We love technology – and have done since 1919! In 2019, LÄPPLE Group celebrated the 100th anniversary of its founding. A good time not only to look back, but also forward into the future.
In 2019, we celebrated the know-how, the courage and the commitment of all employees who have supported LÄPPLE over the last 100 years – and, of course, our founder, August Läpple, whose expertise, versatility, adaptability and passion made the company what it is today. These are factors which continue to characterise LÄPPLE Group and which have become part of our corporate culture.
Our anniversary motto expresses what has distinguished our company over the last century – and continues to distinguish us to this day. Maximum precision. Following the foundation of the company in 1919, August Läpple, a toolmaker with great passion for his trade, put his considerable skill to work, and the high precision of his products soon earned him a reputation within the region. He continually increased his expertise in accordance with his credo “If you don’t go forwards, you’re moving backwards” and, as a technological trailblazer, always maintained exceptionally high quality standards.
The term “precision” continues to be an apt description of what we demand of all our products, processes, services and of ourselves in our day-to-day work. Precision as the criterion for evaluating quality is exactly what distinguishes LÄPPLE AUTOMOTIVE, FIBRO, FLT and our training company in all fields of activity. The precisely manufactured sheet metal parts, the development of high-precision standard parts, rotary tables which optimise our customers’ production lines through high-accuracy positioning, precise interlinking in system engineering in order to map the requirements, cycle times and processes of our customers or the targeted training of the skilled workers of the future.
Already as an apprentice, August Läpple was a young man with intellectual curiosity, diligence and determination. A skilled toolmaker, he demonstrated considerable technical aptitude and the ability to think ahead. After spending some time working for various companies, for example Bosch, the Esslinger Maschinenfabrik and the Neckarsulmer Fahrzeugwerke, he set up his own company despite the economically and politically troubled environment. It quickly flourished as a result of his boldness as an entrepreneur and his keen interest in technical progress and innovation.
His family and friends knew him as a warm and generous man. He and his wife, Johanna, had three children. August Läpple passed away on 6 November 1968 at the age of 83.
It all began with a courageous decision: On 1 April 1919, August Läpple founded a small mechanical workshop in Weinsberg, complete with a smithery. His first jobs were repairing bicycles and agricultural machinery, as well as manufacturing cutterbars for mowing machines.
In the 1920s, the automobile began its triumphant conquest of everyday life. This was good news for August Läpple, too. Early on, he began to manufacture tools for the automobile industry and quickly acquired an important core competence in the field. He manufactured car body parts in series using drawing technology he developed himself.
As early as 1928, he received first large-scale orders from the automobile industry, which prompted the rapid growth of the young company. Its customers included DKW, Hanomag and NSU.
The existing premises in Heilbronner Straße in Weinsberg became too small to handle the increasing number of orders. So August Läpple purchased a large piece of land in Schwabstraße 22 in Weinsberg and built a new production hall with adequate space and room for expansion.
By this time, a workforce of 18 was producing non-cutting shaping tools for the sheet metal forming industry, in particular the automobile industry, in the company’s own pressing and stamping plant.
In 1940, August Läpple made his three children partners in the company. His two sons took up positions in management, followed a short time later by his son-in-law, Ernst Fleischmann.
They were a very charismatic and particularly dynamic trio. While Erich Läpple, an extremely focused and disciplined engineer, was responsible for technology, Helmut Läpple was a spirited and decisive man with the ability to inspire others. The third member of the trio, Ernst Fleischmann, frequently assumed the role of mediator with his flair for technology and level-headed nature.
The years following the Second World War were difficult times for many manufacturing companies due to wartime destruction, the shortage of raw materials and the restricted production of automobiles. But August Läpple and the second generation reacted wisely and launched a new product range. Initially, they manufactured everyday objects such as window fittings, keys, door handles and locks, building fittings, kitchen stoves, bathtubs etc. using residual stocks. These are all things which were in high demand after the War.
This flexibility enabled the company not only to survive the difficult phase before the currency reform in 1948 but also to retain its skilled workforce.
As a result of the economic boom and the increase in orders, the company’s premises in Weinsberg became too small. The company was able to purchase a piece of formerly agricultural land with an area of 80,000 m² on a new industrial estate in Austraße in Heilbronn.
In December 1950, LÄPPLE moved into three new plant halls equipped with the latest machinery. The location has constantly been expanded, as demonstrated by the construction in 1957/58 of the shed halls which are still in use today.
The Heilbronn site is still the headquarters of the LÄPPLE Group.
LÄPPLE’s strategy in the 1950s and 60s: two fields of activity.
On one hand, the company designed and produced tools for the shaping of sheet metal and the manufacture of pressed parts. On the other, a press plant furnished with the latest equipment meant that the company was able to produce pressed parts of large dimensions and in high quantities itself. A good combination: Toolmaking requires long lead times for planning, construction and testing, while the production of pressed parts is a faster source of income.
By this time, the company already had more than 1,000 employees and supplied customers worldwide.
To minimise friction losses during production engineering, automobile manufacturers began to involve LÄPPLE more and more in the development of their new vehicle models. LÄPPLE worked together with its customers to design and manufacture the necessary tools – becoming a system partner rather than a mere supplier.
And technology was moving ahead, too: With the latest digital technology and maximised precision, the first three-dimensional measuring machine for large workpieces went into operation in 1965.
On 1 December 1974, LÄPPLE purchased the ailing FIBRO GmbH. The company, founded in 1958 and based in Weinsberg and Hassmersheim, manufactured standard parts for tool construction and rotary tables.
FIBRO GmbH is still a part of LÄPPLE Group today and has earned a name for itself as a successful player on the market. Customers appreciate the high precision and availability of its wide range of standard parts and its comprehensive rotary table product range. The company has a global presence with 7 international subsidiaries and more than 70 representatives worldwide.
What began with one single apprentice in August Läpple’s metalworking workshop in 1919 has now become an independent company with more than 200 trainees, students and retrainees.
A separate department, the “Apprentice School” was established as early as 1930. In 1965, it moved to new and even larger premises on the Heilbronn site. Finally, in 1986, the LÄPPLE Ausbildingsgesellschaft (training company) was founded as part of August Läpple GmbH.
With its unique training philosophy, LÄPPLE Group has secured its skilled workers of tomorrow right from the start.
The company was quickly reaching its capacity limits, the automobile industry was booming and the location offered logistical proximity to long-standing customer BMW – three good reasons why, in 1990, LÄPPLE was very interested in taking over the former cold rolling plant of the Maxhütte in Teublitz.
On 13 September 1990, Helmut Läpple signed the purchase contract for the 400-hectare site with buildings and railway sidings, and in May 1991, following conversion and renovation work, the newly founded “LÄPPLE Blechverarbeitung GmbH & Co. KG Bayern“ began production of the first parts for the AUDI 80 convertible.
Today, the plant, together with the plant in Heilbronn, is part of LÄPPLE AUTOMOTIVE GmbH.
In 2002, in order to implement a sustainable succession plan for the management of the family enterprise LÄPPLE, the partners decided to transfer all activities to an Aktiengesellschaft - a public limited company. The company is still 100 percent family-owned today.
Following the retirement of the second generation, on 1 April 2004, an externally appointed chairman took over the management. He is assisted by a chief financial officer. A principle which has proved its worth right through to the present day.
Within the context of further internationalisation, FIBRO set up a new plant in Pune, India in 2008. Beginning in rented premises, it quickly became a success, and moved into the first buildings owned by the company in 2013. The production site in India initially manufactured only standard parts until it was later decided to also manufacture rotary tables there. Land adjacent to the site was purchased in order to expand production, and the official opening ceremony for Plant 2 took place in February 2019.
In 2010, a strategic decision was made: Up to that time, LÄPPLE Anlagenbau at the company’s main location in Heilbronn and part of FIBRO-GSA Automation GmbH in Haßmersheim had offered a similar though differently focused product range. To exploit synergies, the two divisions with their core competences were brought together in 2010 in the FIBRO LÄPPLE TECHNOLOGY GmbH (FLT).
The product portfolio was consolidated, and FLT subsequently established itself internationally as a supplier of highly efficient automation solutions.
Once again, LÄPPLE AUTOMOTIVE demonstrated its flexibility: An increasing number of inquiries was received from customers who were looking not for pressed skin panel parts, but for structural parts and assemblies of structural parts forming complex body modules. The company reacted to this trend and in 2016, invested in a new transfer press with ServoDirect technology for its Heilbronn site.
In addition, it expanded its competence in the area of joining techniques in order to be able to process customer-specific requirements with the necessary expertise. The shell construction division grew, and from now on, there was a focus on processes such as laser welding, aluminium spot welding, friction element welding or flow drill screws.
2019 sees LÄPPLE expanding on the world’s largest automobile market – China. It offers potential for all companies within the group. For this reason, a new company, LÄPPLE Taicang, was founded to bundle the activities of FIBRO, FLT and LÄPPLE AUTOMOTIVE.
Over the last 100 years, LÄPPLE has reinvented itself again and again: It has adjusted to changing market conditions and introduced innovative products and services. LÄPPLE Group has also continued to develop as a system partner for industry – but despite all changes, it has remained true to itself. Since 1919, it has contributed to boosting its customers’ productivity.
In accordance with the motto “If you don’t go forwards, you’re moving backwards,” which was above all influenced by August Läpple, LÄPPLE Group strives consistently to offer its customers optimised solutions.
The focus here lies on the major trends in the markets relevant for LÄPPLE: digitalisation, networking, alternative drive systems, light construction and internationalisation. Through the consistent development of know-how, the integration of smart technologies and sensor systems and the further development of its own footprint, LÄPPLE is taking up these challenges and preparing for the next 100 years.