Very few family-owned companies reach a few decades, not to mention a half-century of existence. Zeller+Gmelin GmbH & Co. KG has tripled that, celebrating 150 years of innovation and success.
Headquartered in Eislingen, Germany, Zeller+Gmelin started as a shale oil company. Today, the company is a leader in a wide range of markets, from lubricants to UV printing inks, and has 16 subsidiaries spanning Europe, the Middle East, China and North America.
The company had sales to €264 million ($280 million) in 2016, and continues to grow in its core markets. As the company says in its motto, “A Future with Tradition,” the future indeed looks bright for the Zeller+Gmelin.
The History of Zeller+Gmelin
Zeller+Gmelin’s roots go back to 1866, when Anton Zeller and Paul Gmelin formed a company focused on shale oil.
“On Feb. 23, 1866, the company Zeller+Gmelin was registered as a general partnership and shale oil factory,” said Andreas Rascher, head of product management at Zeller+Gmelin GmbH & Co. KG. “Behind that were the ideas of railway engineer Anton Zeller and pharmacist Paul Gmelin to use the slate quarries of the so-called ‘plains’ in Groß-Eislingen for the distillation and extraction of lamp oil and heating oil.”
With the emergence of coal for heating, the company turned to using shale oil for lubricants.
“When coal advanced to be the preferred combustion material, the business gradually shifted to the production of lubricants, which were in great demand in the course of the upcoming railway expansion,” Rascher said.
By 1889, Julius Zeller took over the leadership of the company, which he led until he passed away in 1920. His widow, Anna, took over leadership duties along with director Adolf Faber, and in 1932, the company started producing printing inks. By 1939, Alfred Zeller would take over the leadership of the company with his brother Otto, who was killed during World War II. Alfred Zeller would run the company until 1977, and with no living heirs, the company moved to an advisory board.
Along the way, the company turned its focus to lubricants, printing inks and chemicals, with its R&D team driving much of its success.
“The very creative R&D work during the last 150 years is a key to our success,” said Rascher.
In terms of printing inks, an important decision was reached in 1970, when the company decided to focus on the new UV curing technology. Zeller+Gmelin started to head to trade fairs, including drupa, showcasing its abilities in UV inks and coatings.
This effort soon went global: Zeller+Gmelin opened Zeller+Gmelin Corporation, its US subsidiary, in Richmond, VA in 1984. The US subsidiary features its own R&D and production facilities, and has developed special products for the US market. In 1987, Zeller+Gmelin acquired Intercolor, a UK ink manufacturer. Since then, the company has added numerous ink locations throughout Europe and North America, including seven branches throughout the US.
Zeller+Gmelin focuses on a number of packaging markets, including preformed plastic containers, food packaging, labels and metal decorating, as well as commercial printing. The company prides itself on its R&D prowess, and UV inks is a perfect example of this.
“An important point of differentiation was the early and clear focusing on the niche of radiation printing inks,” Rascher said. “We have a really long experience in this technology.”
Since 1970, radiation curing has been the special focus of Zeller+Gmelin’s research and development activities, and the company is among the leading manufacturers of radiation curable printing inks and lacquers worldwide.
“In 2004, Zeller+Gmelin presented the first real low migration UV printing ink for decoration of plastic containers (like Joghurt cups) in the world,” he added.
Service is a key component to the company’s success.
“The other important differentiator is our practical know-how in our technical service center, with practically experienced application engineers,” Rascher added. “We provide help for all challenges of printing technology and for special requirements.”
In the future, Rascher believes Zeller+Gmelin will continue to add to its strengths in UV ink, adding new products and new markets.
“We will expand our leading position in development of low migration UV printing ink for the decoration of food packaging,” he said. “Beginning next year with the UVAFLEX Y81 FCM series, we will present a new generation low migration UV flexo series.
The UVAFLEX Y81 FCM ink series is a new generation of flexographic printing inks for the printing of food packaging. The ink series was developed on the latest raw material basis and shows even improved migration behavior and features an extremely low odor. Furthermore, the UVAFLEX Y81 FCM ink series was formulated with BPA-free raw materials and therefore is compliant with the latest Nestlé Guidance Note (version Sept. 2016).
“Additional we will push forward our development in LED-UV technology, mainly in the development of low migration systems for food packaging,” Rascher added. “We will also explore digital printing technology, mainly with UV inkjet.
“We are an international company, with the advantages of a medium size company, like high flexibility and fast development and communication,” Rascher continued. “We have a lot of markets or fields we can grow, so for me, the future of Zeller+Gmelin looks positive.”
Ultimately, Zeller+Gmelin’s independence is one of the keys to its success.
“Our being able to celebrate 150 years of Zeller+Gmelin is in no small part due to the fact that the company has always remained independent,” concluded managing director Walter Jerusalem. “This independence is a key requisite for our pronounced ability to remain stable during crises. Our shareholders, above all, give us the financial strength to grow and develop the organization as necessary. It is their willingness to place long-term, sustainable growth ahead of short-term profit which enables us to pursue our course.”