This year, AGRU celebrates a very special anniversary: 70 years ago, back in 1948, Alois Gruber Sr. laid the foundations for a success story which has continued to the present day. But the path from a one-man business to an international corporate group has been a long one.
Seventy years on, AGRU has become a genuine global player with an annual revenue of $436 million. The AGRU Group has plants on three continents and employs more than a thousand staff worldwide. Given that exports currently account for 95% of its business, there are AGRU customers all over the globe. Within the industry, AGRU is synonymous with premium quality, customer focus, reliability and professionalism in all areas of plastics engineering. From smartphones to laptops and TV screens, a high number of digital devices are now manufactured using AGRU products. Global groups such as SAMSUNG and LG rely on the ultrapure AGRU PURAD piping system made in Bad Hall, Austria for their semiconductor production. In the United States, the hidden champion produces large-scale polyethylene pipes with diameters of up to 3.5 m (138 in) and lengths of up to 610 m (2000 ft). These large pipe strings, weighing up to 1,000 metric tons, are then shipped across the world’s oceans to their project sites. One major driver of success in the development of an industrial empire spanning several continents was extensive application engineering expertise, combined with a comprehensive premium plastics engineering portfolio.
AGRU and the economic miracle
Alois Gruber Sr. was a tireless entrepreneur and one of the most remarkable personalities of the Austrian economy post-1945. As early as 1948, the master locksmith founded his own workshop in the small Austrian town of Waldneukirchen. In the 1950s, he embarked on pioneering work in two industries: anodizing technology and later in the manufacturing of plastic piping systems. When he purchased an anodizing system in 1954, he laid the foundations for today’s success at AGRU. The creative sales genius bought the first machine for extruding plastic pipes in 1961. Five years later, Alois Gruber Sr. invested in injection molding machines for fittings. AGRU became the first manufacturer in Europe to deliver pipes and fittings from a single manufacturing source. Therefore, in the post-war years (the period of the ‘economic miracle’), AGRU made its own history.
Piping systems for computer chips
AGRU has always been ahead of its time, thanks to continuous innovation. By 1974, the company was exporting to more than 20 countries, and launched its first computer-focused production facility in the same year. Alois Gruber Sr. recognized that the PC market, which was still in its infancy, had huge future potential. Ultrapure water pipes were essential to computer chip production, and in 1976 AGRU started manufacturing these with great success under clean room conditions from the ultrapure, semi-crystalline fluoroplastic PVDF.
After investing in the calendering of geomembranes with a width of up to 5 m (16 ft) for environmental protection purposes in 1986, the brilliant businessman invested in his own factory on the east coast of the United States in 1988. These U.S. geomembrane factories now almost match the revenue generated at the Austrian-based facilities that include all product groups.
Second generation takes the reins
In the following years, Alois Gruber Sr. gained support from his own family when his son, Alois Gruber, joined the company as a managing director. He transformed AGRU into a global player with new production facilities in China and India, successfully establishing AGRU’s position as a single-source supplier. Thanks to ongoing investment in new technologies, AGRU is a ‘first mover’ that delivers industry innovations such as large diameter pipes, electrofusion fittings, high purity piping systems, and extra-wide geomembranes. Electro-socket fittings, proven in millions of applications, were launched in 1990. This revolutionary invention facilitates the installation of plastic piping systems, for which time-consuming butt or socket welding had been needed up to this point.
World’s biggest PE pipe from AGRU
In order to meet the increased demand for AGRU products in the United States, a new plant was built in Nevada in 2008. Fully automated high-bay warehouses in Austria and the United States were installed to further simplify logistics. In 2010, AGRU began the production of large-scale polyethylene pipes with diameters between 80 cm (31.5 in) and 250 cm (98 in). One highlight of the past two years has been the investment in a high purity production system for the PURAD high purity piping system at the Bad Hall site in 2016. International customers, such as SAMSUNG and LG, deploy the AGRU high purity piping system to generate sensitive semiconductor circuits. Another highlight was the inauguration of AGRU’s own large diameter pipe plant in Charleston, SC to enable the extrusion of what is currently the world’s largest HDPE pipe with a diameter of 3.5 m (138 in) and a length of 610 m (2000 ft), a new milestone. Today, AGRU is represented by sales partners in more than 100 countries. Moreover, AGRU will continue to expand its market share and explore new markets in the years to come. These successful internationalization efforts promise to reinforce the company’s position as a true global enterprise with unlimited growth potential.