For U.S. buyers who need to purchase very small quantities of high-quality sensing and potentiometer products, Hoffmann+Krippner Inc. (H+K) offers a portfolio of custom and standard products, manufactured by parent company in Buchen, Germany, and German-based partner companies Altmann, Inelta, and Pil.
“German technology is very widely accepted as the highest quality products but the problem is that you can’t find these small companies with unique products in the United States,” said Jens Kautzor, CEO, Hoffmann+Krippner, Inc.
This is where H+K comes into play. The company opened its doors to the U.S. market in 2007. The company houses its warehouse and logistics services in Woodstock, Georgia, with operational offices in Frisco, Texas. All products are manufactured exclusively in Germany by parent company Hoffmann + Krippner GmbH, which has 40 years of experience in the design, engineering and production of custom products including sensors, potentiometers and input systems. Hoffmann + Krippner GmbH has more than 200 employees and posted about $30 million in global revenues in 2014. Sales from partner companies add another $25 to $30 million.
Started in the 1970s as an engineering firm to manufacture input systems using screenprinted technology, the company expanded into membrane switches with its screenprinting technology in 1979 when the first membrane switches were introduced into the market.
By 1997, the company had reached a point where it needed to expand further into Europe and later into the U.S, said Kautzor. The company opened Hoffmann+Krippner Switzerland and expanded its offices in Buchen to accommodate its growth.
This was followed by the formation of the U.S. business in 2007, but H+K faced challenges in trying to gain entry into the U.S. market. The key challenges were finding distributors and manufacturers’ reps to sell its products when it only offered a small product portfolio with high customization. About 80 percent of the company’s sales are custom versus standard products.
Although the distribution channel did not work out, H+K still has one or two reps that see the benefit of its products and “are still hungry” to sell their portfolio. After seven years, Kautzor believes that H+K has established itself very well in the U.S. market. But he still sees other small to midsized German-based companies with a high level of engineering capabilities and innovation struggling to sell their products in the U.S. market.
“The problem these small companies have - like H&K when we originally came into the U.S. - is that they won’t necessarily find a distributor who is going to carry their products because they have a small line of solutions. For distributors it’s just not enough of a portfolio and not interesting for them. The same is true for reps. We have this great technology in Germany that can’t find a way to get into the U.S.,” Kautznor said.
As a result, H+K made the decision to partner with some of these smaller complementary or synergistic component manufacturers to bring their products into the U.S. through a direct sales channel. In 2014, the company engaged in a joint partnership with German manufacturers Altmann GmbH, Inelta Sensorsysteme GmbH & Co KG and PIL Sensoren GmbH to offer a wider portfolio of product.
With these exclusive partnerships, H+K expanded its product portfolio for the U.S. market to include high-precision potentiometers, displacement sensors, force sensors, signal conditioners, as well as ultrasonic sensors, exclusively made in Germany. Applications for these components include industrial, medical devices, measurement control, agriculture, aviation and automotive.
“We offer an avenue or channel in the U.S. for those three partner companies, and, in turn, we increase our popularity and sell more of our product,” said Kautzor.
“That combines with what is happening with the Euro lately and free trade agreements being negotiated with Europe and in Germany, in particular,” he added. “We believe this is something that needs to come to the U.S. market because it has a benefit for the U.S. as well.”
One of the big advantages of the company’s portfolio, including partner products, is the parts can be supplied in very small quantities. In certain instances the company has supplied one to five pieces. “Even if we introduce a standard product we find a lot of times we need to tweak these products for smaller series applications. We can do custom sensors of 50 pieces and up. In certain instances we do one-offs,” said Kautzor.
“If you call a larger company and say you need two sensors you’re probably going to wait awhile before you get a phone call back,” he added.
“With this new business model comes a lot of organizational changes to implement, but that has all happened and we’re ready to tackle the market,” said Kautzor.
H&K’s staff in the U.S. is multi-lingual so when a customer calls nothing gets lost in translation. “We understand their needs and have no problem transferring that message to our engineers,” said Kautzor.
Products & Technology
In the technology area, H&K’s focus is very strongly on membrane potentiometers. The company’s two key technologies are Sensofoil thin-film membrane potentiometers, described as a combo potentiometer/sensor, and SensoInk printed polymer paste that can be printed as potentiometers, resistors, switches or keyboard contacts on circuit boards or electronic components. Both technologies are mainly used for position detection.
What sets H&K’s products apart from the industry, said Kautzor, are their high accuracy, excellent linearity and extended lifecycles. Example applications for its products include medical devices such as syringe pumps that require high control and long life, and automotive applications such as control positioning for windows and sun roofs. “The products are very affordable, very small profile and highly accurate,” he added.
“Overall, SensoInk and Sensorfoil compared to popular and known sensor technologies, are just a lot more economical, and very competitive in price,” said Kautzor. “In the case of Sensofoil, the technology is an analog technology, and is not very expensive compared to linear actuators or rotary sensors that are more complex and maybe digital. They do have great linearity and accuracy but how much do you want to pay for accuracy. It’s really a great alternative to common sensing technology,” he added, (See: Membrane Potentiometers Open Up New Design Opportunities)
H&K’s product portfolio includes potentiometers for linear path detection, multi-turn potentiometers, switch potentiometers, potentiometers for angle detection, motor & gear potentiometers, and transmitters. This includes custom solutions for tough technical challenges.
Similarly, H&K’s partner products provide high-quality potentiometers and sensor technologies. Altmann manufactures linear and rotary multi-turn potentiometers but what sets them apart from the competition is that they can supply from one to five pieces with a turnaround time of less than five weeks. But like H&K, Altmann is a custom manufacturer so it can’t make millions of potentiometers at a time.
Inelta provides sensors and solutions for the most diverse applications. The product portfolio consists of load cells, strain gauges, force sensors, displacement sensors, LVDT sensors, inductive sensors, linear actuators, and signal conditioners.
PIL Sensoren is recognized as a specialist in the development and production of ultrasonic distance sensors for use in industrial automation. Some of its sensors have been previously privately labelled by companies in the United States.
All of these products provide unmatched performance, said Kautzor. “We will only partner with companies that manufacture high-quality products.”