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Towards the end of the 19th century, as the industrial era began in Germany, the region around what is now Wuppertal was considered by contemporaries as a model example, as the “German Manchester”. From the Bergisches Land region, a dynamically growing textile industry and its products initially took the world by storm. The growing use of machinery and the accompanying electrification prompted the founding of an innovative cable and wire manufacturing industry. At the heart of this industry was the long-established family of Carl Müller.
On 3 February 1928, the family’s 25-year-old son Fritz Müller established the company “Fritz Müller Elektroisoliermaterial” in Wuppertal, where he began by renting one room in the town centre as the initial premises of the start-up company. With a bank loan of 6,000 Reichsmarks, courage and conviction, he began paving the way for what has become today’s Coroplast Group.
As the name of the company reveals, in those days the range of products comprised materials used for electrical insulation purposes. Müller was responsible for organising materials purchasing and had the textile insulation hoses made to order, which was standard procedure in the Wuppertal textile industry at the time. Fritz Müller also sold insulating materials such as laminated papers, oil flax and oiled silk. That same year he began producing independently, treating oil hoses with impregnating varnishes in specially designed furnaces. He had been inspired by earlier attempts, as Fritz and his brother had already gained experience in processing varnishes in their father Carl’s business. The two brothers just loved experimenting. As the story goes, they attempted to impregnate oil hoses and put them in their mother’s oven to dry. One thing is sure, however, the systematic development of their own production company began towards the end of 1928.
In 1929, the small business with five employees produced varnish-impregnated textile hoses and varnished cables for cars (braided copper wires). The company even bought itself its own car. Its clients included well-known engineering works such as AEG as well as automotive manufacturers. The stock market crash in New York and the ensuing world economic crisis had a serious impact – and Fritz Müller was no exception. The young company was faced with ruin. However, its creditors had faith in Fritz Müller and thus ensured its survival.
In the mid-1930s, a promising synthetic plastic polymer known as polyvinyl chloride, or PVC for short, came onto the market. Fritz Müller recognised the potential of this newly developed material and began processing it. Thanks to PVC, it became technically possible to produce insulated copper wires, such as those used in lighting and telephone systems.
Despite the danger of failure when processing the new material due to lack of experience, Fritz Müller bought the first extruder – a machine specially designed for processing thermoplastics. His courage paid off – and as one of the first processors of PVC, Coroplast acquired valuable know-how in this field, which laid the foundations for future success in the processing of plastics. The number of machines increased, as did the sales figures and the size of the company’s workforce. During the war years, production continued in Saxony to a limited degree. In 1943, the Wuppertal factory was hit by bombs, destroying large amounts of raw materials.
Owner Fritz Müller is considered a trustworthy, industrious businessman. In recent years, the company has experienced strong growth and forged itself a considerable reputation.
Fritz Müller risked a new start at the Wuppertal plant, even before the war had ended. With a workforce of almost 30, he re-established the production of insulated wires, insulated hoses and synthetic leather straps. However, the new start was overshadowed by the death of the founder, as on 5 June 1945 he died in a robbery at the emergency accommodation that had been set up on the company premises, where he had lived with his family since their apartment had been destroyed by bombs. His wife Anna Müller died only a year later.
The chemist and graduate in business management Dr Richard Röhm joined the company as managing director. He enlarged the business, introduced new products and the company began assembling cables and selling them in the form of complete harnesses and large-dimension cables. In 1948, the standard, catchy brand name Coroplast came into being and soon became a synonym for the company name “Fritz Müller”.
They start with “poly” and had a massive impact on the economic upswing: polyvinyl chloride, or PVC for short, and materials such as polyethylene and polypropylene. Coroplast invested a great deal of development work in its own laboratories and technical testing department. The company had the ambition to manufacture as much as possible in-house, including developing its own plastic compounds and making its own machinery. The employees combined adhesive with PVC and created numerous types of insulating tape, anti-corrosion bindings and multi-purpose adhesive tapes. The persistent research, experimentation and continual improvements soon made the company a success. Coroplast continued to grow, its products were on sale in 50 countries worldwide, the workforce increased to almost 500 people, and new buildings provided space for further production equipment.
The love of experimenting and entrepreneurial courage paid off and in the early 1960s Coroplast introduced a new type of acrylate adhesive to the market. This solvent-free and therefore environmentally friendly adhesive is still in use by Coroplast today. Innovation was accompanied by expansion – a new building and additional, more efficient machinery enhanced the Wuppertal plant.
Oil crisis, car-free Sundays and recession: perhaps older readers remember the driving bans that existed in the early 1970s. Growth in the industrialised countries appeared to have reached its limits, and even Coroplast felt the pinch. Despite record sales in 1974, the following year proved to be the most difficult in the company’s more recent history, with redundancies, the loss of customers and a fire on the company premises.
During the 1950s, Dr Kurt Müller, nephew of the founder Fritz Müller, had worked from time to time in his uncle’s company. In 1961, the economist and engineer Dr Kurt Müller became an authorised signatory for the company and was responsible for the technical division. In 1976 he became head of the company as solely responsible managing director. He then went on to manage the company for the next 30 years, leaving his own special hallmark on it.
In the mid-1980s, Coroplast started manufacturing and marketing cable assemblies. Using cables and adhesive tape manufactured in-house, the company produced entire cable harnesses for customers from the automobile, electrical and household appliances industries. The cable harnesses – also known as vehicle electrical systems in cars – supply engines, electromagnetic valves and lighting systems with electricity. Moreover, they transfer information from and between the various control units. The decision to expand the cable harness production was a real turning point in the company’s history, as at the beginning of the 1990s, cable production and business with the automotive industry developed to become an important source of income for Coroplast.
The crisis that hit the automotive industry in the early 1990s also had a telling impact on Coroplast. However, the company turned the crisis to its advantage and positioned itself more and more as a developer of vehicle electrical systems for increasingly complex automotive cabling technologies. In 1994, Coroplast first ventured abroad and founded the subsidiary Coroplast sp. zo.o. Dylaki Poland. Coroplast began by manufacturing cable assemblies on the former premises of a textiles factory close to the Upper Silesian town of Opole, later followed by two further sites in Poland. In 1999, the company crossed the Atlantic, and due to the proximity to the North American automotive market and the VW plant in Mexico, Coroplast opened a production plant in Central Mexico.
The company and therefore its headquarters in Wuppertal continued to grow steadily. Like her father Dr Kurt Müller before her, Natalie Mekelburger had not originally intended to work at Coroplast. However, after completing her studies and gathering her first professional experience, in 1994 she joined the family-run company as Sales and Marketing Manager. In 1999 she became one of three members of the board of management.
To offer customers a continuous presence, to research in collaboration with their experts, to closely coordinate new developments – these endeavours are best achieved in close proximity to customers. For this reason, at the turn of the millennium Coroplast opened two new subsidiaries in Germany. Since 2000, the Service Centre in Wolfsburg has been dedicated to designing and developing cable assemblies for the VW Group and since 2005, Coroplast has worked together with the VW Group company Audi in Ingolstadt.
In 2004, Coroplast took its first step into the Asian market, establishing Coroplast Harness Technology Co., Ltd. in Taicang, China, a city located some 40 kilometres from Shanghai. The move marked the beginning of an impressive story of growth on the Asian market, which still continues today.
The claim “Coroplast - keeping you connected.” also applies to the company’s employees. Employees at Coroplast enjoy great job security, flexible working time models with a good work-life balance and fast promotion opportunities. Furthermore, employees profit from numerous benefits, including free access to a health studio. The CoroAcademy offers a wide range of further training opportunities. In 2008, Coroplast was first awarded the title of one of Germany’s top employers. The positive corporate culture, the good working atmosphere, further training opportunities and the promotion of health were particularly pleasing aspects. In 2017, the highly coveted title of “Top Employer” was awarded to Coroplast for the ninth time.
Wherever vehicles are built, Coroplast is not far away. In 2010, Coroplast entered a new continent and has produced cable harnesses in Tunisia ever since. One year later, Coroplast began manufacturing cable assemblies in Acámbaro, Mexico. Around 250 kilometres from Mexico City, the location with its direct access to the North, Central and South American automotive markets has enormous potential. Its customers already include Audi, VW and Daimler. In 2013, Coroplast inaugurated no fewer than three new sites. Two of them are located in China, in Kunshan and Mianyang, and one is in Hammamet, Tunisia.
In 2014, Wuppertal celebrated the “Grand Opening” of its centre of expertise for technical adhesive tapes. The centrepiece of the new building is an internally developed adhesive tape coating system. With the construction of the new production building, Coroplast extended its spatial capacity by 50 per cent. The company also opened its first production site in North America. Coroplast manufactures technical adhesive tapes at its location in Rock Hill, South Carolina. The highlight of the year: Coroplast wins the Wuppertal Business Award. The company’s investment in Wuppertal as an industrial location and its commitment to social issues and culture were the main points that convinced the jury.
Dr Kurt Müller, managing director of many years’ standing, died on 31 May 2015 at the age of 85. He headed the company for almost 40 years and was crucial to its success, particularly when times were tough. With his sure instinct for the market and the right products, he provided the decisive impulses that transformed a regional manufacturer with a relatively limited export volume into the globally operating technology leader we know today.
Art in the buildings, sculptures in the staff park, a company art award known as CoroArt – Coroplast has a history of supporting art and culture in Wuppertal and the surrounding region. In November 2016, the company was presented with the “Nadel der Medici” business award for its exceptional commitment to art.
Furthermore, Coroplast has sponsored Wuppertal’s Von der Heydt Museum and the Von der Heydt Art Gallery for many years. With free guided tours for its employees and a “Cultural Evening” for guests from the worlds of culture, politics and industry, Coroplast regularly invites guests to be inspired by art at the museum. The art highlight of 2016 was the exhibition of the works of Britain’s most eminent sculptor Tony Cragg at the Von der Heydt Museum.
We are committed to culture, as this field truly reflects the soul of the company. A creative environment also helps promote creative thinking.
The course of internationalisation continues. Numerous of the international production sites are expanded. For example, the plant in Strzelce Opolskie, Poland is extended by a new production hall, the size of the production space at Rock Hill, USA (see picture) is nearly doubled, and floor space at the plant in Acámbaro, Mexico is extended to almost three times the size – without interrupting production. At the Chinese business site Kunshan, Coroplast Tape Technology is founded as a new subsidiary and in Moldova, a completely new Coroplast business site is established. Besides international expansion, headquarters in Wuppertal grow, as well.
Highlight at the end of the year: Natalie Mekelburger, Chairwoman of the Board of Management, receives the “EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2017” Award.
Commemorative speech, domino rally, and a very good mood: This is how we started our anniversary year together on February 19. But we didn’t want it just to be an event for our employees at our headquarters in Wuppertal. This event was the ideal occasion for us to connect and strengthen our Coroplast teams across all borders and from all business units. That’s why we had all our international locations connected live. The rest of the year was full of events, sports events, and guided tours of the production and development halls for our employees at the Wuppertal location – with a crowning conclusion: The Christmas party in the style and splendor of the “golden twenties.” Natalie Mekelburger stated it succinctly: “90 years – it’s great that we had the opportunity to celebrate this long and successful tradition with our employees. Personally, the kick-off event got under my skin. In this sense, we hope to celebrate the next anniversary together in ten years’ time.”
The automotive industry is undergoing profound change worldwide. As part of the automotive supply chain, the Coroplast Group is actively shaping these developments to maintain its position as a powerful and flexible technology leader. Above all, the company is concerned with giving its three business units a clearer identity and positioning themselves more clearly. This targeted focus on their core competencies will enable companies to become more focused and powerful in the future. Each business unit will have a globally independent brand image. Coroplast headquarters uses the additional designation of Group to the established brand name Coroplast. The Business Unit Technical Adhesive Tapes is using the additional designation of Tape. The Business Unit Wires & Cables is now called Coroflex. The Business Unit Wire Harnesses will use the name WeWire.