“The history of our company teaches us to think outside the box”

Pocket calculator’s manufacturer ARISTO comes a long way! Well-prepared for the future with multi-functional flatbed cutting machines, Hamburg-based machine tool manufacturer ARISTO pursues a common-parts strategy with a wide range of vertical manufacture and follows a systematic approach to the diversification of its target markets and industries. ARISTO was established in 1862 as a factory for mathematical and calibration instruments. In the course of the 150 years of existence, the Hamburg-based company lost its key business several times. Now it is a leading manufacturer of multi-functional flatbed cutting machines. With 75 employees of the group, sales and service centres all over the world and an export share of 70 percent, sales of the company in 2013 were 15 million euros. Markus Winterl is the CEO of Hamburg-based ARISTO Graphic Systeme GmbH & Co. KG. Here’s a Q&A with Winterl.

ARISTO recently celebrated its 150th anniversary with the slogan “traditionally innovative”. What`s behind all this?

Markus WinterlWinterl: Before I started working here, I associated the ARISTO brand with set squares and sliderules. For a whole decade, pocket calculators were manufactured here; later technology for the digitization of large-format maps in public authorities and companies. All these business areas more or less ceased to exist all of a sudden. ARISTO survived every time. History teaches us that we must remain innovative, never rest on the status quo and think out of the box all the time. We continuously ask ourselves how and where we can use our know-how in order to find solutions for the processes of our customers.

How do you proceed in the search for new markets?

Winterl: We go to many trade fairs which, at first glance, do not have a lot to do with our business – from agricultural engineering to wind power. Partly it’s me who visits them, partly it’s one of our most experienced salesmen who is our Sales Development Manager. We have a look at the exhibitors and technologies in advance to see where we get some new ideas. Then we try to enter into dialogue. This is certainly not cheap.

But it is the only way that we can find new applications and customers.

Despite the global orientation, you manufacture in Hamburg with local suppliers and a wide range of vertical manufacture. Do you sometimes consider production abroad?

Winterl: Absolutely not! I have been in the machine tool business for 30 years now and it was sometimes bitter to see how awkward and error-prone outsourcing can be. With our small lot sizes, the cost benefits do not offset the problems. Availability and reliable quality are of utmost importance to us. Therefore, we remain in Hamburg and are happy that we can make a stand against the general trend.

How do you remain competitive in terms of prices?

Winterl: We succeed in doing that by means of a consistent common-parts strategy. Our largest flatbed cutting machine with a work area of more than 5 times 5 m is based on the same modular system as the smallest machine of this line with a work area of 2.3 times 3.3 m. Besides the price advantage, this facilitates our stock keeping, the world-wide supply of spare parts and last, but not least, our performance as a supplier. We can supply every machine within two to three weeks, also due to the fact that we need not rethink again and again during the assembly process. Another factor is our wide range of vertical manufacture: we even produce our own control systems including the circuit boards. Our electronics know-how is an inheritance from our pocket calculator production.

What is really striking – and you have mentioned that already – is the large variety of your target industries. One of your slogans in this respect is: “It’s purely a matter of heads”. Why?

Winterl: Customers can order our cutting machines with different tool heads of modular design – hence “a matter of heads“. Customers who above all cut gaskets find cutters and bevel cutting devices for different sealing materials. Customers who wish to process Plexiglas or wooden plates will find routing heads for that purpose. In addition, there are knives, cutting wheels or creasing wheels for cardboard, paper and film, camera systems for orientation on large-format printers or tools for marking. So, depending on the equipment, customers from a wide variety of industries can work with the same machines. And since our multi-head systems can be equipped with up to four heads and seven tools, the customers can run different processes without the need to refit. If, for example, packaging prototypes shall be produced for a test, knives for the blanks and creasing wheels for embossing are needed. Our machines perform both processes directly from the data sets – and therefore enable a rapid direct comparison of the prototypes. In addition, our machines cut huge gaskets for wind turbines or for drive systems of ships just-in-time, or carbon fabrics which are used to produce Olympia bobs, µm-thin high-tech films for fuel cells or floor coverings for aircrafts. And these are just a few of the manifold applications.

How do you make this large variety of your machines comprehensible for the customers?

Winterl: This is a sales process with in-depth consultations which we start by discussing with the customers what they need in the short or medium term. Using that as a basis, we prepare technical recommendations. An ARISTO machine is bought for a period of 15 to 20 years. A high degree of flexibility for use is also very important because the customers combine our machines with other systems with much shorter innovation cycles. In digital printing, the period between the machine generations is sometimes only one to two years. In 2009 when many companies laid off qualified staff we took the decision to expand our sales competence. Together with our customer services this is the key to customer acquisition and retention. We wish to solve their processes and minimize downtimes through the smooth supply of the wear parts of the tool heads.

A lot of what you are practicing was recently touched on at the strategy workshops of the VDMA initiative “Print2030”. How do you see the future prospects of the printing and paper technology manufacturers?

Winterl: For us, the graphic arts industry is only one customer of many. Perhaps I am not the right person to answer this question. The industry definitely has chances to hold its grounds despite the structural change. Companies with prepress know-how can operate successfully wherever the handling of sensitive films is concerned. Just think of carbon lightweight construction, of technical textiles or battery production. I think that nearly all manufacturers of printing and paper technology must take action as fast as possible in order to make their know-how available for use in new applications. Mutability – as can be seen from the history of our company – is a question of attitude and organisation. If the companies take their certification seriously, they always have to get to the bottom of things anyway. All the relevant questions arise in the certification processes.

How important is the graphic arts industry for the future of your company?

Winterl: We are above all doing business in the digital printing sector – which is the sector that is growing. It corresponds with the human behaviour to demand small lot sizes at short notice. It permits a high degree of individualisation. These are key subjects which drive all human beings. How do I present myself, how do I emphasize my individuality compared with others? These questions are the driving force for changes in printing and paper technology. There is a demand for highly flexible, digital processes – or, for instance, high-quality, highly functional packaging solutions. Being a small, flexible company, we can respond to this demand and have had the right answers. This doesn’t mean that we are invulnerable to competitors. We have no reason to rest on our laurels.

Group Publications