In the 2000s, a young engineer named Rudolf Bauer left Vienna, having been badly affected by the crisis, to work in a factory near Graz. In this job he was able to observe how the farmers worked and see the difficulties they had when taking the slurry out to the fields. Therefore, he came up with the idea of inventing a pump for this task and so the company Bauer was created.
Founded in 1930, the firm began making pumps for transporting sludge and wastewater. At the end of the 30s, the company grew thanks to the development of a high-speed piston pump. This high-pressure pump has the same capacity as equivalent pumps, but it is three times lighter.
In 1947, Bauer moved into the production of irrigation pumps and sprinklers. Bauer also invented its patented quick release lever-lock coupling, an innovation that played a key role in the company’s growth. In fact, this unique product has made it possible to construct pipelines without wasting any time, easily and effortlessly, without wasting any time. Thus, these were the first steps taken in the development of a complete irrigation system. In the early 70s, the company began the development and manufacture of the Rain Star hose reel (traveling gun), one of Bauer’s flagship products, which is still being produced today.
In 1977, the firm began the planning and implementation of major integrated industrial projects, which helped to enhance Bauer’s reputation. And in 1980 the company began the manufacture of pivots and linear move machines, which has resulted in Bauer being recognised as a world-renowned specialist in irrigation.
The founder left the company in 1991, being replaced by a German, Willi Kopf. In 1997, the company set up a branch in China. In 1999, it introduced and marketed the first electronic control system for the “Centerliner” pivot.
In 2003, the company was taken over by the current owners, Otto Roiss, Andreas Schitter and Heimo Wiesinger, who sadly died in a car accident three years ago, and an investment company.
Since then, the group has gone on to make a number of strategic acquisitions: the German company Eckart Maschinenbau, which manufactures biogas and tanker trucks for transporting liquid slurry to the fields, was purchased in 2003; in 2004 it was the turn of FAN Separator, also a German company, which specialises in the manufacture of separators; in 2007, Bauer bought out the German company BSA, which makes tanker trucks. And finally, in 2014, Bauer bought BNH Landtechnik, a German chain of agricultural machinery dealers from North Rhine Westphalia.
In 2005, the group set out to conquer the world with the establishment of two branches: Bauer Australia and Bauer South Africa. A new office was also opened in Brazil in 2016, 200 kilometres north of São Paulo.
Bauer is now a global group, which employees a total of 675 people. Its head office is located in Voitsberg, Austria, near the town of Graz.
The company is active in the irrigation and wastewater treatment sectors. “The firm’s philosophy is that nothing is lost and everything should be reused”, explained Otto Roiss, the Group’s CEO. On the farm, the slurries and the manure are collected and recovered. A separator isolates the liquid part from the solids. The liquid part is reused in the irrigation systems for fertilising the fields and the solid portion goes towards making soft fibre bedding material, which is reused on the farm for the cattle. “You need to have at least 1,000 cows for this device to be worthwhile”, explained Mr. Roiss.
The firm is active in the following economic sectors:
- Irrigation: 44%
- Wastewater treatment: 39%
- Other: 17%, including the production and distribution of biogas.
The group has six manufacturing and/or assembly plants in Austria, Germany, Slovakia, Brazil and China. In the different plants the company manufactures pivots, hose reel machines, pipes, pumps, sprinklers separators and tanker trucks.
All of the products marketed by Bauer are made at the company’s historic site in Voitsberg, except the tanker trucks, which are constructed exclusively in Germany, in the two factories purchased recently. We were given the opportunity to visit the manufacturing plant and the assembly plant in Voitsberg. Two hundred people work there.
The plant expands
The whole site is being renovated. 2.3 Megawatt solar panels have recently been installed on the roof, allowing Bauer to be fully self-sufficient in electric energy at the Voitsberg site. There are many benefits: the company reduces its energy requirements and thus lowers CO2 emissions. Lower energy consumption allows the firm to reduce production costs, which is also an advantage for the customers: the retail prices have only marginally increased since 2014.
Firstly, we entered a vast empty hall, with building work in progress: “this new section is going to allow us to extend the area dedicated to manufacturing”, explained Franz Peter Roll, sales director for Western Europe.
We then went to the quality control room for the separators. “Testing the separators is very important because the inside components must be absolutely correct and consistent,” said Franz Peter Roll. The separators are made further along in the plant. Between 600 and 700 separators are manufactured each year.
We then headed for the manufacturing area itself, where a robot was used to manufacture the couplings. Further on, another machine was making the steel plates used in the manufacture of the hose reels and pivot spans. “Only the mechanical parts of the products are made in the Bauer plants; the electronic components are contracted out”, commented Mr. Roll. On the other hand, the Austrian manufacturer endeavours to make as many mechanical parts as possible in order to maintain its independence. “This is particularly true for the Rain Star, as all its parts are made at Voitsberg”, insists Mr. Roll. Still further on, the steel plates are in the process of being transformed into drums for the hose reel machine or spans for the pivots. Bauer subcontracts out the galvanization process to a company in Austria. However, all the parts are repatriated to Voitsberg and assembled in situ.
Finally, we were able to see the laser-cutting machine, purchased five years ago and becoming more and more important for the company. It is in operation 24 hours per day.
We then headed towards the assembly plant which is located not so far from the offices and the manufacturing plant, on the other side of the road. That is where the Rain Star hose reels are assembled. At this stage of the manufacturing process, the machine begins to look like a hose reel. The gear boxes and turbines are fixed to the machines. Each machine sold has to undergo a number of tests. The turbines are tested in different irrigation situations and checks are carried out to ensure that the machine is able to guide the hose into the perfect position. Finally, the remote-control systems are added to the machine so that the hose reels can be managed effectively from a smartphone, tablets or computer. Between 1,200 and 1,500 Rain Star machines are built each year. The flagship product of the company, the Rain Star is sold worldwide, not only in Western Europe but also in Eastern Europe, United States, China, Australia, South America…
The PE pipes are also manufactured in the assembly plant. The granules, which become as soft as chewing gum, are heated to 200°. They are then stored outside for 24 hours so that the pipes can harden. The PE pipes will soon be made in the manufacturing plant that is currently under construction.
As far as the pivots are concerned, the parts are sent separately to the client. A Bauer team then goes to the site to carry out the assembly process.
The post-sales service is very important and each farmer is monitored individually. Almost 2,500 pivot spans are sold each year. The principal markets are Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Sweden. Very few machines are sold in Austria and France; in Austria because the fields are too small and in France because the market has already been taken by other manufacturers.
At the present time, irrigation represents 44% of the group’s activity and wastewater treatment 39%. According to Otto Roiss, the group’s CEO, the climate has become more severe and these extremes will influence tomorrow’s agriculture. “Irrigation activity will be reduced and the wastewater sector increased. Our investments will have to be made in line with this trend”, he anticipates.