Using foresight to become the global market leader
BY CHRISTIAN PECHER
In addition to the well-known major brands, Germany also has brands of which we are barely aware and whose products surround us in our everyday lives. Many of these manufacturers are global market leaders, their portfolios often comprising many thousands of products. How do such companies position themselves in global competition with regards to digitalisation? What are sensible objectives and how can sector-specific requirements be integrated into solutions to exploit the current and future opportunities of digital channels? In our interview, Markus Panofen, Head of Online Marketing at locking system specialist EMKA, gives us an overview of his company’s digital strategy.
Mr Panofen, where can your products be found in everyday life?
Virtually every single switching and control cabinet contains our locking systems, hinges and sealings. This is our core business, this is where we are the global market leader and undoubtedly one of the many hidden champions among German medium-sized enterprises. However, EMKA has countless clients in the climate technology, systems construction and transport sectors as well. Most people walk past our products every single day, for example in the grey Deutsche Telekom distributor boxes located on virtually every street corner throughout Germany.
Throughout its history, your company has consistently expanded the depth of its manufacturing technique competencies. Why is this so important to you?
Our philosophy is to manufacture technically sophisticated products of the very highest quality. Coupled with our modular product portfolio, in-house, ‘Made in Europe’ production allows us to flexibly respond to special customer requests. The combination of quality and the greatest possible flexibility can only be achieved through our depth of production. This gives us a competitive edge that is valued by our clientele, particularly as our in-house production enables us to swiftly implement special requests. The fact that we offer quality and flexibility, while simultaneously creating and securing manufacturing jobs in Europe is not a matter-of-fact achievement in this day and age.
You develop and test your products in-house. What development stages do your products go through from the idea to the finished item?
We are heavily focused on in-house production and in-house development. Our technology centre is home to 30 engineers dedicated to developing new product ideas, which we then implement using our own mould and tool construction department. Needless to say, we are always there and the first port of call for our customers whenever developing new products is on the agenda. Our many patents confirm this.
Step-by-step, the stages are as follows: in our pre-development and design departments, we digitally create the foundations for prototyping, which results in initial prototypes – using 3-D printing, for instance. Once we get the green light from our trial and test lab, we create the initial samples, which are released for serial production following further testing stages – ultimately leading to serial manufacturing. As all of these steps take place in-house, we are considerably more flexible than our competitors and offer superior quality and shorter ‘time-to-market’ periods.
You provide your constructors with the CAD data for your products by means of a database. Why do you offer this service and what are the benefits for your customers?
We manufacture the classical EMKA products – locking systems, hinges and sealings – for industrial cabinet and housing constructors. As a supplier in this B2B sector, it is essential that we digitally prepare our products for our clients in such a way that they can seamlessly use the corresponding CAD data in their own development and construction divisions. For this reason, we offer our clientele CAD models that they can immediately deploy in their development and construction. The customers knows early on what products can be optimally integrated at which point.
In collaboration with The P.I.M. Company, you have set yourself the task of cataloguing your 15,000 products in a state-of-the-art PIM system. What was the starting position prior to commencing this project?
Before integrating the PIM systems, our product data was only available in ERP systems, while construction data and production drawings were stored in an additional database at our technology centre. The PIM system bundles the data from these systems and expands the datasets to include relevant product and relationship information.
What was the objective of the joint project?
The fundamental idea is to digitalise our entire product range. In addition to centralising all available product information, the correlations and relationships between the components are being catalogued and the interdependences of the products are being digitalised. We create individual images, product videos, 3-D data, sketches and drawings for all products with the aim of transferring the digitalisation of our product portfolio to a new strategy for our e-commerce division.
What challenges did you face during execution?
A frequently underestimated challenge is the acquisition of broad support for digital transformation. To gain this support, you particularly have to create understanding for the targeted objectives so that you can also profit from an internal digitalisation mood.
Your products have modular features. What did you have to pay special attention to within the context of the PIM system in order to show customers certain compatibilities?
Simply cataloguing all article features barely suffices to show the compatibilities of various components within a module. For this reason, we had to identify and store additional features that disclose whether articles go together, are essential for each other or mutually exclude each other. A Herculean task.
To what extent has the new system made your day-to-day work more efficient and simpler?
The system is still being set up. The objective of the system is to allow customers faster and simpler access to the solutions they require using the PIM-supplied channels. Internally, we will be able to find appropriate individual products and correlations between the products faster and more efficiently by means of e-learning – for example, for new employees. Everybody can benefit from using the system.
What are your plans regarding the further digitalisation of your company?
Step one and the basis for all further steps is definitely the digitalisation of our product range. Once we have achieved this, we will examine whether e-commerce is a viable option for us by testing it in a market such as the Netherlands.
Markus Panofen has been Head of Online Marketing at EMKA Beschlagteile GmbH & Co. KG for two years now, responsible for coordinating the introduction of PIM systems. After completing his degree in politics and business administration, he spent over ten years working in online marketing. He lives in Essen with his wife and two daughters.
The P.I.M. Company specialises in PIM as a strategic business concept that unites processes, software, PIM systems and products, consequently making high-quality product information available. As the open source PIM pioneers, we are one of the leading integrators within the German-speaking region.
The P.I.M. Company GmbH
Picture credit: Luca Sage / Getty Images