BST Wraps up 2023 Trade Show Success, Setting Sights on Innovation for 2024

BST GmbH holds a prominent position in the web processing industry, offering intelligent solutions that effectively mitigate current challenges across various sectors. Amidst complex conditions such as energy shortages, skills shortages, sustainability requirements and economic pressures, the company harnesses innovation to fulfill the diverse needs of its customers across various industries, including print and packaging, paper and film, rubber and tire, battery and fuel cell, all while upholding unmatched quality standards. "This is possible thanks to SMARTData, which enables us to optimize production processes and make a valuable contribution to saving raw materials in terms of sustainability, but also through consistent customer proximity," says Jörg Westphal, Executive Vice President for the Flexible Materials business unit. In the interview, he outlines the challenges and successes of the past year, along with his visions for 2024.

Jörg Westphal, Executive Vice President at BST, knows the requirements of the traditional web-processing industries of print and packaging, as well as those of the new e-mobility sector: "Whether it's a print product or an electric car - the decisive factor is a flawless and absolutely safe end product."

The iPQ-Surface ENERGY, high-end inspection system, was specially developed for battery cell production. It ensures the quality of the coating and separator film across all process steps and helps customers to reduce material waste to a minimum.

In 2023, BST participated in all relevant German and international trade shows in its sectors. What inspired your decision, and what conclusions can be drawn it?

2023 was indeed an intense exhibition year. The feedback from our customers was very positive throughout. After the pandemic break, it became clear that we need trade shows. B2B sales is and remains a people business, and direct customer contact is essential for successful business relationships. It is only through face-to-face interaction that we can get a realistic idea of what is on our customers' minds. That is why we will continue our trade show strategy in 2024. And it is also why we continue to evaluate the markets in which we need to become more involved, possibly with new offices. For example, two of our international subsidiaries have moved to new premises: BST Italia, with a new location in Florence, and BST Iberica, with a new address in Barcelona.

From May 28th to June 7th, BST will exhibit at drupa, the world's leading trade fair for printing technologies, held in Düsseldorf, Germany. What exciting offerings await visitors at the BST booth?

We will be unleashing a firework of innovation. We are looking forward to presenting numerous new products after an 8-year break. The focus will be on user-oriented and networkable complete solutions that generate real added value for the customer.  

What messages do you want to convey to your customers and prospects?

BST's mission is to understand the challenges and problems faced by customers in a wide range of manufacturing sectors, to develop systems that are easy to use and enable long-term process optimization, all while supporting increased efficiency. Whether it's waste reduction, resource saving or digitalization, BST systems provide customized answers to the industry's current problems, providing users with a sense of security in all process steps. SMARTData is the keyword.

How can BST use SMARTData to optimize production processes?

SMARTData is a vendor-independent concept that enables the integration and standardization of the digital workflow. This ensures perfect print results: The system integrates prepress solutions across processes to create productivity-enhancing applications. By automatically providing all required data to all components at the start of the job, SMARTData eliminates setup time and waste, while the central job interface prevents manual errors. As the process continues, SMARTData logs any anomalies (events) with positional accuracy and analyzes the data for automatic optimization. This applies not only to the current process, but also to following processes. Thanks to the large amount of data collected, we can also anticipate future problems and understand today what our customers will need tomorrow.  

In addition to its core business of print and packaging, your company is expanding its attention to the battery industry. What role does BST play in this sector?

BST generates most of its sales in the print and packaging sector, but battery and fuel cell production is becoming increasingly important worldwide  and for us as a company. The Asian market, in particular, is opening up promising business relationships. That is why we have established a new subsidiary, elexis BST Korea, just in time for the start of 2024. This will enable us to directly serve the most promising region in today’s battery industry and to fully capitalize on the substantial market volume that South Koreapresents. To fulfill the demand for our system solutions, particularly in surface inspection, we officially opened our new manufacturing facility, BST Italia, in Florence last October. This serves as a competence center for BST's iPQ-Surface, a core solution for the battery industry. By year-end, the order intake exceeded projections, including the largest single order in BST’s history. The establishment of the new Italian manufacturing facility made this order possible. The production of iPQ-Surface ENERGY is of strategic importance for BST in the new battery and fuel cell markets.

You’ve highlighted iPQ-Surface as a core solution for the battery industry. What are the USPs of your surface inspection system?

Our high-end inspection system specifically for battery cell production is iPQ-Surface ENERGY. It ensures the flawless quality of the coating and separator film throughout all process steps, laying the foundation for a superior end product. The system consists of high-resolution cameras, multiplexed illumination, and a software architecture with numerous interfaces for easy integration into Industry 4.0 environments. Other features include AI-based defect classification and seamless quality documentation, as well as clear presentation of all measurement results and defects. As a result, iPQ-Surface ENERGY effectively reduces material waste - a critical factor in environmental protection and energy efficiency, especially considering that the waste rate in battery cell production presently reaches double-digit figures. In addition, like all our solutions, iPQ-Surface ENERGY features a clear user interface. This makes the system intuitive and easy to use, offering a great advantage in addressing the shortage of skilled labor.

In recent years, the global political situation has led to component shortages and supply bottlenecks in many industries. How did BST respond to this challenge?

The component shortage has been a major challenge, impacting both development and liquidity. But, extraordinary situations call for extraordinary measures. We had to get creative to get the electronic components we needed. To ensure our ability to deliver, we had to redesign our circuit boards several times. This also allowed us to avoid passing on price increases 1:1 to our customers. Fortunately, the situation is now easing.  

What do you see as the future challenges for the industry and what solutions does BST offer to overcome them?

The e-mobility sector will continue to grow in the future. In addition, sustainable production processes are becoming increasingly important in the context of the energy transition. As a direct partner to the battery and fuel cell industry, BST's highly efficient quality assurance systems help to ensure that only 100% safe and reliable end products are produced. Systems such as iPQ-Surface, also help customers achieve sustainability goals by effectively eliminating waste. Of course, this applies not only to the battery industry, but to all industries that use sheet metal. Our goal is to continue to identify our customers' needs and support them with holistic solutions to optimize their overall plant operations.

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