Our customers can also view our machines virtually
In the world of engineering, TOS VARNSDORF a.s. is famous as a specialist in machined items and components larger than one cubic metre. The company integrates production, sales and servicing of machine tools and equipment into its operations. Drawing on both extensive expertise and tradition – the company has been on the market for 117 years. Our technicians currently cannot visit customers directly, so we have shifted presentation of our large machines online. “We have devised a revolutionary new way of inspecting all our machines virtually, in all sizes, equipment level and technological accessories,” says Director of Sales Miloš Holakovský.
The economy and industry are experiencing a tough time right now. How has the current coronavirus crisis affected how you operate, supply and produce?
Before I answer that question, a few important facts should be mentioned. TOS VARNSDORF a.s. is a pro-export-based company which manufactures over a hundred machines per year, and 85% of total production is exported. It takes 4 to 12 months to make a machine, depending on its size, and then the machine is partially dismantled and sent to the customer. It is then installed over a period of 3 to 8 weeks. The coronavirus crisis has impacted this process significantly. For one thing, we have very limited opportunity to visit clients for business meetings to gain new orders, customers cannot come to us for machine handover procedures, and we also face significant problems in sending our fitters to customers to assemble the machines. And then there are the approximately one thousand machines manufactured and supplied over the past 10 years, which naturally require a servicing intervention from time to time. In our case then, the greatest threat to our operations is the restriction or very limited possibility to travel throughout the world.
At the very start of the coronavirus crisis, to eliminate these obstacles to communication, we equipped our videoconferencing room with state-of-the-art technology. From this room, we do all our communication with our customers, sales personnel and subsidiaries throughout the world. We have also started using videoconferencing to conduct handover procedures for machines. The customer does not have to go anywhere, and we create the same convenience in the handover procedure as if they are at the machine themselves. This means the handover procedure has been well received by the customers, too – they don’t lose time associated with travelling, and they can view and check the ordered machine from the comfort of their own office. Currently our subsidiaries in the key territories of the USA, Russia and China are helping out with machine assembly at the customer. In other territories, our fitters have to be tested for coronavirus, and there are places where they have to spend fourteen days in quarantine. We have actively sought out ways so that we don’t stop communicating with the customer, but the slowdown in industrial production will impact our results too. We definitely won’t achieve our planned targets.
As you yourself mentioned, many things have gone online. You often exhibit at trade fairs, which are currently not being held. But your company had a virtual stand. What is the concept behind your presentation? And what has the customer reaction been?
In 2020, we were planning to participate at trade fairs in China, Russia and Brno. All trade fairs have been cancelled. As a result, we seized our opportunity and registered for the “Virtual Engineering Trade Fair”, which ran all week. I know that this form of trade fair is just in its beginnings, and both exhibitors and visitors will have to get used to it. We were very disappointed with the number of visitors to this trade fair. But it was just the first, and I hope that both sides will come to accept this form of exhibition.
Do you see solutions like online trade fairs as an option for the future? Should they be repeated? What new features have you introduced or tried out as a result of the current situation?
Just as webinars took off, over time virtual trade fairs will definitely come to be accepted. Regardless of the development of webinars and trade fairs, TOS VARNSDORF has devised a revolutionary new feature for customers, which is being able to view all our machine models virtually, in all sizes, with equipment level and technological accessories. The customer moves around a virtual manufacturing hall where they can see the machine from all sides and use POI (Point of Interest) buttons to get all the technical and technological information about the given machine. Using mobile equipment, we can position the machine in the selected configuration virtually in the real space of the customer’s manufacturing hall. We believe this will be the trend of the future – hard copy catalogues will soon be a thing of the past.
How are investments in your company progressing at this challenging time? What technologies, machines or other new items have you purchased, and how have your manufacturing options improved as a result?
We are attempting to locate our most modern machines directly in production. This leaves a positive impression on customers, who can see that we manufacture our machines on our own machines. Without a doubt, the greatest addition to our manufacturing operations has been the two machining centres WHT 110 and WHT 130. These are pallet machining centres with a carousel turning station. The third machine we have added to the machine base is the best-selling WHN 13/15. Over recent years, we have invested an average of 80 million crowns a year in the manufacturing base.
Getting orders in engineering is generally demanding and often a long-term matter. Which strategies have worked for you?
The best strategy is a satisfied customer who gives positive references. But the road to a satisfied customer is long. It consists of many pieces of a jigsaw and the efforts of all our staff. You have to have a technically and technologically balanced product which can satisfy the customer’s needs at a corresponding market price. You also need a network of salesmen, skilled fitters and servicing personnel with sales and technical abilities, and naturally you have to make sure that spare parts are available at a moment’s notice. You have to support these activities with targeted marketing. But in my opinion, the most critical component is after sales service, where the customer expects that the machine will make money for them, and if there are any faults, that we will restore the machine to production very quickly. For this reason, our goal is long-term partnership and satisfied customers.
The SPŠ TOS VARNSDORF school is linked to your company. The school building recently won the Building of the Year 2020 award. That must have been very satisfying. Why did it gain the award?
As investor in the building for the Industrial Secondary School, our company entered the design in the competition “Building of the Year 2020”, which is held every year by the Foundation for the Development of Architecture and Construction. On 3 August 2020, a five-member jury of the 28th annual competition headed by the Chairman, Ing. Arch. Jan Vraný, came to inspect the school building. After the inspection, where the jury expressed great appreciation, the jury shortlisted the school out of 84 buildings entered in the competition. During the official ceremony for titles and special awards at the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, our school won the Award of the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Czech Republic. Our school thus received an important award, and even just being nominated is very significant, because it is the Czech architecture version of an Oscar.
How many students does the school have today? And do its school leavers help you fill vacant positions?
The school was created to resolve the current problem of a lack of qualified workers in our field in the Šluknov region. The school has excellent educational conditions. The metrology, mechatronics, electrical engineering and IT classrooms have state-of-the-art equipment. Last year, the school celebrated its first five years since its opening. Today we have 150 students studying for a school-leaving or apprenticeship certificate. The school trains specialist workers for the company in production, technical and management fields. We welcomed eight school-leavers to our company after the end of the 2019/2020 academic year.
What do you think will be the main trends in engineering in the near future? And how are you preparing for them?
The decisive factor will be how the coronavirus pandemic is handled on a global scale, i.e. how soon we will have a vaccine and how many more waves of the pandemic there will be. Naturally, the market has cooled in our field of large machine tools, and investments have virtually ground to a halt. There is still demand for machines, but purchases are being delayed. This was the trend last year. I believe that in mid-2021 the market will see a significant revival.
What did you take with yourself into 2021? What are your wishes and visions?
We started the new year hoping that the pandemic would end as soon as possible so that we could all get back to normal.