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A Flender success story that begins in India 25 years ago

 In 1996 Flender founded the Software Engineering Office (SEO) in Chennai. It was the starting shot for an ongoing success story in global co-operation between Flender locations. Read here how it developed, from eight young Indian engineers coming to Germany in January 96 to a more than 130-people-strong engineering hub today.

Anecdotes abound, Eduard Mensing and Sivakumar Valavala don’t even have to think twice. "In the beginning, we had satellite dishes on the roof to send the data back and forth," Mensing recalls. "That came a bit later. In the early days, we always sent the drawings from India to Germany by courier on Fridays," Sivakumar says.

"In the early days", that was 1996. The Internet was still in its infancy; no one thought of files stored in a Cloud that could be accessed from anywhere in the world. It was the year Flender founded the Software Engineering Office (SEO) in Madras, known today as Chennai. Today, 25 years later, the SEO is a success story in global co-operation between Flender locations.

Sivakumar, who has been with the SEO as a Development Engineer for many years was among the first employees and manages the Engineering Office today. Together with Eduard Mensing, who is today heading the department for Standards and Technical Documentation, he fondly remembers the developments over the 25 years: "What stands out for me is the freedom that I had in working, learning and contributing. I believe this is true for most of the others, too. The constant exchange with the German plants and the trips to participate in training courses and projects in Germany are crucial for the growth of the SEO and its engineers. Bocholt is like a second home to me."

Indian Engineering Office as support for design offices in German plants

In the mid-90s, Flender was seeking support for the design offices in the German plants. Customer orders and development projects were to be processed faster and Flender’s competitiveness ensured. "In the past, due to capacity and cost constraints, important sales-support aids could not be established in time. This has to be improved as soon as possible," wrote Dr.-Ing. Johannes Schmeink in Flender’s company magazine, who was then the Head of Development, Branch Centres and Order Design. He was asked by the then Member of the Management Board Dr.-Ing. Heinz Benthake to set up an engineering office in India.

Group picture in 1997: SEO-team with Dr. Johannes Schmeink (5th from right) and Franz Schmeink (4th from left). Inian Idumban Chidambaranathan (left), Srivathsan Venkatachari (3rd from left.), Sekaran Nadesan (2nd from right), Gnanasekaran Varathan (3rd from right), Sajitha Mishra (4th from right) are still part of the SEO today.

Eight young Indian engineers set off for Germany in January 1996 to spend six months in Bocholt and Tübingen preparing for their new tasks. It was an exciting time at Flender in Bocholt that started with a cold reception – but only from the elements. Since they had arrived wearing only light summer clothes, the new Flenderites felt so cold when the welcoming photo was taken in front of the main building that Dr. Schmeink invited them to buy coats together. It was also the first time they saw snow. But after some “downfalls” also snowy ways weren’t a problem anymore.
The team in Chennai began its work in August 1996. They worked in shifts at five CAD workstations to produce individual part drawings for planetary, worm and extruder gear units; they examined mounting parts for Flender gear-unit drives (FZG) and designed welded housings for the FZG series. Then there was drawing work for the MOTOX geared motors, which were part of the Flender portfolio at that time. Each employee in Chennai was paired with an employee in Germany. Thanks to satellite dishes and the soon-to-be-available Flender Corporate Network, they were able to resolve questions quickly. Besides Sivakumar Valavala who joined the team along with other colleagues in the course of the year, Maharajan Petchiappan (FLE IN AP&CS-EX), Inian Idumban Chidambaranathan (FLE IN EN IGP) and SureshKumar Pitchailingam (FLE IN EN IGD) have also been on board since 1996 and are still part of the SEO.

"The output can only ever be as good as the input."

Franz Schmeink is someone who has been involved in SEO since the early days. The Product Developer and Technology & Key Expert for "Gear Components" co-ordinated the launch of the office and worked with his Indian colleagues in Chennai for three months near the end of 1996. "That was a wonderful time. There was a spirit of optimism, we had a lot of fun, despite or perhaps because of the communication problems that still existed at the beginning," he recalls.

Franz Schmeink (centre) in 1996 with his Indian colleagues in the first office of the SEO, which was then called Flender CAD Office Madras..

It was not just the language barrier and the great distance that occasionally made it a bumpy road for the SEO. "We had to go through learning curves in many places to get to where we are today. This is true not only for our colleagues in India but also for us in the German plants. The output can only ever be as good as the input," says Schmeink. A lot of work, communication and mutual understanding are still needed to keep the SEO a success story.

Today, the SEO is the workplace for over a hundred Indian colleagues. The small office in Chennai City has grown into a large development department at the Flender site outside Chennai. Product developments and contract designs for all product areas worldwide now originate from Chennai.

Inian Idumban Chidambaranathan (3rd from left), SureshKumar Pitchailingam (4th from left) and Maharajan Petchiappan (right) together with their 5 colleagues who formed the first SEO team in 1996 at a CAD training course in Germany..

The SEO has become an integral part of product development

“With regular knowledge transfer from Germany to augment the competence level, apart from the regular support to HQ on projects, SEO is today working parallely on development works along with our German colleagues. This has been made possible by the unflinching trust and confidence from the Flender management on this team. Also the relationship developed in the last 25 years between the SEO team members and German colleagues has gone beyond professional life by having personal bonding with each other families and continues even after retirement,” says Maharajan Petchiappan, who led the SEO for more than 10 years.

"The SEO has undergone a very positive development over the years. In addition to their co-operation on order designs, the colleagues have grown into valuable, permanent team members for new product developments. The product development without the SEO as a team member is now inconceivable," says Frank Kretschmann, Head of Product Line Management of Business Line Applications. Andreas Klein, Head of Winergy Engineering, agrees. However, he also recognises that there is still room for development. "The SEO has become an integral part of our development projects in recent years. The nature of the tasks is becoming increasingly diverse. However, there is still a way to go before we can consider the SEO a full development site on an equal footing."

The SEO in Chennai: a German-Indian success story of which Flender can be proud of. Its father, Dr.-Ing. Hans Schmeink, foresaw this as early as 1996 in the Flender company magazine: "Hence, by including the important field of design and construction, the Flender Group has entered the next stage of their internalization."