Why BLOCK has more than 2,500 standard products in its catalog – and how individual customer solutions can benefit from this
Standard products and customer-specific solutions are very closely connected at BLOCK. Veit Brämer, Head of Sales and member of the executive management team at BLOCK Transformatoren GmbH, explains why bright yellow housing with an integrated transformer can have a particular significance in the following interview.
Mr. Brämer, what does “standard” mean to you?
Our product catalog, the “Big BLOCK”, contains around 2,500 standard items. These products are fully developed and certified, and cover a majority of applications. Around 1,200 products are in the BLOCK Direct Portfolio: these are our bestsellers that are always held in inventory or that we can at least deliver within 24 hours.
Can you explain your focus on standard products?
Products with a customer-specific item number are generally very close to the standard products. They feature minor modifications, such as an alternative housing color, adjusted terminal clamps or a different output voltage. Fully customized products that we produce at BLOCK, but which are not part of the standard range, only account for around 15 percent of products. Among other areas, these products can be found in rail technology where the construction space available in trains is scarce and the climactic requirements for our products are very high. Yet standard products or products related to the standard range account for 85 percent of our sales. This is why the concept of the standard item is so important to us.
"We are the system supplier for our customers when it comes to voltage, power, and performance. We simply deliver everything related to power supplies for industrial applications: transformers, power supplies, electric filters, and reactors."
Why does BLOCK have 1,200 standard products available in inventory at all times?
Availability is a crucial factor for a lot of customers. Electrical installation companies for instance use traditional wholesalers for their material supplies. The wholesaler asks us whether we have the requested product in our inventory. We know that we are very likely to get the order if we can say: “Yes, we have that in inventory.”
Why are you even concerned then with the rest?
The “exotic items”, i.e. product developments not related to standard items, are often highly innovative and technically sophisticated, yet they are also often trailblazers for other industries. The technology is often used a few years later or in other branches of industry. This is why we consciously decide to develop products and solutions that initially may have little to do with our standard products.
What kind of adjustments do customers request with their products?
It starts with the color: The machines are generally designed and often have a specific color that is part of the customer’s corporate identity. That’s why we offer transformer housing in practically all colors – including bright yellow.
There are mainly some technical adjustments required of course: Plant and machinery constructors build their machinery here in Germany and then sell this to America, for example. However, the power grid features a different voltage there. So they connect a transformer that we also deliver in one housing complete with main switch, fuses, and terminal clamps, and the all important UL certification. This way the machine is ultimately operated with the same voltage as here in Germany.
How do you set about developing customer-specific solutions?
For many of the customer-specific solutions, we work with a tried-and-tested modular construction system, which allows us to be extremely quick and flexible. Yet we also design customized products with very specific features. We produce a lot ourselves at our plants in Germany, America and China, and can therefore build a transformer for any specified geometry, for example. Customers appreciate that, as the machine is often already completed and there is little space left. The transformer then needs to be small and efficient for instance – and to emit as little heat as possible. The fact that we can e.g. process the sheet metal ourselves is an advantage. We process different qualities of sheet metal with a higher efficiency factor, meaning that the product remains cool. “Innovation” is the major theme when it comes to winding materials.
Do customer-specific requests not also change the specification for the component? Do you need to rethink the basic functionality or efficiency with individual changes?
Minor adjustments are no problem. However, customers also frequently have more far-reaching change requests. It helps that we have specified and also certified transformers for instance in many core sizes at BLOCK. If the customer’s change requests approach the electrical limits, we simply resort to the next highest power class or an alternative material. Our Development Center gets involved whenever a product needs to be designed from scratch. Thanks to our high level of vertical integration we can produce prototypes at short notice without requiring additional suppliers, meaning that we can test and optimize the actual product together with the customer.
How is the customer involved in the change process?
We develop each product jointly. We are constantly in discussions with our existing customers in any case, which makes special requests for an application easy. We hold discussions and produce designs, simulations and calculations for the right solution with the customer. The customer then receives a specification that we agree before completion. The customer is also free to contact our developers directly.
Can customer-specific adjustments ever become difficult?
Obviously the request has to fit in with our production capabilities. We work in the low-voltage range. With transformers, this means a voltage lower than 1,000 Volts. The dimensions also need to be feasible for us in production. We can’t handle large transformers that weigh 10 tons or more and are the size of a small room. There are technical limits. Yet limits can also be shifted. We’re always expanding our options, and a lot happens in that respect.
Do modified components still need to be individually certified?
All our products are certified in line with industry standards. We have an accredited EMC lab where we complete measurements ourselves, and from where the certifications can be accepted, e.g. for Germanischer Lloyd or UL. Customers sometimes also come to us for their own measurements, or our mobile lab goes to them. We’re authorized to carry out measurements that are recognized by the authorities. This means that different versions of our standard products do not need to be re-certified. This is a major benefit with customer-specific adjustments.
"That’s why the reverse is also true: The best customer-specific solution is the one that can be transformed into a standard item."
Ultimately then customer-specific solutions arise based on the standard products?
Yes, but the reverse is also true. Our all-pole sine filters are an example of this. We developed several customer-specific products with one particular customer. For their frequency inverters, for instance, we developed special filters that are precisely geared toward their product and application, and have outstanding electrical features.
Once that project was completed we thought: “Why not make a standard product from that?”, since we have many customers who could benefit from this solution. This way we ultimately made a few standard models based on a customer-specific development and now have an entire series in our range. It’s very successful, highly innovative, and features lots of technical highlights.