The roots of Harmonic Drive SE can be traced back to the invention of the strain wave gear by Walton Musser in 1955. Originally designed for the aerospace industry, the outstanding features of this gear principle offering backlash free, compact and lightweight and high reduction ratio all in one quickly benefitted other areas of technology.
Thanks to local sites worldwide and close cooperation with our parent company in Japan and our sister company in the USA, we ensure that you can benefit from customised Harmonic Drive® Solutions around the globe – we are there where you need us, crossing national borders and time zones with ease, and facing tricky challenges with enthusiasm.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2007 saw the startup of subsidiaries in Spain and Austria, adding to the growing sales network.
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.
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.
The foundation of Harmonic Drive Switzerland AG in 2013 completed the ever growing sales network.
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.
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.
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.
This decision was one of the most important for Reinhard Ernst, who has guided the company over the years in his roles as majority shareholder, CEO and Member of the Supervisory Board of Harmonic Drive AG. In February 2017, Harmonic Drive Systems Inc. became sole shareholder of Harmonic Drive AG having bought the majority of shares.
At the beginning of 2020, Harmonic Drive AG completed its conversion into a European legal form Societas Europaea (SE) and became Harmonic Drive SE. Together with its subsidiaries, the European legal form of Societas Europaea enables the company to focus more on its international markets.