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“Our focus is on the future”

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Author: Michael Heeg

Date: 18. Jun. 2024

Simone Wilson, the managing partner of IDT Holding GmbH, is also active as Chairwoman of the Executive Committee of the European Sealing Association.
Source: IDT
“Our focus is on the future”

IDT has been a seal specialist for 100 + 40 years. The company has been rooted in the Ore Mountains since 1924 and was founded in Essen in 1984 by Wolfgang Notter. In this interview, Simone Wilson, Managing Partner of IDT Holding GmbH, talks about a possible ban on PFAS in Europe and explains the importance of digital change for her company.

The beginnings of IDT

Tell us about the beginnings. How did the story of IDT start?

Simone Wilson: IDT was founded in Essen in 1984 by my dad. He had previously worked for a sealing company for more than 25 years and independently managed the sales office in the Ruhr Metropolitan Area for nearly 20 years. His employer planned major strategic changes that my father questioned. His concerns were not heard. So, he simply decided to start his own business. That was the beginning of IDT.

How many employees did you have at the time?

Simone Wilson: At first, it was just my parents who looked after the business, then a handful of employees in customer service and in technical support. At that time, IDT was merely a trading company. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, we had the opportunity to take over VEB Kupferring Dichtungswerk, a people-owned gasket workshop in Saxony’s Ore Mountains. A fantastic opportunity and a bold venture at the same time. Suddenly we owned a production plant, had 50 additional employees, and inherited history of 70 years. This significantly changed the course of IDT.

The gasket workshop in Saxony’s Ore Mountains in the beginnings.

The gasket workshop in Saxony’s Ore Mountains in the beginnings. (Source: IDT)

That sounds quite gutsy …

Simone Wilson: My father’s entrepreneurial personality certainly played a formative role in the early days and the growth of IDT. He is undoubtedly a classic pioneer – clever, resourceful and curious – with an incredible drive to achieve progress and push innovations. A dynamic entrepreneur in the Schumpeterian sense. This spirit is still an essential part of our identity today. And now we are celebrating a wonderful history and an amazing anniversary: 100 + 40 years! Whereas 100 years are going back the site in the Ore Mountains, in Annaberg-Buchholz, to be precise, and 40 years to IDT in Essen.

Asbestos ban as a key moment

What were some key moments in the company’s long history?

Simone Wilson: The ban on asbestos was certainly a key moment. Asbestos was known as the “super material” with great properties – elastic, high-tensile, chemically robust, heatresistant, non-combustible. Not only in the sealing industry, but also in the construction business. The mounting debate about the environmental damage and health concerns of asbestos coincided with the founding of IDT. We were a startup, had no old baggage, were quick to act and able to immediately focus on new materials and product development. When asbestos was finally banned in Germany in 1993, we had already tested alternatives together with customers and materials suppliers, which we continually refined. Our eyelet technology was pioneering at the time, as was the envelope gasket with diffusion barrier, asbestos-free insert and our optimized stainless steel corrugated ring. All of these product innovations found their way into the industrial standards of the major chemical industry.

Which significance did your production site in Annaberg have during this phase?

Simone Wilson: The acquisition of VEB Kupferring was of Simone Wilson, CEO IDT course a pivotal moment. We now had a production facility and production technology in place to independently manufacture and further optimize our product developments. Above all, however, we were able to establish and guarantee our quality standards across the entire process chain. We invested significantly during this Sturm und Drang phase of growth. There were continuous extensions, expansion and also inorganic growth. For example, through the acquisition of Wilhelm Tripp GmbH near Munich. This allowed us to expand our manufacturing know-how and product portfolio in packings, and fabric seals in 1998.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, IDT had the opportunity totake over VEB Kupferring-Dichtungswerk.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, IDT had the opportunity to take over VEB Kupferring-Dichtungswerk. (Source: IDT)

Did you already have international aspirations at that time?

Simone Wilson: We built our global sales partner network from the get-go. However, it still took a few years before we established IDT abroad. The leap to China in 2006 was an extremely important moment. For a rather small SME rooted in Germany, with perhaps 150 employees at the time, it was a very bold and far-sighted move.

“As gasket manufacturer, we are essentially environmental activists”

Why are own manufacturing capabilities important to your business?

Simone Wilson: As sealing technology specialist, we not only offer a comprehensive standard portfolio but see ourselves as a service-oriented solution provider that develops specialties for complex, technically demanding parts in close cooperation with a wide range of industrial customers. Our own production facilities allow us to do exactly this: Combine in-house engineering expertise and technical service, laboratory and testing technology as well as certified process quality. This is reflected in the quality of our products, but also in availability, which we can guarantee, and our customers can trust. We are convinced that this expertise and competence in production, technology and logistics will also be needed in the future.

How has IDT adapted to changes in the industry and technological progress over the years?

Simone Wilson: The sealing industry is not highly dynamic. The aforementioned asbestos ban was a turning point at the time. However, such disruptions are rather rare. The impending PFAS ban is currently causing similar turmoil. This is certainly a critical issue for us and our customers, but it also brings movement and fuels innovation. With PFAS, we are actively involved in various areas, such as alternative materials, alternative products and a holistic and environmentally friendly approach to this multiplex issue. The accelerated energy transition and the hydrogen scale-up are also exciting prospects for us and the industry.

We have always been involved in future technologies and our focus is on the future. Be it through our connection to the competence center for hydrogen in Saxony or through our long-standing and well-founded involvement in industry-specific working groups at national and international level. In our day-to-day business it’s the changes in relevant regulations and standards, such as TA Luft. Or the changed process parameters and maintenance intervals in the industry, which result in increased requirements for materials and sealing systems.

Today, IDT uses state-of-the-art technology to fulfil currentrequirements.

Today, IDT uses state-of-the-art technology to fulfil current requirements. (Source: IDT)

Sustainability also plays a major role in the sealing industry. How do you address this issue?

Simone Wilson: As gasket manufacturer, we are essentially environmental activists. That may sound odd, but our products guarantee that industrial plants remain leak-tight and that hazardous substances aren’t released into the environment. Our aim is to continuously develop our products to the highest technical standards and in compliance with current legislation on environmental protection and safety. To this end, our integrated management system and ISO 14001 and 50001 certifications are a commitment to environmental and energy standards – not only in relation to our products, but also regarding our processes, our business activities and our values.

How far does your social commitment reach regarding this issue?

Simone Wilson: CSR and ESG are surely the right buzzwords. But just because we don’t throw them around doesn’t mean that we don’t do what corporate social responsibility and environmental social governance try to achieve. In fact, the opposite is the case. We have been part of the Saxony Environmental and Climate Alliance for two years now. This has only been possible because we provide voluntary environmental services that go beyond the legal requirements.

IDT plans to make greater use of AI in future

Let’s come back to PFAS for a moment. You are probably watching the looming decision at the European Chemicals Agency ECHA. How does this affect IDT?

Simone Wilson: Of course! This topic is definitely on our radar. Political trends such as the possible PFAS ban have a lasting impact on the stability of supply chains, material, and product availability. They present major challenges to us and our customers. However, the wide angle on all PFA substances that ECHA takes, makes differentiation between good and bad apples difficult.

In which way? Can you provide a little more detail?

Simone Wilson: Fluoropolymers are one of the PFA substances that we work with. Their scope of use enables technical progress in many areas. Gaskets made from fluoropolymers, such as PTFE, PFA, FEP, ETFE, are frequently used in critical applications and in future technologies that are important for the successful realization of the Green Deal. These include the production of green hydrogen, components for operating PEM fuel cells or gaskets for the semiconductor industry. Alternatives don’t exist. This is a fundamental difference to when asbestos was banned.

In my view, it is important to find scientifically sound regulatory measures for PFAS. But we should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. A differentiation of substances iscrucial so they can be distinguished according to their properties, their toxicological profile, and their main uses. Last year, we founded the plastics working group and are a driving force in the search for alternatives together with our customers. We know from days of the asbestos ban that all perspectives should be considered when tackling such a problem. Viable solutions are only found through close collaboration and collective dialog.

IDT has five locations in Europe and one location in China.

IDT has five locations in Europe and one location in China. (Source: IDT)

I assume that the digital shift is important to your business. How have you managed the challenges it presents?

Simone Wilson: It can be difficult for medium-sized companies of our size to keep up with the pace of digital transformation. Other areas sometimes take priority, resources are tied up or you haven’t yet reached the critical mass to set up a digital business unit. Technological innovations are usually connected to dynamic and fast-paced development. That’s why I believe that it’s perfectly possible to skip a stop and hop on at the next one. We are currently working intensively on various AI applications and are looking at both production and artificial intelligence in everyday administrative work. This is an area with really exciting possibilities for the future.

IDT has recently strengthened its international presence. What are your expansion plans?

Simone Wilson: Yes, with five locations in Europe, one location in China and a global sales network in more than 40 countries, we are now one of the leading technology specialists in the development and manufacture of sealing solutions. To expand our position in the German market, we also acquired wpi Industriebedarf GmbH near Ingolstadt at the end of 2023. However, our strategic focus isn’t to be like Pac-Man and hoover up everything that crosses our path. We keep an eye on the market and evaluate where expansion makes sense, is a good strategic fit and allows us to grow strong. Continued growth and development of IDT certainly is our goal. But this requires the right balance of organic and inorganic growth, a solid foundation, a strong team and the right entrepreneurial spirit. Ultimately, this is exactly what has defined us for 100 + 40 years.

You can find more information about IDT’s anniversary in issue 02 / 2024 of our IAD magazine.

Further information is available here

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