer between the individual divisions. Not all of the riches have been unearthed by a long shot. “Focused on the requirements of the respective industries and customers, but united in our efforts to drive Optima forward as a whole, this is the mindset we have adopted as we enter the next decade, well equipped for the future,” is how Hans Bühler sums things up. No question about it, the “ABC of Success” will remain one of the company’s core competencies.
What is characteristic for Optima? What have we accomplished in 100 years, and what will the future bring? The managing directors of Optima’s Pharma, Consumer, Nonwovens, Life Science, and Materials Management divisions are looking ahead with confidence – and have given us an insight into how they see things.