After his first eight months as Managing Director at Schwank, we interviewed Prof. Dr.-Ing. Friedhelm Schlößer on his impressions of the company, the industry and current events and backdrops. Mr. Schlößer, who holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering, is responsible for development, manufacturing and purchasing at Schwank. Unruffled and objective as usual, he answers our questions in his office.
We: Professor Schlößer, after eight months in the company, you have clearly adjusted well at Schwank. What is your impression of the company up to now?
Prof. Schlößer: “Good” is almost understated. It really is fun to work in such an internationally engaged and absolutely successful medium-sized company. The work here is very familial and cooperative and far from any ineffective politics. One works with head, heart and hand, and the relationship with the colleagues in the sales force and with the international subsidiaries is friendly and effective.
We: At Schwank, there are currently many upcoming innovations and both the industry and the legal conditions that the company is dealing with are changing. Where do you see the company in three years?
Prof. Schlößer: Fortunately, since we have a significant influence on the future of our industry in the R&D area, I fortunately do not need a crystal ball to answer this question. Basically, it is important to make the core products of the company even more attractive to our customers. In this respect, we will consistently increase the performance, efficiency and reliability of our products and exceed regulatory requirements to the extent that our customers will enjoy using our products for many years to come. I think that we as market leaders owe it to our customers and to ourselves. In addition to the core business, our range of products and services will expand significantly. The demand from the market leader will be to perfectly master the repertoire of the HKL [heating, air conditioning, ventilation] and to offer system solutions. And this also amongst the aspects of an increasing share of regenerative energies.
We: What are the big challenges, which the company must face on the way to achieving its strategic objectives within this time period?
Prof. Schlößer: The challenge of offering optimal system solutions to our customers is already very high. It is important to master a balancing act here – on the one hand, to improve upon the existing products using ones wits and a lot of effort and at the same time to broaden the product range with the same competence. This includes increasing the importance of professional consultation in sales as well as extensive and high-quality training – both for our employees and for our customers. And so that it does not get boring, this of course also applies to our markets outside Germany. In some cases, completely different legal, technical and meteorological conditions apply, which we have to take into account, just like we do for our German domestic market.
We: The progressive digitalisation plays an increasingly important role in several industries. This is often accompanied by a change in the requirements that customers place on their suppliers. What changes will this trend bring with respect to customers of Schwank and how will Schwank face this change?
Prof. Schlößer: The influence of digitalisation is enormous. But not only since the topic of Industry 4.0 became a fashionable term. Our customers receive, for instance, all their proposals in a completely planned format even today, and tailored exactly to suit their individual needs – and in the shortest time, too. In most cases, this is done using information and data technology that incorporates our many years of practical experience. And only with the latter is digital technology becoming really good. On the other hand, our products are also becoming more digital. In addition to the internal control and regulation circuits, which help us to increase the efficiency of our products, our products communicate with each other via digital BUS systems as well as with the building management systems of our customers. The introduction of our new ERP system at the beginning of 2017 will also digitally improve the entire supply chain in the interests of our customers. We can also go “digital”.
We: You have also worked for renewable energy companies during your previous professional history. Now you work for a company whose product range is largely powered by gas. What changes do you expect with regard to the gas market and the industry of industrial air-conditioning technology?
Prof. Schlößer: I think I have managed to create some important experiences with renewable energy for our company. Firstly, with the introduction of products based on renewable energies. For example, I have worked for well-known companies like Vaillant and Buderus, whose products, similar to ours, are largely based on the combustion of gas. Even here, the topic was initially an uncomfortable one, especially since it was also outside our own field of experience. And today, solar use is absolute state-of-the-art both in the field of solar thermal energy and in the field of photovoltaics. The other area concerns my experiences in the field of wind power. A core topic is the storage of the generated energy. One possible way is to produce gas from unused wind power [wind gas] and to store it in the existing natural gas networks. Be it directly as hydrogen or methanated to CH4. This gives the gas industry and the gas appliance industry a real chance to become regenerative and to therefore remain sustainable beyond 2030. For us to be able to take advantage of this opportunity, an increased and effective cooperation in the national and international committees is also of existential importance apart from the solution of technical issues. But as Schwank, we are in a good position here as well.