From the Humble Electric Fence
During the Second World War, in 1942, Paul Kolb patents an electric fence device supplied with electricity from the mains network. Immediately after the war, he founds AKO - the abbreviation for “Apparatebau Paul Kolb” - in Eisenharz in the Allgäu region. The company produces fence devices for fields and achieves strong sales in Allgäu - a center of agriculture. Incidentally, the name is a marketing trick: Paul Kolb later revealed that he wanted his company to appear at the front in the telephone directory.
Development from Abroad
In October 1945, the victorious power Great Britain brings Paul Kolb to England so that the country can benefit from the engineering expertise on high-altitude and jet engines he had gained during the war. From abroad, the company founder continues to develop AKO. He sends hundreds of letters and technical drawings to the company by post from England. In Germany, Hans Sobez and Paul’s brother Anton Kolb, who returns from a prisoner-of-war camp in 1946, carry out the instructions.
Return to Germany
On August 1, 1947, the company is entered into the Commercial Register. In 1950, AKO moves to new premises in Kißlegg. Four years later, Paul Kolb, his wife and their two-year-old son Peter return from England to the Allgäu. At that time, AKO already has 20 employees and generates annual sales of one million D-Marks.
Expansion of the Product Portfolio
The 1950s are a time of growth, and AKO expands its product range. In 1955, the company starts producing heaters and infrared radiators – an ideal addition to the fences which sell mainly during the summer. Employees who had previously worked seasonally now manufacture heaters in the winter.
The third pillar of the business, and still a key area for Diehl Controls today, comes along in 1956: the electric control system for the first automatic washing machine, the AEG-LAVAMAT. The “AKO brain” for washing machines is a pioneering technological achievement. It is developed in close cooperation with the customer. This is an approach which still helps guarantee the success of Diehl Controls today.
New Location: Wangen
The various business fields develop so well that additional production space is needed by the end of the 1950s. In 1962, AKO builds a new plant in Wangen. The two locations operate relatively independently. Kißlegg is devoted to “hot” products - electrical devices, fence devices, and later radiator heating for glass-ceramic hobs. Wangen is responsible for “cold” products, i.e. control and regulation systems for household appliances.
The AKO Family
The first staff magazine in 1962 is named “The AKO family”. The name is apt, because AKO takes care of its employees much more than other companies. Apart from the normal social benefits, the company offers “AKO Hilfe”, a support program for employees in need through no fault of their own, as well as an extensive library.
The Next Generation Steps Up
In 1967, the Wangen location alone already has 700 employees. Consequently, Wangen becomes the corporate headquarters one year later. At this time, the milestone of DM 25 million in annual sales has already been exceeded. The partnership with AEG is consolidated when the large company acquires a 51 percent share in AKO. Also in 1968, AKO sets up an electronics department.
Peter Kolb joins the company in 1978. He becomes Co-Managing Director along with his father in 1984.
Return to Family Ownership
In 1980, the first fully electronic washing machine with an “AKO brain” goes into volume production. Starting in the early 1980s, the company invests heavily in additional buildings, production facilities and state-of-the-art production plants. In 1981, some 1,100 employees generate sales of DM 100 million.
During structural changes at AEG-Telefunken in 1982, Paul Kolb grasps the opportunity to buy back the AEG shares. This puts AKO back into full family ownership. It also makes it possible to cooperate with other white goods manufacturers.
Largest Employer in the Wangen Region
Within five years, the number of employees increases by 50 percent and sales expand by 80 percent. AKO becomes the largest employer in the Wangen region. In order to meet growing demand, multiple shifts, round-the-clock production, and weekend work are necessary. At the end of the 1980s, demand for electronic control systems for washing machines surges. AKO recognizes this trend quickly, and invests heavily here, as well as expanding its electronics competence.
Structural Change in the Household Appliances Industry
Paul Kolb passes away in 1993, his son Peter becomes the sole CEO. The first signs of structural change in the household appliances industry appear from the mid-1990s. In terms of technology, there is an increasing trend away from mechanics toward electronics. Furthermore, growing globalization takes hold. A consolidation process in the white goods manufacturing industry also affects component and system suppliers. Traditional brands disappear, new players from all over the world emerge, supply chains and markets become ever more international. All this is accompanied by massively falling prices, which impacts on the entire value-creation chain in the industry.
Diehl Group as a Strong Partner
The long-established AKO company has to react to the challenges it faces. The company finds a strong partner in the Nuremberg-based Diehl Group which emphasizes long-term planning - especially for its German locations. At the turn of the year 1994/1995, AKO finally joins the Diehl family.
A family-owned company, Diehl is the ideal choice because it has vast experience with the relevant markets and products. This ensures it can offer the best prospects for a long-term strengthening of the business. During the merger of the two companies, Diehl takes a key decision: The AKO team with its technical know-how and established structures under the current management will be retained and given full support from Nuremberg.
Diehl Controls Goes Global
The new strategic direction also means a more international approach. To remain competitive in a global economy, Diehl Controls must grow beyond Germany. This is why, starting in 1998, the company establishes locations in Poland, China, and Mexico that are still important cornerstones today. Simultaneously, major investments strengthen the traditional base in Wangen. This ensures that part of production remains in Germany to this day.
The Appliances Division has always been the most important core business of Diehl Controls. Since 2005, the company has been successively expanding its activities to new, futureproof business fields, for example smart-home technologies for intelligent connectivity and multi-system control of building technology. Diehl Controls remains active on related technology markets. Here, it supplies electronics and modules from the five fields of its technology portfolio - control panels, networking, motor controls, power modules, and operating modules.
Factory of the Year 2015
In recognition of the continuous improvement of all processes - from development to supply chain to production - and the permanent increase in production automation, Diehl Controls receives the Factory of the Year 2015 award from business consultancy A. T. Kearney and the trade magazine “Produktion”. As the overall winner of this renowned benchmark competition in the industry, Diehl Controls ranks on a level with famous names and past winners such as Siemens, Volkswagen, Bosch, and Porsche.
Explaining their decision, the jury composed of leading representatives of industry and research emphasizes that Diehl Controls at the Wangen location optimizes the core process of circuit board assembly in all dimensions, achieves an especially high automation level, and has implemented a continuous improvement process. The jury also notes that production is highly efficient yet extremely flexible, and the overall plant performance reaches a consistently high level.
The End of an Era
After more than 15 years at the helm of Diehl Controls, Business Unit CEO Dieter Neugebauer leaves the company on December 31, 2016 and goes into retirement. Since 2001, Dieter Neugebauer makes a key contribution to the development of Diehl Controls. During his tenure, he succeeds in further strengthening the company’s competitiveness in Germany and in greatly advancing its internationalization. Apart from shaping its structures, Dieter Neugebauer always maintains a focus on early development of the product portfolio.
His successor as spokesman of the Business Unit Managing Board is Dr. Michael Siedentop. He directs the company together with Josef Fellner, a further member of the Managing Board. Dr. Michael Siedentop’s goal is to continue developing Diehl Controls to accomplish both current and future challenges, for example the digital transformation.