Work with the best, learn from the best, be the best. This is one of the golden rules that the Schurter Group has been following to establish itself as a leading player in the manufacture and worldwide sale of electronic and electromechanical components, input systems and solutions. Their key to success? Steady growth, excellent customer support, investments in innovation and high productivity. All in a genuine, Swiss DNA, as Ralph Müller, CEO of the Group, explains in this interview
IEN Europe: How has Schurter adapted to the recent radical changes of the industrial panorama?
R. Müller: New trends like digitalization had a big impact on us and required a new approach to the development of our components. On the input system side, the switch from membrane keypads to touch panels was a big step forward. We’ve also recently opened two applications in sectors that are completely new, like the Automotive industry. We’ve started working in the Automotive sector 5 years ago and in 2017 we obtained the IATF 16949 certification for quality standard, but this remains a niche market for us. This is different for other sectors. For example, over the last 15 years the medical segment has been very important to us. Our objective is to become a supplier in this sector at 360 degrees, providing our customers with full service: We take care of the input systems, of the electronics, and we add the components.
As for digitalization and Industry 4.0, we have 22 companies and almost all of them run through SAP ERP system, our core system. One of our main targets is to have 100 % connection among all group companies.
If we really speak about digitalization, we have a huge potential, as we plan to digitalize and automate the order and shipping process for our customers. The idea is that when we receive an order from a customer, it is sent directly to our warehouse and then to our production site. We aim to achieve this within the next 2-3 years.
IEN Europe: What’s your commitment in terms of developing innovative solutions and in which direction are you heading now?
R. Müller: We are committed to having the best salespeople and project leaders working with us. Managing all our internal capabilities from different group companies harmoniously as a project and bringing together all our in-house expertise. That’s our biggest challenge.
My expectation is to achieve an exponential growth on the solution side for the next five years. We’ve started our Solution Business in Switzerland, now we want to expand it to the D-A-CH region and the rest of Europe. Possibly, in 10 years we’d like to export it to the US and Asia.
IEN Europe: Schurter Solution Business Unit has successfully celebrated 5 years. What’s the key to the success of this unit and what do you expect for the next 10 years?
R. Müller: When we had this idea, we understood that we had to start from scratch with new people in order to develop it. It wasn’t an impossible mission.: We already had a good customer base thanks to our long experience as electronic components manufacturer. I’ve always believed 100 % in the potential of this business and I really wanted to start it up.
So far, it has been part of the success of our figures, so this is the direction where we have and we want to go. But you always have to remember where you come from. We’re still a components manufacturer and if the solution business is successful, it has mainly to do with these 80 years of steady step-by-step growth and with the success of our historical products. This is still our backbone. That’s why we focus on components, input systems and solutions, but we can say that the Solution Business is like the conductor that gives the rhythm.
IEN Europe: Schurter has invested significantly in the use of robots in the production of all custom-made input systems. Can you tell us more about this choice?
R. Müller: The input system business is not a high-volume segment. We’re between small and mid-sized in terms of quantity, therefore one of our main targets is to have a flexible production site. Our core production sites for input system are in Germany, The Netherlands and Czech Republic.
These sites have a different profile. Germany is more for higher volumes, The Netherlands for mid-sized volumes and Czech Republic mainly for small volumes. This reflects the picture you could see in the different production lines. In Germany we implemented many semi-automatic processes, in The Netherlands just a few and in Czech Republic it’s mainly manual work. This means that we are much more flexible in Czech Republic than in Germany. We’ve started using collaboration robots [from Omron Ed.] in the assembly line in order to improve our production and it’s worked quite well so far. But we are still at the very beginning.
IEN Europe: The Schurter Group’s turnover registered a strong growth of 11.4 % in 2018. How can you reconcile Swiss high-quality product with competitiveness on the market?
R. Müller: It’s a big challenge to be a Swiss company. The labour cost is very high and we need to have experts and support for all group companies in house. This support is provided from Lucerne and being a Swiss highly productive company is in our DNA. That’s why we’ve increased the number of employees. We can’t imagine moving away from Switzerland. We implement cost-down programs and at the same time we invest a lot in new processes and machinery, also in our Eastern Europe or Chinese sites. We’ve always thought about streamline processes and number of employees. We are a small organization and we don’t have such a big hierarchy and the people are really involved in all processes. Around 500 employees are based in Switzerland and in total we have nearly 2100 employees all over the world.
I started in January 2015 with a turnover of 191 million with around 1400 employees. The last two-three years have been very positive. But the industry is always floating. The global overall demand resulted in a huge inquiry of orders and usually the global distributors are a bit overstocked. So we expect a little downturn on orders in the future, even though the figures remain positive.
These last few years, we’ve really focused on new sectors such as Automotive and Medical Equipment and we also took the risk of high-volume projects – which is unusual for the Schurter Group. We also made a ''hunting list'' for such prospects we’d really like to have as customers. The idea behind is: if you want to be successful you have to work with the best and learn from them to be ready to expand your business opportunities. It also has a positive effect on employees, as they are proud to work for big, inspiring clients.