Sadly, the UK is absent from Herrman’s list of the top five countries that it supplies with OEM parts. The reason is simple enough – we don’t make that many bicycles over here anymore.
The Finnish company does still supply a number of UK cycle manufacturers – including Pashley and Brompton – as well as many more around the world.
The European-focused manufacturer of lights, grips, reflectors, rim tapes and chain guards is based in Jakobstad in the west of Finland, from where it supplies Germany (its biggest market), then France, Holland, Italy and further countries around the world across continents.
Herrmans is no dabbler in manufacturing. Founded in 1959, turnover is now in the region of €36million and the company is split over two divisions – Herrmans and Nordic Lights, the latter dwarfing the bicycle business in terms of size of business and in the size of products it creates – manufacturing heavy duty lights for mining and construction.
The locally owned company has weathered economic storms over the years – it was hit particularly hard in 2009, keenly feeling the downturn, but by 2010 had made a speedy recovery to continue its upwards trajectory. Not all matters beyond its control have been negative, however – when Sweden revised its bike reflector laws in 1986 it marked a time of significant expansion for Herrmans.
The weather can have a positive impact too. Spring came early to Finland too this year, which left one brand in need of lights quicker than their regular Far East based producer could get them over to them…which is where Herrmans stepped in.
While there are those kinds of advantages to manufacturing in Europe, there are also disadvantages. Unlike bicycle production, there’s no anti-dumping laws in place to help EU P&A producers. Keeping costs down has also seen the firm introduce automation over the years, which helped keep the business profitable when then owner Wicoria (in 1999) hit bankruptcy. “I don’t think we would have survived if it wasn’t for heavy automation investment in production,” the firm rues.
Touring the factory that aforementioned automation can be seen at work – one huge room is full of machines producing grips and manned by just four individuals per shift. Those machines push out a fair few grips, with 1,500 part numbers alone for the product type, hitting entry level and high end (new ones are promised for Eurobike 2014).
Housing the design team in the same building has numerous advantages – Herrmans doesn’t have to fly its designers to see ranges in production and pick up on potential issues. That design team has a new product development office full of conceptual oddities as well as new lines like injection moulded cork grips. Rapid prototyping is possible through having several partners that produce those speedily for Herrmans, so using 3D printers has not become a necessity, yet – though they’re not ruling it out for the future. Prototypes get put through their paces in in-house labs and in real world conditions too – the tour revealed a set of reflectors and grips attached to the factory balcony where they have been facing the unenviable rigours of a Finnish winter. Indoors, a light lab measures light distribution in specific areas, while an integrated sphere measures the amount of light produced.
Lights R&D is proving to be a real focus for Herrmans in the near future, despite the fact it has 500 SKUs in the system already. It’s an area the firm knows well, not least because it created what it believes is the world’s first bicycle LED light way back in 1989 (though being so far ahead of the game the light was left to languish without further development as few snapped it up).
Before production comes around there’s a host of other processes that prototypes have to get through, from a 3D scanner that reveals how different the real world prototype is compared with the original design, oscilloscope and spectrum analysis, corrosion testers and salt spray chambers and a climate chamber that can make a product endure minus 70 degree temperatures and 180 degree heat at the other end of the thermometer.
Lights, grips and chain guards form the bulk of product development for the Finnish firm at the moment, all adhering to a clean minimalist design so the products can be used on a variety of bike types and applications.
But Herrmans has recently seen growth in developing bespoke products with brands, so many in fact that the firm has had to turn down some approaches. It can work with partners in a number of ways, from simply badging up one of its products, to optimising designs from other brand or even working from the back of a proverbial fag packet. One of the reasons behind that has been the importance of developing product to stand out from the competition in terms of aesthetics – not least because of the e-bike market, Herrmans reveals. On the continent, punters will often come into a bike shop and ask for a ‘Bosch e-bike’, rather than a specific bike brand, so working closely on aesthetics with manufacturers like Herrmans has become more crucial on making your brand stand out from the crowd.
Herrmans has gained market share in the lighting market in Europe and this remains a focus for the future. The firm cites its H-One S LED Dynamo front light as a ‘door-opener’ for discussions with more brands and leading to multiple projects. The firm has two new front lights ready to launch at Eurobike (one dynamo, one battery) but rearlights will be just as important, with more customers after rear and front lights together, Herrmans says.
Another strong area for Herrmans is its chain guards, with developments in new materials for price sensitive customers and a new chain guard for the Bosch 2014 engine that is ready for Friedrichshafen. The firm also has a solution for Shimano Steps in the works. Those e-bikes have changed the game for rimtapes too, with a greater focus on tape quality because of consistently higher speeds afforded by pedal assist, not to mention the added weight of an e-bike testing the limits of your average rimtape.
While there’s clearly plenty to keep the Finnish manufacturer busy, we’re assured that should UK cycle manufacturing rise again and be in need of some rimtape, lights, grips or similar, Herrmans would be only too happy to help. www.herrmans.eu
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Just the stats…
- 55 years in the business, 1959 to 2014
- 50 million plastic products are produced and delivered by Herrmans every year.
- OEM customers number 200, aftermarket customers add up to 118, while 44 customers have a mix of both.
- Europe makes up over 90 per cent of global sales
- 180 staffers make up Herrmans
- 2011 saw Herrmans establish its Taiwan warehouse.
- Herrman’s German subsidiary was founded in 2013