The foundations of Harmonic Drive® Gears laid by Walton Musser
The foundations of Harmonic Drive® Gears were laid by the American inventor C.W. Musser in 1955 with a gear principle originally designed for the aerospace industry, which fundamentally differs from conventional gears through its unique mechanism.
Founding of Harmonic Drive System GmbH and Harmonic Drive Systems Inc.
Its outstanding properties such as zero backlash, compact design and single stage high gear ratio quickly became popular in other branches of technology, and in 1970 United Shoe Machinery in Boston together with Hasegawa Gear Works in Tokyo founded Harmonic Drive System GmbH in Germany and Harmonic Drive Systems Inc. in Japan to promote the global marketing of Harmonic Drive® Gears.
Reinhard Ernst starts work at Harmonic Drive System GmbH
On 4th January 1971, Harmonic Drive System GmbH in Langen near Frankfurt am Main started operations. Reinhard Ernst was responsible for selling the gears produced in Japan in the European market - a pioneer in his field. At that time the only marketing material he had was a few non-DIN-compliant drawings and three old photos of gears. Nevertheless, the company gained some new customers and achieved an annual turnover of 200,000 DM in only its second year.
Reinhard Ernst purchases the American/Japanese joint venture
In 1981, Reinhard Ernst purchased the American/Japanese joint venture together with three colleagues in the form of a management buyout. As a result of growing rationalisation and automation in the industry in the 1980s and the corresponding requirements in terms of dynamics and precision, particularly in robotics, the company experienced a boom in demand. But as so often happens, this success story did not run completely smoothly at first, and the numerous requests for individual solutions for various customers and applications caused ongoing problems: Many projects could not be implemented by the German sales engineers because each individual modification first had to be shared with Japan, where the adaptation was then fully considered, which led to long delays before it could be implemented. The Managing Director at the time therefore quickly decided that it was not a workable solution to manufacture products in Japan and sell them in Europe – instead, a separate flexible production site was required.
Move to Limburg/Lahn with fewer than 25 employees
The additional expansion of the company and growing sales increasingly reinforced this belief, and consequently in 1988 Reinhard Ernst moved into a new building in Limburg/Lahn with fewer than 25 employees. Comprehensive investment in production and office buildings, modern CNC machines and recruitment followed - the newly gained competences and capacity created the conditions required to start manufacturing gears and customer-specific solutions at the new site.
Company changed to Harmonic Drive Antriebstechnik GmbH
A shift of emphasis to servo technology was reflected in 1994 in the change of the company name to Harmonic Drive Antriebstechnik GmbH. Reinhard Ernst held all shares in the company, and invested in it significantly in the years that followed. Through the purchase of new high-tech machines, special tools, test equipment and facilities, the company was also able to develop and manufacture not only complete servo systems but also customer specific system solutions for the European market.
Certification in accordance with ISO 9001
The change in internal processes also made it possible to achieve the high quality standards which in 1996 were documented as part of certification in accordance with ISO 9001.
Company changed to public limited company Harmonic Drive AG
In order to create additional transparency and to strengthen customer confidence in the future of the company, in 1999 the company was converted to the public limited company Harmonic Drive AG.
Founding of Micromotion GmbH, Mainz
Continuous further development of business and production processes led in 2001 to the founding of Micromotion GmbH in Mainz, which specialised in the development and manufacture of high precision micro drives through the use of the LIGA process.
Establishment of the Mechatronics department
Following the successful implementation of Harmonic Drive® Gear production in Limburg, the next step was the development of servo actuators. Following the founding of the Mechatronics Development department, specific motors were designed and optimised to the performance of the gears. Power density and extremely smooth running were the central features here.
Founding of subsidiaries in France, Italy and the UK
In order to support global interest in the products and to ensure optimal customer care, in 2004 international sales were boosted by the foundation of subsidiaries in France, Italy and the UK. By now Harmonic Drive AG had 175 employees working in the fields of environmental protection, occupational health and safety, quality control and the aerospace industry, and their actions were monitored by the introduction of an integrated management system.
Setup of Development Centre
In addition to the 100% subsidiaries, in 2006 the Development Centre was set up, which covers 2.400 square metres and offers the ideal conditions for development activities, representing another clear investment in the future. Following the slogan that "if you don’t go forwards you go backwards", OVALO GmbH was founded at the Limburg site in the same year. This company develops and industrialises actuators and gears using the proven strain wave gear principle for large scale applications.
Founding of subsidiaries in Spain and Austria
2007 saw the startup of subsidiaries in Spain and Austria, adding to the growing sales network.
Increased employees and sales
As the company had grown larger over the previous years, the number of employees had also continued to rise. The trend for growth could also be seen in the sales figures, which reached 65 million euros in 2008. Despite the economic crisis of this year, Harmonic Drive AG was able to maintain a positive outlook. In the same year, Reinhard Ernst appointed Ekrem Sirman as his successor as Chief Executive Officer and at the same time took over as Chair of the Supervisory Board for the company. The second Executive Board Member was Masanao Kobayashi.
Introduction of motor production
2010 saw the start of production for machine produced stators with single tooth windings. The existing competences, both in electromagnetic design and in the production options for distributed windings and single-tooth windings, meant that complete actuators could now be supplied according to customer requirements. Adaptation to the relevant control system is supported by the wide range of popular sensors as well as special solutions.
Factory expansion and setup of new production lines
The maxim that "Innovations lead to changes" was confirmed in these years, with the new Executive Board and Supervisory Board overseeing a factory expansion and the setup of new production lines, clear signs of increased productivity. As well as the positive effect on profits and the additional 6500 m² of space added for measuring labs, staff facilities, meeting rooms, a canteen and storage space, the factory expansion offers additional advantages: flexible service media supply for machines and process lines, constant air conditioning with active dehumidification, 30% power savings through the use of LED lighting, high maximum floor load and accessibility make the extension an investment for the future.
Founding of subsidiary in Switzerland
The foundation of Harmonic Drive Switzerland AG in 2013 completed the ever growing sales network.
Series production of cross roller bearings
The outlook was excellent, not just internationally but also at the Limburg site, where new successes could be observed that demonstrated the company’s transition from component supplier to system provider. After many years of further developments, ranging from research and development to complex qualification to the procurement of specialist test equipment and machines, another result was achieved in 2014: Series production of cross roller bearings "made in Limburg". A high degree of rigidity, extremely high running accuracy and torque capacity make them ideal for use in robots, machine tools and medical devices. Special areas of application can also be covered by customer specific cross roller bearings. The customer could now receive solutions from a single source and benefit throughout from the unique expertise of Harmonic Drive AG.
384 employees and a turnover of 94 million euros
As a leading manufacturer of mechatronic drive systems and precision gears with 384 employees and 20,400 m² of factory and office space, Harmonic Drive AG achieved a turnover of 94 million euros in 2016.
Focus on branch sales teams
Despite the successful results, there was no room for complacency. Constant changes in the market mean that businesses can never relax. In order to win, you have to stay on the ball and keep adapting to change. “Adapting” was therefore the keyword when it came to the changeover to branch sales teams. The stated aim of our concentration on branches is to provide specialist expertise when supporting customers, using intensive cooperation to create solutions as a team. Existing specialist knowledge from individual engineers is grouped within the branch teams for robotics, handling and automation, machine tools and general machine building, semiconductor and medical technology, packaging machines and the aerospace industry and defence technology.