Established in Brugg, Switzerland, in 1914 by Otto Suhner, the company initially focused on producing flexible wiring for electrical transmission. This eventually led to the development of flexible shaft cables to transfer torque in powering rotary tools. Since that time Suhner has grown into a global entity comprised of four main divisions: Abrasive, Machining, Transmission, and Stamping. Each division has strengths in different geographic markets, but the company as a whole is represented in more than 64 countries, with seven manufacturing facilities located around the world.
Continuing its tradition of Suhner leadership – after Otto, then Willi, Otto H., and now Jürg – the company’s U.S. operations are based in Rome, Georgia. While active in other countries, Abrasive, Machining, and Transmission are the focus for the U.S. and Canada (or North America), with Stamping serving the European market alone. A huge boost was provided by U.S. automakers in the 1980s, when Ford, GM, and Chrysler incorporated Suhner’s flexible rotary cables into its automobiles to improve the accuracy of their speedometers. Today the cables are also used to operate the controls of adjustable seating, with an average of two cables being required inside each seat.
According to Lee Coleman, local manager of the Machining division, the company’s most significant growth occurred under the leadership of Otto H. Suhner, current chairman of the board, who was responsible for bringing it to the U.S. in 1976 after having spent a few years in the States studying market potential. This convinced him of the value of the U.S. market, and from there he established many of Suhner’s global locations in countries such as Mexico, India, and China, among many others.
“He was really the driving force behind our global expansion as well as establishing a U.S. service group offering training, engineering consulting, and technical assistance,” Coleman says. “He also helped us move toward a model of seeking big multi-year contracts and building relationships with OEMs who would install our live tooling on machines imported into the U.S. from their manufacturing facilities overseas.”
With primary markets including industrial, automotive, and medical devices, Suhner also provides flexible torque transfer cables to the home & garden manufacturing sector. Each one of its four divisions has tailored their approach according to the markets they serve. With Abrasive, for instance, customers are concerned with speedy delivery, while Machining acts in a sales and service capacity, providing live CNC tooling, drilling and tapping units, and accessories for robotic applications; a growing market with a great deal of potential.
When it comes to product development, Coleman says that Suhner’s approach is centered around its relationships with OEMs rather than R&D driven by market research. “We go directly to them and ask what they need, and then we develop it with their input,” he says. “That way we already know we’ll have a customer from the beginning of the design process.” Such was the case in the development of the Suhner Turbo Trim meat processing knife, available through the Abrasive division – led by David Guilford – which is its only “protein processing device,” as Coleman describes it. “It’s a niche market, but it’s been a very successful addition to the company’s product lineup,” he says.
Supplemented by a carefully chosen network of sales representatives and distributors, Suhner is primarily known for its direct sales professionals; highly specialized individuals who are invaluable resources to the company’s customers throughout the relationship. Innovative service approaches for end-users are also paramount, including calculators built into the company’s website to help them determine their needs based on data such as the application itself, the materials involved, and even the feed rates determined in the bid preparations.
“By making these tools available to our customers so they can conduct research on their own, they are more comfortable and well-informed once our experts step in to help guide the process,” Coleman says. “One thing we’ve emphasized from the beginning is being responsive to the market at large, while at the same time focusing on each customer’s specific needs.”