Uzwil / CH. (bg) Innovations in new products, services, and applications resulted in even stronger market positions of the global technology company Bühler. The company grew order intake by 16 percent, to more than CHF 3 billion. Thanks to its strong global production, supply, and service network, Swiss Bühler AG was able to secure timely deliveries to customers even under difficult conditions. At the same time, Bühler further improved its financial stability with improvements in the net liquidity and the equity ratio. «Our engaged employees in our strong global network allowed us to prove our reliability to our customers and partners. And we clearly strengthened our innovation power,» says Bühler CEO Stefan Scheiber.
The key markets of Bühler in the food, feed, and mobility sectors underwent fundamental transitions driven by changed consumer requirements and enabled by new technologies. As a result, the demand for sustainable solutions has clearly increased. As part of the long-term innovation strategy of Bühler, spendings into R+D over the last 3 years including the «coronavirus years» increased to more than CHF 400 million (2021: CHF 141 million, 5.2 percent of turnover). Bühler has positioned itself as a key enabler and partner for its customers, supported by collaborations with key partners in industry and science.
New drivetrains and new designs dominated the automotive industry. The new processing technologies of Bühler’s Die Casting business area with high locking force production cells resulted in accelerated growth in this market; the Grinding + Dispersing business area, which established its market segment Battery Solutions a decade ago, experienced a record order intake in 2021, attributable to the boom in lithium-ion batteries for e-mobility. Similar positive market demand was noticeable in Bühler’s food and feed businesses, for example, processing solutions for plant-based proteins or for dairy alternatives were in high demand and contributed to growth in Bühler’s Value Nutrition business. New types of chocolates, pralines, and various confectionary and snack products required new applications which the Bühler Consumer Foods segment (which includes the technologies of the former Haas business acquired in 2018) created. Also, Bühler’s Milling Solutions business grew in the wheat and rye and speciality segments, with processing solutions for high-capacity plants as well as for special applications for local niche markets. Digitalization and cloud-based services acted as key enablers to improve performances of existing assets of customers all over the world, and this also addressed the need for improved sustainability and CO2 emission reductions.
Strong order intake
On Group level, order intake increased by 16 percent to CHF 3 billion. Because of the time gap in the plant business between order entry and turnover, the upward trend on orders is not yet visible in turnover, which remained stable at CHF 2.7 billion. The same is true for profitability, which amounted to CHF 146 million, reflecting an Ebit margin of 5.4 percent. Net profit amounted to CHF 113 million, also slightly better than last year. Orders on hand by year-end 2021 increased strongly by 27.2 percent to CHF 1.9 billion. «Our innovations, both for plants and services led to growth in our order book. Our strategy to position ourselves as an innovative solution provider for material transformation has been paying off,» says Stefan Scheiber.
All three business segments of Bühler contributed to this positive development. Grains + Food grew orders by 12 percent to CHF 1.8 billion, Consumer Foods by 6 percent to CHF 584 million; and Advanced Materials showed the strongest growth of 37 percent to CHF 620 million. The business areas with the highest grow rates were Die Casting, Grinding + Dispersing, Grain Quality + Supply, and Milling Solutions. From a regional perspective, the Americas, Europe, Middle East + Africa, and India experienced the strongest upswing. China represented the single largest market for Bühler in 2021.
Global network, and passionate people key for success
The global network of Bühler with 30 factories, 103 services stations, and 24 Application + Training Centers across the globe was key to being successful in a very dynamic business environment. This allowed Bühler to secure on-time deliveries, also in times when supply-markets were difficult and logistic chains partly interrupted. In 2021, the company executed over 2,000 customer projects, and as part of this Bühler produced and delivered around 50,000 machines and key components. This was only possible thanks to the expertise and dedication of Bühler’s employees, and their focus on customer success.
In 2021, Bühler continued to prioritize the safety and wellbeing of all employees, while maintaining our focus on training and education. With nearly 12,500 staff across the globe, flexibility and resilience became key success factors in response to public health challenges and all related limitations. Bühler continued its commitment to its global apprenticeship program and to the development of employees on all levels. The same was true for the training of personnel of customers, both in Bühler schools as well as in dedicated training centers.
Bühler Service portfolio in growing demand
It has long been Bühler’s strategy to be in the region for the region with our global Services + Sales organization. This strategy was key to our ability to continue important service offerings at all times for our customers globally. Having experts present in all key markets proved yet again to be a key success factor. Understanding the challenges our customers were facing in the different countries and continents has allowed Bühler to make decisive steps towards providing an even more customer-centric approach in its service offering.
The recently renewed and expanded services portfolio – including new digital services and Service Level Agreements – grew in orders by 15 percent to CHF 746 million. Combined with Bühler’s Single Machine business, the Service business represents about one-third of the overall turnover. Orders on the online platform «myBühler» grew by 50 percent to CHF 90 million; nearly 100 customer sites are now connected to the Bühler Insights platform; and RemoteCare contracts, of which customers make use of online support functions, have increased by a factor of 6 to nearly 400. Nearly 160,000 service orders were carried out. «It is not only that we grew volume, but that we changed the character of our Service business to specific value additions for our customers, enabling them to improve the performance of existing and new assets. This, at the same time, is a key contributor to improved sustainability in the value chains of our customers,» says CEO Scheiber.
Further strengthening of financial position
Despite stable turnover volume, Bühler managed to further improve its financial position. Driven by a strong operating cash flow which stood at CHF 256 million at year end, net liquidity more than doubled to CHF 329 million. Consequently, the equity ratio rose to strong 47.2 percent. «Our balance sheet is stronger than before the coronavirus crisis,» says CFO Mark Macus. «This financial strength gives our customers and stakeholders security in a volatile economic environment and enables us to continue executing our strategy, including strategic investments into assets and innovation. We are a reliable partner for our customers – in critical times, this is more important than ever.»
Accelerated impact in 2022
Political tensions, climate change, supply chain issues, and rising inflation continue to be key factors impacting the economic climate, and it is unlikely that these issues will change in the foreseeable future. At the same time, new market opportunities continue to emerge. Bühler considers itself well positioned to continue a growth path in the running year and beyond.
«During the past two years of coronavirus crisis, we have learned to master the demanding environment with a strong purpose and value orientation, with a positive mindset, and a focus on innovation and on people,» says Stefan Scheiber. The upcoming Bühler Networking Days, which are planned to take place end of June 2022, underpin this positive mindset. «We look forward to again bringing decision-makers and partners from the global food, feed and mobility industries together. We would like to create positive, accelerated, and sustainable impact together with our partners.»