Cookies on Zenoot

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. More info

6 minute read • published in partnership with KUKA

Case Study: How KUKA helped one engineering start-up embrace automation

The season of grills and gardens has begun. There is a strong trend towards outdoor kitchens. In Bissendorf, Germany, the start-up “” has revolutionized the joy of grilling and cooking outdoors, making it an all-weather affair. Here, a KUKA robot has risen to become a celebrated “star” in production.

The founders, Thomas Pabst and Daniel Joachimmeyer, – both of whom are trained carpenters and wood technicians and have been highly successful in the furniture business – simply could not help but respond to the call of their inner nature: “We were frustrated. Because we always want to grill. In any weather. At any time of year. But no grill, no outdoor kitchen allowed us to do that. In a quality that we desire. At a price we’re willing to pay.”

Sensing instinctively that they were not alone in this desire, Pabst and Joachimmeyer quit their lucrative jobs and took constructive steps to bring their inner passion to life. “We took a very hard look at a wide variety of ideas and materials. We tried and discarded options. Met with specialists and tracked down suppliers who, like us, were enthusiastic about the idea of always being able to grill.” The fruit of these efforts is a modular outdoor kitchen for every taste and requirement – with integrated cooling and sink units as well as gas grills, charcoal grills or the currently in-demand ceramic grills. All of it indestructible, weatherproof and stylish – and available 365 days a year.

From moped grill to dream come true

Is it all just a crazy idea? The caprice of a few barbecue freaks? A closer look is in order. “We’re ’80s kids,” says Daniel Joachimmeyer. “We used to go out on our mopeds looking for adventure and partying fun. A moped with a trailer and a grill on it – that was our dream. Now we have our Hercules.” So much for the craziness. The business idea for from the two founders, however, followed a clear entrepreneurial course that merges current market and product development and includes production ranging from one-off fabrication to (partially) automated industrial manufacturing. Everything is made to measure and according to the customer’s order – and buoyed by entrepreneurial foresight.

Picture: KUKA

At the core of is an innovative and indestructible lightweight material. “We discovered what we were looking for in the automotive sector. Renolit Gorcell panel material has an internal structure of polypropylene and is absolutely indestructible. It withstands wind and weather, is UV resistant and can be easily high-pressure cleaned. Adding a module – even years later – is no problem. That wouldn’t work with wood,” Joachimmeyer notes. “And our material is PVC-free and fully recyclable. This of particular importance to us and our customers. Those who enjoy being outside and want to use a kitchen there that will last for decades necessarily are conscientious and place a priority on sustainability.”

Automation as a gateway to scalable production

Production that is scalable to a large extent and is geared towards further growth targets requires forward-looking machine planning as well as the integration of this machinery into a sequenced assembly and logistics process. This is all in Thomas Pabst’s IT wheelhouse. For, he automated the cutting of the panels, connecting the controller of the Homag system to the company’s ERP system for this purpose. “This gives us the legroom to adapt our production dynamically to the growth of the company,” explains Pabst.

After cutting, the edges are processed. Within the Homag manufacturing cell, a hot air nozzle is used to weld the special laser edges to the panel at 200 degrees Celsius – all completely waterproof, UV-stable and without adhesive. To achieve this, all four sides of a panel must be fed past the edge line in a continuous process on a roller conveyor. “A single employee can process up to 1,000 components per shift,” Pabst calculates. In doing so, the employee is assisted by “Emma”. This is the name that gave to the newest member of their team, acquired last October: a KUKA KR IONTEC robot.  “We wanted to have a flexible robot that offers the largest possible workspace in the medium payload class within a confined space,” notes Daniel Joachimmeyer in explaining the requirements for robotics within the Homag manufacturing cell. And all of this at a reasonable cost. “For us as a start-up, it’s not just the investment costs that count, but also the operating and maintenance costs. That’s where Emma – sorry, I mean the KR IONTEC – scored high with us.”

Picture: KUKA

“Emma” picks up the panel at the end of the edge process and lifts it onto the roller conveyor on the opposite side. From here, it is either returned to the workstation for the next edge operation or, at the end of the process, loaded onto the transporter for final assembly. Beyond this, the KUKA KR IONTEC is used for palletizing series components with the same dimensions and in large quantities. “Without our robot, we would not have been able to accommodate this system in our production hall,” says Pabst. There was not enough space for a continuous roller conveyor system. “Besides that, the robotic handling minimizes the static charge on the material that inevitably builds up as the rollers change direction and easily leads to troublesome fouling on the panels due to swarf and dust.”

Everyone likes Emma

But how did “Emma” come about? Daniel Joachimmeyer is happy to divulge the secret: “Everyone was of the opinion that a new colleague also needs a name. So we thought about it a bit. The idea then came from my young son. His best friend’s name is Emma. They go to the same school and have a lot of fun playing together. Emma is always there; absolutely reliable and enormously hardworking. It was a perfect fit. Everyone at the company thinks Emma is great.”

And it is not just the employees who see it that way. “When our customers take a look at our production, they are always quite surprised to see a KUKA robot here. Emma is a real star for them,” Joachimmeyer says happily. “We ourselves were quite surprised there. The mixture of industry and craftsmanship that we consciously live out at is a real highlight.” At least as important, however, is the fact that automation offers the young company a way out of the shortage of skilled workers. “The furniture industry is centered in our region. Finding qualified employees is becoming increasingly difficult. Robotics helps us to relieve skilled workers of monotonous and physically demanding work and to give them more challenging and varied tasks. That’s a win-win for everyone,” the managing director stresses.

Picture: KUKA

Delivering the most efficient, customized production possible has been part of’s self-image from the very beginning. “We manufacture in Germany. Because we are at home here. And because we want to see and know exactly what goes into our outdoor kitchens. Stainless steel that is high quality and durable. Kitchen materials that are easily washable and can withstand any weather. As well as the pull-out systems that we developed with one of the leading manufacturers specifically for outdoor applications,” explains Daniel Joachimmeyer.

Benefiting from the cocooning effect

The pandemic was a difficult time and an existential threat, especially for small and medium-sized companies. All the more so for start-ups that have yet to develop their market access. “We have been able to benefit from the cocooning effect during this time,” says Thomas Pabst. “Since vacations and restaurants were out of the question, many people made themselves more comfortable at home. There was a lot of renovation and investment in gardens and their amenities. Our outdoor kitchens definitely struck a chord.” In 2020, the company then also moved from Bünde to Bissendorf, around 30 kilometers to the east. In the industrial park there, a large sunroom manufacturer had moved out for capacity reasons. In addition to the production halls, also “inherited” a large, 1,800-square-meter showroom which is flooded with light.

“The location is a stroke of luck for us,” enthuses Daniel Joachimmeyer. “Here, we can directly combine production, new innovative products and the special outdoor kitchen experience. KUKA’s KR IONTEC – aka Emma – is not only the likable ‘face’ of our future-oriented production. Automation also opens up entirely new potential for as well as possible paths for growth,” the founder notes. “Naturally, we also grill. With customers and at events; or just for the fun of it with the employees. Everyone gets to be the grill master,” he says happily. “We’re all a bit crazy about grilling and enjoying things together. That’s exactly why we’re doing all this. It’s just in our genes.”