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Supplier Profile: Balluff

Balluff Inc, Florence Kentucky, USA

What do manufacturers in the packaging, food, beverage, pharmaceutical, and personal care industries have in common?

How would you answer this question if it was asked during a restaurant trivia game?

  1. They face stringent regulations and increasing consumer demands for higher quality and sustainability.
  2. They have complex automation needs, with tasks such as handling raw materials, product manufacturing, packaging, and shipping. ​
  3. They need to achieve precise quality control, optimize high-speed production lines, and ensure flawless condition monitoring.
  4. Many rely on Balluff sensor technology and automation solutions.
  5. All of the above.

If you bet all your hard-earned trivia points on “E,” then you would be collecting your prize!

Balluff is a fourth-generation, family-owned sensor and automation company that offers a comprehensive portfolio of innovative sensor, identification, network, and software solutions. It serves as an important innovation partner for customers, helping them prepare for industrial digitalization. Its product areas include:

  • Sensors
  • RFID
  • Machine vision and optical identification
  • Safety
  • Industrial networking
  • Human machine interfaces
  • Power supplies
  • Accessories

“At Balluff, we give our all to improve the competitive position of our customers by sharing our passion for automation,” said Frank Nonnenmann, managing director. “We partner as a trusted advisor to reduce downtime, improve efficiency, and innovate the way our customers automate. With our products and solutions, we help them create the foundation for a smart factory.”

Balluff is known for its innovative technology, quality, focus on customers, and cross-industry experience in industrial automation. Headquartered in Neuhausen auf den Fildern, near Stuttgart in southern Germany, the company employs 3,900 people at its seven production sites, 38 subsidiaries, and sales offices in more than 60 countries. Its U.S. production site is in Florence, Kentucky.

Capacitive Proximity Sensors at AutomationDirect

AutomationDirect sells Balluff capacitive proximity sensors, non-contact sensors that generate an electrostatic field to detect metal and non-metal objects. Using two conduction plates, they sense the change in capacitance when an object moves within their sensing range. They can even sense through insulating materials, such as wood or plastic.

The sensors can be mounted externally and can sense through storage container walls, offering an ideal solution for non-invasive detection of liquids, pellets, and powder levels. Available in tubular, round, or rectangular shapes, the sensors serve many industries, including manufacturing, robotics, and semiconductors.

From Mechanical Repairs to Innovating Automation

Gebhard Balluff founded the company in 1921 as a mechanical repair shop for bicycles, motorcycles, and sewing machines in Neuhausen. It soon developed into a business for precision, turned, and milled parts. In 1940, he turned business management over to his son-in-law, Eduard Hermle.

In 1947, Balluff began producing precision mechanical products. In the mid-1950s, it added parts for the automotive industry and entered the sensor field when it began producing the BNS cam switch. In the late 1960s, it began manufacturing BES inductive proximity switches. The first non-contact sensor was a great advance in control technology for mechanical engineering and made Balluff one of the world market leaders.

In 1978, Balluff began producing BOS optoelectronic sensors that detected objects even at greater distances and were made of materials other than metal. That same year, brothers Klaus and Rolf Hermle became the third generation of the family to lead the company. Until Klaus’ death in 1987, they worked together to grow the company internationally and expand the sensor product portfolio.

In the 2000s, Balluff opened a production facility in China. It also added IO-Link industrial networking and connectivity, further developing into a systems and solutions provider.

In 2010, Rolf Hermle handed business management to his children Katrin Stegmaier-Hermle and Florian Hermle and to technical business manager Michael Unger. They have guided Balluff into the field of specialized optosensors and miniaturized optical sensor systems, overseen the development of sales organizations in Australia and New Zealand, and created subsidiaries in Turkey, Korea, and Thailand.

In October 2023, Balluff opened a smart factory in Aguascalientes, Mexico, to help it achieve planned growth while creating resilient supply chains.

Looking to a Digital, Networked World

In 2016, Balluff changed its slogan from “sensors worldwide” to “innovating automation” to reflect its expansion to become a pacesetter for Industry 4.0 with its comprehensive product portfolio.

“Our commitment to our customers’ success is unmistakable in the way we take on their challenges, meet their requirements, and develop future-oriented technologies for them,” Nonnenmann said. “We know that if our customers are best equipped for the future, then so are we. That’s why ‘innovating automation’ is our promise and motto.”

As part of its strategic incubation programs, Balluff relies on an agile workflow to explore the development of new and innovative business ideas within the framework of a lean startup method. Through lean and agile processes, it develops customer-oriented concepts for selected, concrete use cases in constant coordination and reviews them with potential customers. This process enables an innovative idea to become a custom-fit solution with a high degree of standardization.

What’s Next for Balluff

Balluff is well known and highly regarded by its sensor and industrial automation customers, especially for its forward-thinking approach and acting today for tomorrow.

“As a future-oriented company, we not only focus on the classic automation areas, but also respond to the continuously changing market needs of customers and a digital, networked world. As an empowerer, we enable our customers to achieve sustainable success in their digital transformations with IIoT-capable hardware, middleware, and systems,” Nonnenmann said. “Our strategies are always future-oriented, focusing on economic efficiency, the environment, technology, and product quality. Most importantly, we prioritize our people within our company. In this way, we can offer our employees, business partners, and customers a long-term and sustainable perspective.”