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40 years of KEMPER: Pioneer of welding fume extraction

40 years of KEMPER: Pioneer of welding fume extraction

Vreden, 15 March 2016 - clean air in metal processing: 40 years ago, KEMPER GmbH started on its mission for clean working environments. From a one-man operation, the manufacture of extraction systems and filter systems has now become world technology leader in welding fume extraction. Founder Gerd Kemper established spot extraction systems in Germany against considerable resistance, and later on beyond the German borders. To this day the family-managed company is considered to be a pioneer of clean air technology. Industrial safety is currently leading the family company towards a networked age. 


"Our mission is a long way from being finished. The need for clean air in the working environment continues to increase" underlined Björn Kemper, CEO of KEMPER GmbH. "40 years ago we were just pleased to find that welders understood the health risk at all. At that time, nobody ever thought that we would be able to determine the size of fine dust particles by now."


From mobile filter units through central extraction systems, filter technology for ultrafine particles, indoor ventilation systems right up to air monitoring units: KEMPER has continuously been launching new innovations on the clean air technology sector on the market for 40 years now. To date, the company has fitted out more than 100,000 companies in around 50 countries over and above the main market of Germany, which still remains the most important market. The company currently employs 300 staff worldwide having started out as a one-man operation. With this background, the manufacturer is listed in the world market leader index at the St. Gallen University.


Gerd Kemper delivered convincing arguments

This development was in no way predestined at an age of increasing environmental awareness in the 1970s. "Everyone was talking about more environmental justice and a better working world. Nothing ever actually happened though", recalled founder Gerd Kemper. After his business training, it quickly became clear that he wanted to found a company which produced technical products. During his work for a Swedish company, he discovered the first extraction units in the Scandinavian country. There, the dangers of welding fumes were already known. His business idea for Germany was born. In his home garage he constructed the first spot extraction system in the German-speaking countries for collecting the unhealthy fumes directly where they were created - a principle which is still being recommended for welding fume extraction by the employers liability insurance association to this day.

At the beginning, the propagation of this technology turned out to be very difficult. In Germany, welding fumes are considered to be completely nonhazardous. Ironically, the first contract was cancelled by the workers' own veto. The workers were afraid of losing their daily milk ration - at that time a bottle of milk at the end of the shift was considered to be a detoxification method against "Monday fever", which is of course now considered to be completely without scientific foundation Gerd Kemper did a lot of educational work, spoke in factories, lectured at association meetings, visited technical colleges. The new generation of welders carried the idea into their companies.


Internationalisation proceeds at pace

The company grows thanks to increasing turnover: it constructed the first production hall in 1983. Thanks to its reputation, especially as an automotive supplier, KEMPER moves abroad parallel to the whole industry. A good 10 years after its founding, the international expansion strategy started with the founding of two subsidiary companies in France and the USA. Once the company had passed the hundred staff mark, KEMPER moved into the current office building and founded a subsidiary in the Czech Republic in 1992. This became the first international production location and was further extended in 2008.


In parallel, KEMPER deepened its technical know-how in the clean air technology sector. In 1989 the company presented a new series of units for welding fumes in both mobile and stationary versions. In 1992, KEMPER developed the first compact central extraction system, the System 8000, with its own control unit. This is still considered to be the basis for further developments in central extraction systems with its building block principle, which takes individual customer requirements into consideration. The first mobile filter device with cleanable filter is launched in 1993. In the middle of the 1990s KEMPER develops the extraction arm, which has become an industry standard by now, with a flange-shaped extraction hood. This has been sold more than 130,000 times since this point.


Sales slump due to financial crash 2008

Business took a turn for the worst after the financial crash 2008. Sales slumped by more than 40% from one year to the next. "The most difficult phase in my time as an enterprise are in a family-led environment" said Gerd Kemper. However, management and workers alike pulled together during a phase of short-time work. KEMPER quickly works its way out of the hole. Sales growth, which was sometimes in two figures, followed in the recent past.


KEMPER remains true to its pioneering spirit. For the first time, the manufacturer launches products with a contamination-free dust collection for safe disposal on the market in 2013. KEMPER further develops filtration technology with regard to higher performance capability. In 2016, the company guided industrial safety into the age of Industry 4.0. The AirWatch air monitor system is capable of controlling extraction systems and indoor ventilation systems completely automatically. Consideration of the entire hall air over and above individual workplaces is now more and more in focus, said Björn Kemper: "Effective industrial safety is an increasingly important argument for company works in the sense of employee satisfaction, acquisition and bonding."


Company news

Interview Gerd Kemper - In earlier times, welding fumes were regarded as healthy

Interview Gerd Kemper - In earlier times, welding fumes were regarded as healthy

With a gut feeling, courage and of course a set of reliable figures as a basis, in 1977 Gerd Kemper set out on a personal crusade: clean air at the workplace while welding. Something which in the early days appeared alien to his expectations actually turned out to be a vital business field. 40 years after establishing KEMPER GmbH – formed on 17th March 1977 – Gerd Kemper is now looking back on his company and its industry.


At this time, the first extraction units were already in use in Sweden. With his knowledge of welding fumes, Gerd Kemper developed his business idea for the German market. In the garage at his home, he built the first point extraction system in the DACH countries. From a one-man business, he formed the company into a world technology leader in the extraction systems field. KEMPER systems are now used in some 100,000 businesses in 50 countries throughout the world. The medium-sized company, with a workforce of 300 spread round the world, is listed in the University of St Gallen's index of world market leaders. Gerd Kemper brings his expertise to important technical advances. He foresees immense potential for the future in clean air technology.


Mr Kemper, you are viewed as a pioneer in welding fume extraction: Do you now see your mission as completed?

Certainly not. To be sure, there are now many more companies which ensure that their employees receive adequate protection while at work. A clean working environment is critical, but it is by no means the end of the story. As long as there are still businesses which raise the roller shutters at the front and back twice a day to drive the blanket of welding fumes out of the air in the hall, there will still be much work ahead of us. Admittedly, we are much further forward today than we were 40 years ago.


How do you compare present-day conditions with those that existed formerly?

At the time, nobody would have dreamed that we would now be measuring fine particulate densities. The technical change over the past 40 years has been immense. At the time, we were pleased if welders definitely understood the health risk caused by welding fumes.


At the time, was there no awareness of the health risk caused by welding fumes?

At the time KEMPER GmbH was formed, this was certainly not understood. Every welder was well aware of the risk of eye damage while welding. However, welding fumes were considered in former times as innocuous and to some extent even as healthy. This was an idea that more than one welding system manufacturer was trying to sell. This argument should be kept in mind: On one hand, welding fumes should not have any adverse effects on health, on the other there was a fixed daily ration of milk for welders – supposedly for detoxification. To this day, I have never understood how that stacks up. Even today, some still assert that milk helps to counteract the adverse effects of welding fumes. Of course, this is totally devoid of any scientific rationale. This has been proven.


However, symptoms such as those of welder's fever were known much earlier. Was a blind eye simply turned to this?

Not merely that: The welder himself was even considered as partly to blame. I still remember well incidents in welding shops which worked with galvanized materials. On Mondays, by midday, half-way through the shift, welders complained of nausea. Sometimes, they even had to break off work to be sick. Many businesses said: "Too much booze over the weekend, yet again", especially if the symptoms abated as the week progressed. With the knowledge we have today, however, the welders were simply suffering from zinc poisoning. As the week progresses, one's body becomes increasingly accustomed to the contamination. The symptoms accordingly appear increasingly weaker. At the weekend, the body is decontaminated again and on Monday the whole process starts again.


If the symptoms really were so obvious, why were the early days for your new business venture so difficult?

There was hardly any awareness in Germany of the dangers of welding fumes. We had to do real pioneering work in the field – with all the imponderables. Before I established my company, during my work for a Swedish company I saw the first extraction units. Here, they were investigating the effects of welding fumes for the first time. At the time, Sweden was well ahead in the race, even if knowledge had not progressed by any means as far as it has today, of course. At the time, nobody in Germany had got to grips with this topic. Accordingly, the first three or four years were an uphill struggle for orders. We also encountered a fair number of setbacks.


How was this initial rejection expressed?

Investment in extraction systems was an unwanted cost factor for businesses. For welding system manufacturers, our approach was to some extent pure propaganda. Often, our ideas were not accepted: Your approach is destroying German jobs. The fear when faced with something new was immense. At the time, the accepted wisdom in the industry in general was: Environmental protection kills jobs. This later turned out to be totally incorrect. Instead, environmental protection created jobs.


What did the welders themselves say?

In the beginning, that was the second problem: Even welders who had been in the trade for a long time, for whose health our system was certainly appropriate, spoke out against the use of an extraction system. In Oberhausen, I had already persuaded the works manager to buy some extraction systems. This would have been a contract worth DM 10,000 – for the conditions at the time a super order. The next day he called me and canceled it abruptly.


What was his reason?

The workforce had vetoed it. They had the choice: An extraction system or their daily milk ration. They had decided on milk.


It would appear you had a really tough nut to crack! Despite all this, how did you manage to get a foothold in this environment?

I was lucky enough to have been working for some time in a field in which the German consciousness was changing gradually. Environmental awareness was becoming an increasingly emotive issue. And the more widespread this became, the more people were talking about health and safety at work and personal protection equipment. But nobody really knew how the ideas could be put into practice. I took a long hard look at the world of work and detected a great market here. Of course, the potential was not yet so great because of the negative attitude of the industry at the beginning. I took a long-term view. This belief in our idea was to prove rewarding.


How did you finally succeed in expanding your business?

Of course, I approached welding businesses first – but in the main with the results I described earlier. With my knowledge of the dangers of welding fumes, I also contacted unions and reported the problems to them. In the training schools, I ran courses for trainee welders. Our extraction systems were becoming increasingly used in the schools. The trainees then took our idea forward into the businesses. One might say that this was a revolution from the bottom up.


How did matters proceed?

Recognition of the dangers caused by welding fumes was becoming increasingly precise. Initially, all we knew was: There is a danger here. However, we still could not move forward. The trade union then entered into the plan with a will and carried out investigations. It transpired, for example, that there were also significant dangers for the welder from the additives in the electrodes. This knowledge was voiced in statutory instructions. Mind you: This was certainly not the case at the start. Hitherto, our expertise has also been requested in the legislative procedure. However, we have never argued with the businesses over compliance with the law. We have always appealed to the health awareness of the businesses and their welders. We are also still doing this today. What use is the best extraction system, which filters even nanoparticles out of the air, if it is actually hardly used or not used properly?


In general, how has the technology continued to develop?

If I look back, technical progress has moved at a fairly rapid pace. After not even 20 years, for example, we were the first company with a so-called diaphragm filter in our range. These separate even fine dust particles in the region of 100 nanometers from the air. Now, we even have solutions for clean, contamination-free disposal of these dust particles. In the past year, we have networked space ventilation systems and extraction units and allowed them to communicate fully automatically. And today's filter systems have absorption capacities six to seven times higher than in former times. Today, we even calculate the size of individual particles. This is quite impressive.


In which direction is the sector moving?

The legislation must follow first. Today, there is the possibility of measuring the size even of individual fine dust particles with laser-supported systems. However, our industry still uses measuring methods that are totally obsolete for deciding the effectiveness of extraction units. In former times, the current measuring method, used by the trade union to this day, was the best one possible. Owing to new measuring methods, the industry must also have a rethink in this case. For some time, we have therefore been committed firmly to a limit value measurement based on particle count and particle size – and certainly no longer based on weight. This is also playing out against a background, which we have increasingly adopted, of considering the hall air as a whole. Not only the welder himself needs protection at work. The employees working around him are entitled to clean air as well. There will actually never be a 100% capture at the source. Therefore we need systems such as our CleanAirTower, which clean the whole of the hall air. The principles of metal machining can again be transferred purely technically to other branches of industry with adequate development time. For us, there is still a lot of potential, but it has to be carefully considered.


Many businesses will certainly say about this: Yet again more on investments! What is your answer to this?

That you should not be viewing the decision for clean air technology on cost grounds alone. Thank God, the fundamental attitude to this has changed. In former times, it went like this: Extraction systems reduce productivity – caused, for example, by the tracking needed for a point extraction system. Today, it goes like this: Safety at work increases productivity – owing to a healthier employee and fewer absences. In former times, there was simply a competition for the best products. Today, there is competition for the best employees. These are usually to be found in modern companies, which recognize the needs of their employees. This was in former times much the same as today: Companies which think progressively move forward with health and safety for their workforce.


Company news

Remove welding fumes and cutting dust: KEMPER further develops extraction technology

Remove welding fumes and cutting dust: KEMPER further develops extraction technology

Vreden (Germany), 24th July 2017 – Retaining expert staff with occupational safety: Against this background, KEMPER GmbH introduces its extraction technology portfolio during the SCHWEISSEN & SCHNEIDEN in Dusseldorf. The focus is on the advanced Industry 4.0 solution KEMPER Connect. The Internet-of-Things concept (IoT) controls extraction plants and room ventilation systems autonomously. The manufacturer shows innovations in the field of burner-integrated welding fumes extraction and extraction tables for cutting applications with VacuFil 125 and KEMPER The Slagger. KEMPER will be celebrating its 40th anniversary during the tradeshow.

“Companies without effective occupational safety measures are threatened by a shortage of skilled labor: We can see this trend clearly in the entire sector”, says Björn Kemper, Managing Director at KEMPER GmbH. The new generation of metal processing workers are more aware of health protection than they were some years ago. Aside from threshold rules, KEMPER has promoted the usefulness of occupational safety for staff retention since the company was founded. “Based on this background, extraction technology is steadily gaining relevance in metal processing.” Today, it is not just about the extraction of hazardous material at the source, but monitoring of the entire hall air.

Internet of Things for occupational safety

A focus of our trade show appearance is plant networking for air purification technology. Since this year, companies are using them in practice. KEMPER introduces already advances for the IoT concept KEMPER Connect as well as for the central air monitoring and control system AirWatch. This communicates independently with the air purification systems such as CleanAirTower and controls them. KEMPER also presents the stand-alone tower with disposable filter for the first time. Companies can also monitor the plant communication in the production hall and integrate further IoT systems using a new B2B portal.

KEMPER is dedicated to the trend of burner integrated suction with VacuFil 125. Previously despised by welders as unwieldy, the system has grown in demand recently. The compact and mobile high vacuum extraction system with cleanable filter is designed for one workstation and captures large quantities of smoke and dust. The new device is suitable for permanent use while welding.

The Slagger extraction technology for the first time in Europe
In addition to occupational safety equipment for welders, KEMPER also introduces a new extraction technology for thermal cutting applications. The new extraction table KEMPER The Slagger - slagger technology is already successful in the USA - creates an ideal material support for sheet metal, protects staff during production against large cutting dust quantities and furthermore reduces downtime for cleaning or maintenance. Using an automatic discharge system, the extraction table disposes the accumulating slag and small parts in a container.

40 years after founding KEMPER GmbH, the manufacturer of extraction plants and filter systems is celebrating its milestone birthday during the SCHWEISSEN & SCHNEIDEN. At the new stand, the visitor is introduced to the entire world of occupational safety equipment. In addition to extraction technology, the company also showcases partition wall systems and personal protective equipment. KEMPER can be found in hall 11 at booth 11F22 from 25th to 29th September.

Company profile

KEMPER GmbH is a manufacturer of extraction and filter systems for the metal-processing industry. This medium-size family company with registered office in Vreden, Westphalia, is a technology leader with its highly efficient extraction systems that are capable of filtering even ultra-fine dust particles from the air that are generated together with welding fumes. The product portfolio includes extration tables for cutting processes and the entire accessory chain for work protection and air purity retention for the metalworking, electro and automotive industries. The company also offers air purification technology for various sectors. KEMPER was founded in 1977 and has approximately 300 employees to date. Die Management bilden Björn Kemper und Michael Schiller. As well as the headquarters in Vreden, Germany, the company also has a production site in Prague (Czech Republic). The Vreden-based company is represented all over the world with its eight subsidiaries and numerous permanent trading partners.

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