It was seven years ago that Benjamin Koester purchased Hotwork International from his father, Joerg Koester, subsequently developing the business rapidly into a global organisation. “In 2013, we had our head office in Switzerland and an office in the Philippines but today, the business has developed into a global company with nine facilities across the world” Benjamin Koester confirms. In that time, the workforce has also expanded 10-fold to some 300 people.
The Hotwork name enjoys a rich tradition, originating in the UK in 1962, when combustion engineer Trevor Ward founded Hotwork Ltd and developed heat-up burners that enabled glass container furnaces to be heated properly in just a few days rather than in weeks by applying hot spot heating methods. Importantly, the development helped Pilkington Brothers to commission its first float furnaces.
Family ownership maintained
Hotwork Germany (a subsidiary of Hotwork Ltd) was purchased by Joerg Koester in 1986, before the company evolved into Hotwork Koester and then Hotwork International in 2000. The headquarters were moved to Switzerland in 2004, before a new building was completed at Egnach in 2014.
“This is the company that developed heat-up as we know it today, as well as developing an innovative combustion system” Benjamin Koester explains. “The majority of burners used in container and float glass are somehow related to and/or adapted from our combustion developments in the 1990s.”
The Koester family name is well known in the glass industry, especially in Germany. “Many customers and associates I meet have known me since I was a child… I saw my first glass furnace at four years of age and have grown up with the glass industry ever since.”
Under the management of Benjamin Koester, Hotwork International has achieved significant growth in a relatively short timeframe. “To realise the opportunity to create such an ambitious expansion plan, you need correct partners and people in the right place working with you” he suggests. “It’s a complete team effort and everyone has played a major role in the company’s development and its focus on quality and service.”
Mr Koester is quick to acknowledge the benefits of initiating his company’s ambitious expansion plan in 2013 from an already well prepared platform, however. “We had a very well known and respected name and a customer reference list that was evidence of high levels of capability. My father already had global ambitions for the business but there was a different management structure in place that could not facilitate fast expansion. We reorganised with responsible directors in all the regions to take care of their markets, with my role as CEO to provide guidance and technical assistance from the Swiss headquarters. This was a very different approach to previous times and led to very fast growth.”
Celebrating 20 years in Cebu
Hotwork International Asia-Pacific celebrated its 20th anniversary and inaugurated a purpose-designed warehouse in Cebu last October. The company has been active in the Philippines since 1999 and has been the subject of investments amounting to some €2 million in recent years to maximise growing regional market potential. Today, the Asian market as a whole represents some 30% of the projects undertaken by Hotwork International.
Thirty of the 80-strong workforce in Cebu are dedicated to the needs of the Asian glass industry, although a separate office in Shanghai has been responsible for Chinese customers since opening in 2015. The Philippines facility has almost tripled in size since 2019, involving major expansions of office space, warehousing and equipment. This operation delivers European maintenance and equipment certification standards, providing a convenient hub to deploy equipment throughout the region, as far afield as Australia and New Zealand, while also supporting standalone operations in such important markets as Japan.
A specialist training programme has been in place since the Philippines operation was created 20 years ago. This has allowed senior engineers to be correctly trained, providing the ability to transfer knowhow and safety expertise to all employees and technicians. In addition, employees are regularly brought to head office in Switzerland to gain further expertise and knowhow.
“We are in Cebu for the long-term and this is why we have invested so much in building a new warehouse, setting up all the equipment and specifically training locals for the work that was previously performed only by European personnel” Benjamin Koester explains. “So even though expertise is always available from Switzerland, the Asian operation is now fully independent from European supervision and all jobs are completed under local supervision, with local labour.”
Services and technology development
While the Philippines facility is dedicated specifically to service, Hotwork International’s next manufacturing hub is in Shanghai, developing combustion technology, electric boosting and bubbling. This set up enables easy access to and regular communication with customers.
Services (heat-up and furnace drains) are the company’s top seller, followed by combustion technology and electric boosting. According to the company, 29 complete electric boosting projects have been delivered to customers in Asia (including China) in the last three years. This includes projects for the float, hollow and fibre sectors.
Having created the company’s China operation in 2003, a successful joint venture was formed with a Hong Kong holding company in 2015. This enterprise has increased turnover by more than 70% in the last three years. A shift of emphasis from low cost to high quality is now evident among local customers, illustrating a desire for an improved level of assistance and quality in equipment and services.
In addition to the Egnach - Switzerland, Cebu – the Philippines and Shanghai - China facilities, Hotwork International maintains offices in Hong Kong, Mexico, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Japan and New Caledonia. Although glass is not relevant to all locations, the industry remains a key priority and accounts for the majority of work undertaken.
When the Mexico office became operational in 2015, for example, the company was able to quickly develop significant local and regional business (except the USA and Canada) by investing in dedicated warehousing, equipment and the extensive training of personnel. “The operation is doing well and business is growing” Benjamin Koester explains.
Opened in 2016, the Indonesian operation has also been the subject of equipment investment, with over 20 heat-up sets in stock. “We are capable of performing on any type of furnace and business is going well in challenging market conditions”
Mr Koester confirms.
India is another challenging environment, in part because of the historic price culture. “We are on standby there” says Benjamin Koester “and when the market is ready for our quality and progresses in the same way as China towards quality rather than only looking at the cost, we are ready to go. In the meantime, we have the option of our very well experienced and trained Indian manpower to deploy on other projects worldwide.”
The Japanese market is handled in association with AGC Ceramics, with whom an excellent relationship is maintained. “We are working together very closely, co-operating in terms of combustion, electric boosting and services. AGCC is a very good partner and we have successfully completed many projects together.”
Significant investments are also anticipated in South America and other parts of the APAC region in the near future.
Technology development emphasis
According to Benjamin Koester, Hotwork International is constantly pursuing opportunities to further develop the technologies offered to the world’s glassmakers. Having worked previously on the flameless oxidation system, for example, the company is currently investing in oxygen and natural gas preheating as a heat recovery system on oxy-fired furnaces.
Other initiatives are currently introducing nano technology to help reduce emissions. “We are constantly investing in our technology and working on R&D” Mr Koester confirms. “A key factor is to thinking outside the box. I don’t favour working on existing furnace designs because they can be stretched to their limit already… everybody knows it but it needs addressing, so we like to look outside the box for solutions, including investigating existing options in other industries. I really like to work on such projects” he concludes.