The small German town of Pirmasens is perhaps most famous for its connections with the footwear industry. Elements of this famous connection still exist but it clear to see that the industry in the town is not what it used to be. However, the local connection to the footwear industry has led to a number of small engineering companies surviving the demise of the shoe business. This includes leather perforating, cutting and embossing machinery makers, Ring Maschinenbau.

Approximately half of Ring’s output is for the leather industry with the family owned business specialising in manufacturing leather perforating and embossing machines, mostly for the upholstery leather sector. Customers include a number of the major leather producers such as GSL, Seton and Eagle Ottawa. ‘Our strength is with the manufacturers of technical and automotive upholstery leather. We have hundreds of different designs and patterns for perforating on to materials such as leather and textiles, giving our customers the option of tailor making their own style’, Andreas Ring, managing director, told Leather International.

Most of Ring’s machinery is used for upholstery leather applications although they also have a market with upper and garment leather tanners. Last year Ring introduced their ST550, ST650 and ST850 series of perforating machines for leather. The machines come in a range of working widths which depend on the type of material that requires perforation. ‘Most of our machines are tailor-made for the customer’s end use. The customer can choose from many perforation patterns or choose their own’, says Andreas Ring.

Ring’s latest 3.4m machine is capable of making 1,200 perforations per minute on through feed materials such as textiles. For leather the fastest perforation rate is closer to 300-600 holes per minute depending on the material being passed through.

Each new design is produced on a small scale by Ring before a sample is shown to the customer. Often the tanner then shows the sample effect of the design to their customer, an OEM automotive manufacturer for example, and only then is a full perforating plate produced.

A global operation

For Ring, 90% of what they produce for the leather industry is exported. To cope with the needs of supplying a global market the company have established several subsidiaries in the USA, Brazil and in the Eastern European country Slovakia. ‘We have been established in Brazil for the past five years with a sales office and at the end of last year we finally established a small plant in China’, Andreas Ring said.

In addition to the central manufacturing site in Germany, Ring have also established an assembly plant in the Slovakian town of Parti, 80km east of Bratislava. Also for the past ten years they have had a small production operation in the USA which has served the large upholstery manufacturers in the US and Mexico. ‘In the past 60% of our business has been in North America’, says Ring, ‘We now believe that the growth areas are in China and Eastern Europe and we have made large investments to become established close to those markets’, he added. Ring also have a sales office in Italy.

Perforation methods

According to Andreas Ring there are two major ways of producing a perforated effect on leather. The most common method uses punch needles. This method is more costly but it produces a cleaner punched hole and is more durable. Manufacturers that perforate higher volumes, such as upholstery tanners, would be advised to use punch needles.

The other method is to use a series of tiny pipes to make the perforating pattern. Although this method is cheaper, the punched hole is not as clean as with the needle method and the pipe’s life span is less than that of a needle. This method is recommended for smaller batch sizes where the perforation does not need to be 100% clean.

Precision engineering

Ring were founded approximately 60 years ago. Brothers Andreas, production director, and Matthias, sales and marketing director, are the latest generation of the Ring family to control the business. Ring have approximately 100 staff with 60 located at the main workshop in Germany. Outside the leather industry the business has a strong link to textiles which use similar technology but on a more uniform continuous throughfeed basis. Ring manufacture around 100 machines a year.

Apart from a few items such as the motors, virtually all the machine components are manufactured on site in Pirmasens. The production and assembly units are located in two buildings.

Components are made using a mixture of precision hand tooling and automatic computer controlled equipment. Each piece has to be cut and tooled to fit together like a jigsaw. Ring have invested in an automatic laser guided machine to produce the most complex designs.

In addition to the existing premises, Ring have also built a contract perforating unit for customers who do not wish to invest in a completely new machine. Leather and textile batches are sent to Ring where they are perforated and shipped back to the customer.