Exclusive Interview: Milestone Instrumentation Technology Leadership Means Thinking about the Long Term
Since the company was founded in 1959, the signals have been continuously set to growth at Vega. Today, the company generates turnover of around 420 million euros. This is thanks to the fact that it has concentrated on two core technologies: level and pressure measurements. But it is in part also down to a very unique corporate culture.
Although Vega is not the biggest manufacturer of level and pressure measurement technology, it is large enough to be able to act quickly and efficiently. Every year the company from Schiltach manufactures 418,000 measuring instruments in 70,000 device variants for its customers. Although almost every device is tailor-made and customized for the particular application, for 80 percent of the units the time to delivery is just a few days. Here, it is not only the technology that contributes to the success, but in particular also the employees, as Vega CEO Günter Kech emphasizes.
PROCESS: Mr. Kech, Schiltach is right in the heart of the Black Forest. Is such an idyllic location more of an advantage or a disadvantage?
Kech: Our location offers advantages particularly in terms of the employees. The people here are incredibly hard-working, motivated and loyal. And that is important — after all, fault-free and reliable performance of the Vega measuring equipment is not only essential for the continued commercial success of our company, but the safety of people and the environment often also depends on it, e.g. in chemical processes or in water supplies. All of our employees are aware of this responsibility, and every day they do everything they can to meet it. In order to meet the growing demand for employees, we work together with universities and higher education institutions in our region and ensure that the young people are given the best possible training and education.
PROCESS: Keyword internationalization: Is Vega or — to be more specific — are the measuring instruments from Vega at home everywhere?
Kech: We manufacture primarily in Schiltach. However, 80 percent of the devices are used outside of Germany, on the oceans, at the Polar Circle, in America or in Asia. For this reason, we have our own agencies or branch offices in over 80 countries, and just recently we founded subsidiary companies in India, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico and Turkey.
PROCESS: If you look back over the past few years, how did Vega evolve into what is now one of the most important manufacturers of level and pressure measurement technology?
Kech: By concentrating specifically on these fields — level and pressure measurements. Or to put it differently, we concentrate on the things we are good at! Other factors certainly include the aspects of innovation, i.e. significant investments in development, and the development of foreign markets.
PROCESS: Apart from the technology, what else is important for the user?
Kech: Ultimately, in day-to-day use it is vital that technology is easy to handle and work with and that the user feels well looked after, i.e. that we quickly provide him/her with a good solution. Given the large number of applications and industries, the latter is of course not always easy. Every industry places very specific requirements on its measurement technology. Sometimes the devices need to be insusceptible to heat or to the cold, other times they need to be able to cope with aggressive substances or be able to withstand heavy vibrations. Here, we took a vast leap 16 years ago with the development of our Plics device platform, which allows us to satisfy varied and diverse customer requests quickly. Thanks to Plics, we can provide a unit for any application area that is perfectly tailored to the requirements — and this within the shortest possible space of time. The fact that, regardless of the particular model, the user interfaces on every device are the same — thanks to the Plicscom display and adjustment module — has also helped a lot with acceptance. This not only makes it easy to replace a unit or switch to a new measuring instrument, but it also facilitates the integration of modern technologies, such as the adjustment and commissioning of devices via Bluetooth.
PROCESS: Have there been any groundbreaking further developments within the measuring techniques?
Kech: We should definitely mention the radar level measuring equipment based on 80 GHz technology here, which has opened up applications that were previously not suitable for radar measuring technology. And we have by no means reached the limits of this technology, as it still has plenty of potential. It has really paid off that we have focused so clearly on radar technology in recent years. By now, we have perfected this technology to the point where it can compete against other measuring principles on cost. For example, it is now even an alternative to ultrasonic systems because it measures much more accurately, even under difficult ambient conditions.
PROCESS: Speaking of 80 GHz technology — how does a medium-sized company become the driving force behind such a leap in technology?
Kech: Through rigorous development work, based on the latest technical possibilities, with capable, motivated employees and the necessary investment in marketing and sales. In order to secure the technology leadership, one of the most important factors is long-term investment in our products and our brand. These include investments in a development department that has sufficient capacity not only to improve existing products and adapt them to the continually changing technical environment, but also to keep developing new ideas and new products. And there is something else that is really pivotal, because even the best devices will not sell themselves. It is important that we actually get the information about new devices and possibilities to the customers, i.e. we also need to understand the processes of our customers — and that demands a lot of know-how on the part of our employees. But there is another aspect as well — and this is what we understand as our Vega culture: Our employees enjoy the combination of lots of freedom with plenty of security at the same time. This leaves space for diverse and varied ideas to flourish.
PROCESS: Industry 4.0 and IIoT are the issues everyone is talking about. Which developments are being driven by Vega here?
Kech: When it comes to the topic of Industry 4.0, we follow our tried-and-tested strategy. If a good idea is on the table that offers long-term benefits, we simply implement it. One example of this is our Bluetooth interface so that users can use smartphones or tablets to adjust sensors and set them up wirelessly. This has really simplified the work for users, particularly if you think of the many sensors that are installed in Ex-proof areas or in extreme environments. We are currently working on vCare, a system that will enable predictive maintenance and reduce downtimes on production systems. Further devices and software are expected by the end of 2020. However, for every development it is decisive that ideas are thought through to the end, i.e. every development must offer clear added value and must be straightforward for the user.
PROCESS: How is level and pressure measurement technology going to develop over the next few years? Are you expecting any radical changes?
Kech: Everything in the world changes — as it always has done in the past. We want to continue to play a major role in shaping the changes in the field of level and pressure measurements.
PROCESS: Mr. Kech, thank you for taking the time to talk to us.