Klingspor started out as a glue factory – and over a century on, the company is one of the top five abrasive manufacturers in the world.
By Rachel Smith
Around 20 years before WWI began, Johannes Fredrich Klingspor decided to start a gluemaking business near the small German country town of Haiger.
“It was in the area where they used to breed the cavalry horses for the German army,” explains Paul Hoye, managing director of Klingspor Australia Asia Pacific, “and one of the by-products was glue, made by melting down the bones of deceased horses. Of course, these days, it’s all synthetic glues and resins—but our original factory is still in the same area, 30km or so from where it started in 1893.”
It was a natural progression for Klingspor to move from glue-making to abrasives—and today, Klingspor is one of the top five abrasive manufacturers in the world. It manufactures cutting and grinding discs, flap discs, fibre discs, abrasive sheets and rolls, flap wheels, diamond blades and custom-made abrasive belts.
FROM GLOBAL TO LOCAL
Klingspor was European-centric to start with, but by the 1970s it had moved into the US. Divisions in Australia and South Africa followed in 2000, with the former headed up by Hoye. “There were just two people in the company when I started, and now we have 30 staff ,” he says, “with three people celebrating their 20th year with us next year.”
It’s not unusual; employee longevity is something the company prides itself on. “In Germany, they take about 20 apprentices a year—many studying engineering—and a lot of them stay for their entire career,” Hoye explains.
“Everybody in Haiger knows Klingspor; there are people who are fourth generation working in the factory, some of them doing the same job their grandparents did.”
DECADES OF INNOVATION
Since its inception, Klingspor has introduced countless innovations in grinding equipment, including the cutting and grinding discs that came out in the 1950s.
“These discs were quite ground-breaking because there wasn’t a high-speed, handheld grinding tool for metal until that point,” says Hoye.
“We worked with a power-tool company called Flex, which had the technology to make the angle grinder, but not the tools to go on it—so we worked in conjunction with them to make the tools to go on the grinder. The flap-disc is another Klingspor innovation—that tool actually celebrates its 50th birthday this year. It was handmade on an aluminium hub, which was really labour-intensive and expensive. And now we’ve got machines that produce a flap-disc every three seconds and with more accuracy than any other brand.”
Although you can buy machines that make flap-discs, Klingspor’s engineers design and build the machines in-house to make their own, which is something that sets the company apart, says Hoye. “Today, the company’s German factory produces 110,000 flap-discs per day, and 350,000 cutting and grinding discs per day, and they have around 50,000 products in their portfolio overall.”
In Australia, Klingspor’s Silverwater factory has also been manufacturing abrasive belts in a range of materials and sizes for the past 15 years. “There are literally thousands of machines that use these belts in all different sizes—and we have six people in our belt department making any size people want. I think the narrowest belt we’ve made was 3mm wide, the widest we can make is 1650mm, and the longest we ever made was more than 10m long!”
Klingspor Australia sell to everyone from ‘mum n’dad’ hardware stores, to huge multinationals—and everything in between. “Some of our customers spend hundreds a month and some spend hundreds of thousands, but we treat all our customers the same and people tend to like dealing with us,” says Hoye.
The company also puts on training sessions for its customers so they can learn more about the tools and production process. “We test products, talk about the theory, and we do hands-on practical training, too,” he explains. “Even people who’ve been selling abrasives for a long time come away having learned something new.”
WHAT’S ON THE WAY
COVID-19 left many companies in strife but Klingspor actually grew significantly last year—and they’ve got lots of new products in the pipeline. “Most people I talked to in manufacturing or engineering, or people supplying construction or mining projects, seem to be busy and that was the case for us too,” says Hoye.
“We’re always expanding into new areas. Five years ago that was diamond, and we opened a factory which produced very good quality diamond blades. We also just brought out a range of wire brushes which have done extremely well, and we have new products coming next year.”
What would Johannes Fredrich Klingspor think if he saw how the company had grown in the past century? “It would have blown his mind, I think!” laughs Hoye.
“A lot has changed at Klingspor, but what’s stayed the same is the friendly, can-do culture we’re known for. There’s a reason our customers stay with us for a long time. We look forward to being that one-stop shop for the customers in our field and doing more of what we do best.”