On the sunny side of innovation
Engineering from Reutlingen
Schiller Automation: On the sunny side of innovation
German text by Ulrich Schreyer Sept. 20th, 2019 - 11:08
Reinventing oneself again and again – that’s the recipe of SCHILLER AUTOMATION, a mechanical engineering company from the Swabian Alb. In the past, production was carried out for solar cell manufacturers or the producers of CDs. Today, however, industries have changed and today’s customers are such as car suppliers or medical technology companies.
An employee from SCHILLER works on an automation system (photo).
Reutlingen - In the Swabian Alb it is usually a bit colder than in the city of Reutlingen close by. Just alike, SCHILLER AUTOMATION GmbH from the Swabian Alb village Genkingen has been exposed to quite a few rough winds in history.
That is probably why the managing partner Stefan Schiller says today: “We work for diverse industries. That is important.” - and with this statement, he makes a difference from earlier days.
Today, automotive suppliers are the company's most important customers. Machines and systems for automation technology are manufactured for these. For example, for the production of sensors that measure distances. "Sensors are also needed for autonomous driving," says Schiller, "regardless of whether it is a car with an electric drive or an internal combustion engine."
SCHILLER AUTOMATION benefits from electromobility
The machines and plants from the Swabian Alb assemble, weld, glue, screw - and they can also assemble a complete battery from individual battery cells. The company is not only involved in the trend towards electromobility, but also when solar or wind energy is to be stored.
With automation systems for the production of LED lighting, the company sees itself in another growth market. "Automation is the only way for industry to produce large series cost-efficiently," says Schiller. His company delivers systems for others and furthermore assembles individual parts for customers as a contract manufacturer.
After a customer’s visit, the 160 employees often face new challenges. For example, we have a request from a car supplier or a customer from the medical technology sector which has developed a new device or a new sensor and wants to bring it on the market. And then we’re asked if we can build a machine for it.” Says managing partner Stefan Schiller. “with us there is almost never anything off the peg.”
Export share of 30 to 50 percent
It is similar with customers from the lighting and laser technology, for example for the production of systems for the manufacturing of LEDs or for automation systems for the production of batteries. A first order from a medical technology company is currently being processed. The most important market for SCHILLER is Europe, but they also do exports to the USA or China.
Depending on the respective orders, the export share is between 30 and 50 percent of sales. Of course, SCHILLER also sees the global economic risks, but the protectionist aspirations of, for example, US President Donald Trump hardly scare him: “The American industry must also automate if it wants to remain competitive.”
But although the company sells its machines and systems around the world, a certain amount of down-to-earthness is important in Sonnenbühl. For Stefan Schiller, this is also evident in the way he deals with employees, for whom there are various options for flexibility in terms of time, depending on their phase of life. The employees come from the Swabian Alb, but also from the cities of Reutlingen and Tübingen: “The employees who drive up to us are not stuck in traffic, like employees who have to drive down to companies in Reutlingen in the morning”, says Schiller. He cannot complain about a shortage of specialists, but there are vacancies in the IT. Sometimes, problems can arise when someone is supposed to go abroad for a long time: “Among employees, the desire to travel is no longer regarded as great as it used to be. Today you can go anywhere with a cheap flight”.
Customers are more diverse today than they used to be
In the past, the circle of customers was not as diverse as it is today – it was the case twice that the company had to search almost completely for new markets. Ten years ago, Sonnenbühl was on the sunny side - with systems for the production of solar cells. These generated three quarters of sales - but then the market collapsed. However, this was not the first setback. Even before the year 2000, SCHILLER AUTOMATION was supposed to be in a growth market - with machines for the production of CDs, DVDs or displays. However, this business declined due to falling demand for CDs and was given up in 2013.
But now the sun is obviously smiling again at the automation specialist from Sonnenbühl. "We are stable and solid on track," says Schiller. Sales are expected to increase from 24 million euros to more than 30 million euros this year. The company, founded by Sieghard Schiller in a garage in Sonnenbühl-Genkingen in 1978, was not only turned upside down twice - it is also an example of the structural change in the region: After an interlude in Reutlingen, the company founder was able to buy the building of the former knitting company “Drei Kirschen” (“three cherries”) in 1985. There is little left of the textile industry in the Swabian Alb - instead, it’s automation technology that creates jobs, now.