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In this interview, Managing Director of Hoffmann Minerals, Manfred Hoffmann, looks back at 12 decades of eventful company history and discusses the issue of mining. Now in its fourth generation, the family business exemplifies the international success and versatility of Neuburg Siliceous Earth
Q. 120 years of Neuburg Siliceous Earth – how do you explain your company’s success story?
A. The history of using silica goes back much further than 120 years. The ancient Romans already used it because of its refractory properties. Modern times associate the history of siliceous earth above all with the colour ultramarine blue, which was first produced in the 19th century using siliceous earth or kaolin. It was not until 1903, when interest in Neuburg Siliceous Earth as an ingredient in metal polishes increased, that my great-grandfather Franz Hoffmann started to extract, process and sell this special raw material. The fact that this success story continues to this day is due, above all, to its versatility. As early as the 1920s, my grandfather and his brother became the second generation to enter the rubber industry and Neuburg Siliceous Earth still continues to prove its strengths in a range of modern elastomers – for example, rubber profiles and seals.
"Neuburg Siliceous Earth is almost 100 million years old, so our company history is just the blink of an eye. Nevertheless, we are proud of all that we have achieved in four generations, and I look forward to being able to contribute for a few more years."
Q. Where does Hoffmann Mineral stand today?
A. With the areas of application mentioned as well as new ones, above all as a filler in the production of paints and varnishes. Hoffmann Mineral has succeeded in maintaining its position over the decades and in the face of all historical challenges. As a result of constant technological development and qualitative advantages, since the early 1970s, we have been the only remaining one of several producers of Neuburg Siliceous Earth. Over the years, my great-grandfather’s ambitious idea has grown into a group of companies, including not least the German market leader and globally strong brand manufacturer of car care products, SONAX. Today, Hoffmann Mineral supplies innovative products to industrial customers in more than 100 countries.
Q. Have you faced any challenges in recent times?
A. Neuburg Siliceous Earth impresses in several important applications due to its composition, which is unique in the world. With a maximum kaolinite content of 30%, but predominantly fine silica particles, it clearly differs from pure kaolin. Nevertheless, with such an outstanding product, we, too, must face challenges from time to time. In recent years, these have been primarily the demanding conditions for raw material exploitation in Germany. Production costs and conditions are increasingly placing greater pressure on international competition.
Q. Speaking of conditions: Surface mining generally does not enjoy the best reputation. What about the sustainability of Neuburg Siliceous Earth?
A. The issue of environmental protection is inextricably linked to our work. We have been dealing with the effects of mining Neuburg Siliceous Earth not only since terms like ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ became an inescapable corporate image factor. As early as the 1960s, under the direction of my father, work began on backfilling and naturalising mined-out open-cast pits. Since then, when planning new open-cast mines, reintegration into nature has been included in the long-term planning from the very beginning. In this way, valuable biotopes are created. After the extraction process, we leave behind areas that, after only a few years, hardly even hint at the harsh interventions that have taken place. Every year I conduct guided tours for the public and can therefore claim, based on the positive response, that we do not have to hide our open-cast mines but can be proud of them.
Q. What are the prospects for the future of this family business?
A. Neuburg Siliceous Earth is almost 100 million years old, so our company history is just the blink of an eye. Nevertheless, we are proud of all that we have achieved in four generations, and I look forward to being able to contribute for a few more years. I would like my two children to continue writing the story one day. They are currently still working in other companies to qualify for this.