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Magazine7 Min

Global reach and local expertise

1904: We supply our first rolling mill to China

In 1904, an unusual order was received in Dahlbruch, Germany: The Hanyang Iron & Steel Works, based near Shanghai, put in a request for a blooming mill. While the order itself might not sound so spectacular today, back then it’s hard to imagine how a Chinese company, located more than 10,000 kilometers away, would have even heard of a German rolling mill builder - not to mention the logistical and cultural challenges this project would involve. For instance, how did the two companies manage to communicate with each other? Did employees from the Siegerland region accompany the transport to China or assemble the plant on site? Unfortunately, the answers to these questions remains unknown. What we do know, however, is that the 2-high reversing mill that was delivered remained in operation until the mid-1960s and established our long-standing, excellent reputation in China.

It was eight years earlier, in 1896, which marked SMS’ initial steps abroad with the opening of our first international office and production facilities in Riga, which at the time was still a part of the Russian Empire. This initial venture, however, proved costly, as in 1904 the factory burned down. While it was immediately rebuilt, the machines were eventually lost for good during the First World War. In the decades that followed, sales, design and order handling were almost exclusively carried out from Germany. Nevertheless, international influences proved crucial in the company’s ongoing growth and success. For example in the 1950s, SMS’ then owner, Bernhard Weiss, recognized some of the technical superiorities of American companies within the industry. He then concluded license agreements with American rolling mill builders, in order to benefit from their know-how, particularly in the area of flat rolling, and was able to take a competitive advantage over the local German competition. At the same time, the license partners benefited from improvements made by our engineers, making this a win-win.

Workshop of our predecessor company Maschinenfabrik Klein in Riga (around 1900)
Mechanical workshop at Riga (around 1900)
SMS engineers at the office of United Engineering and Foundry Co. during the cooperation with US company (1960).
The results of this cooperation still be found today on many plants...
... like the hot strip mill of Salzgitter Flachstahl, which is in operation since 1963.
The Morgan-Siemag wire rod mill stands of Société Metallurgique de Normandie (SMN), France were a result of the license agreement with Morgan Construction Co. which started in 1958.

1970s: First steps towards a global organization

As the business grew and became more and more international from the 1970s onwards, SMS decided to build a local presence across major global markets, starting in The USA. With Schloemann having already established an office in Pittsburgh at the end of the 1920s, the city also became the headquarters of the American SMS company in the 1980s. At the beginning of the 2000s, the company took over Millcraft, laying the foundation for our extensive service business in the USA. 

The moves to India and China followed in the 1990s. Here, SMS initially often entered into joint ventures with local companies in order to gain a foothold in these markets. The beginnings were modest in some cases: SMS India, for example, started in 1994 with thirteen employees. In other key markets, such as Italy, SMS established itself mainly through acquisitions. The roots of our two most important sites in Tarcento and Milan, for example, lie in long-established companies such as S.I.M.A.C., Innocenti and Innse.

Humble beginnings in the US: our workshop in in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.
Inauguration of the Pittsburgh office in 1994.
100, Sandusky Street in Pittsburgh has been our U.S. headquarters since the 1990s.
Our service workshop in Vespasiano (Brasil) was established by Mannesmann Demag (1980s)
SMS group Liasion Office in Beijing (1994)
It is not always easy to keep track of the various companies...
Design engineers at INNSE, Milan 1972.
Our location in Tarcento was established by S.I.M.A.C (Società Italiana Macchine Attrezzature Carpenterie) and is one of the roots of our strong presence in Italy (2001).

Today: Global collaboration

Today, more than a century after the extraordinary order from Shanghai, SMS is a globally positioned company with around 100 offices and workshops in 30 countries. Six out of ten employees are based outside Germany - with India, China and the USA leading the way. This international presence is also reflected in sales. In 2022, almost 70% of sales were generated outside Europe. 

The days when project planning, engineering and order handling were carried out from Germany alone are long gone. Today, SMS has changed its organization entirely to customer proximity and local competencies. The five regions - Americas, Europe, China, Italy/Middle East/Africa, and India/Asia Pacific - are responsible for sales, order handling and services in their respective countries. This puts us close to our customers to create value for them and develop opportunities for growth.

Our colleagues in the regions are supported by our global CoEs (Centers of Excellence) for Products and for Services as well as the CoEs for Implementation and Supply Chain. The CoEs pool know-how and expertise in their respective areas, such as metallurgy, long products, electrics and automation, or digitalization, which enables us to develop the best solutions for our customers. The CoEs have also developed an international set-up. For example, the experts for flat rolling mills are no longer just based in Hilchenbach but also in Pittsburgh, Gurugram, Wuhan and Milan. 

In recent years, this development has not only changed our collaboration, it has also changed the way we communicate with each other. It is therefore logical that SMS communicates internally mainly in English - a common language helps us to work internationally towards a common goal: to be the right lifecycle partner for demanding projects.

Team members at Belo Horizonte (Brasil).
SMS group colleagues from Pittsburgh (USA).
Colleagues of SMS just outside our Indian headquarters in Gurugram.
Apprentices in Mönchengladbach (Germany).
SMS experts in our office in Beijing (China).
Workshop team in the US.
Digital specialists of SMS digital in Brasil.
Workshop team of SMS India at Khordha / Bhubaneswar.

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