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Although his company depends on the automotive industry for 70% of its revenue, Rolf Ditter remains optimistic about the firm he leads, one founded by his family in 1947. No sitting still here; the company continues to invest for the future.

Matt Defosse

June 5, 2009

4 Min Read
Spotlight on Ditter Plastic

Although his company depends on the automotive industry for 70% of its revenue, Rolf Ditter remains optimistic about the firm he leads, one founded by his family in 1947. No sitting still here; the company continues to invest for the future.

Just as many other injection molders, the company started as a moldmaker, but soon added injection molding of stems for tobacco pipes, and has since grown into one of Europe’s leading Tier 2/3 automotive parts processors with about €60 million in annual sales and 900 employees in a normal year, says Rolf Ditter. In 2009 he expects revenue to drop about 30%, a result of the automotive industry’s troubles.

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Rolf Ditter hopes challenge makes for a stronger firm.



Beyond the automotive industry, orders from the electrical/electronics and consumer goods industries account for the rest. The parts MPW saw being molded during a recent visit included housings for windshield wiper systems, dials and control panels for automotive air conditioning units, and faceplates for car stereos. Most of the automotive work is for interior parts; the largest molding machine has a clamp force of 600 tonnes.

The company still employees about 70 in its moldmaking department, and Ditter says this part of the business is running at 100% capacity. It also builds much of its equipment for semi-automatic assembly lines as well as some of the Q/A equipment it uses, and turns to assembly machinery specialists for the fully automated lines. Its certified plastics analysis lab not only helps it control the 700-plus grades of thermoplastic that it processes, but also occasionally takes on contract work from other processors.

Last year the company completely revamped its facility near Dresden, adding new Charmilles machinery for moldmaking, and it also has built a new hall at one of its other facilities near Haslach, where it was installing a new fully automated assembly line on the day MPW visited. The facility in eastern Germany was acquired as it was nearing closure only days before the fall of the Berlin Wall, recalls Ditter.

Ditter operates about 105 injection molding machines, mostly Arburg presses (that manufacturer is based about 30-minutes distant) but with many Engels as well. Two of the newest presses are from Netstal, including the lone electric press in the plant, an Elion-brand machine, added because “the customer insisted on an electric machine,” comments Ditter. Parts of up to three components are processed, with about 70% of Ditter’s molds made in-house. “We’ve been doing 2K molding for more than 50 years,” he says.

The company makes almost all of its own electrodes, usually of copper, as there is “too much mess with graphite,” says Gert Schlingensief, managing director. The company has its own printing and assembly operations, and runs three paint lines; it does no galvanizing, he says, because it is difficult to get permission to add the process in the area where the firm is located, near a number of nature preserves. The company has added a stereolithography unit for rapid prototyping, and runs a full Moldflow suite.

The company balances its high-volume processing/assembly projects with a number of smaller ones that, admits Schlingensief, do not bring in much profit but are “the kind of projects you just don’t turn down.” This includes molding and printing of a few buttons and dials for Bentley luxury cars, and a 60-mold project for a Porsche luxury car.

On the company’s assembly lines, Schlingensief says the trend is to move away from painting hundreds of the same part simultaneously, and instead to paint complete sets of parts before these sets are assembled. “This increases the complexity when filling the trays for painting,” he notes, “but pays off during subsequent assembly, plus it ensures that all parts in an assembly are painted in the same coat.”

Long-term, Ditter expects the automotive industry to drop about 15% from where it was in the early years of this decade, and is planning accordingly.  Despite the downturn, he remains optimistic at least about his firm’s chances, noting it recently landed three major automotive projects. “Our hope is that the crisis will ‘cleanse’ the industry, and processors who survive will end up stronger than before,” he says. [email protected]

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