June 2023

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Markus Schnyder, the long-standing COO of Mikron Switzerland AG, Division Tool, has passed on the baton to Elio Lupica. In recent years, Mikron Tool has enjoyed an exceptional market performance. In the interview, Elio Lupica appears highly optimistic for 2023.

Congratulations on your new role, Mr Lupica. Your company achieved another record year in 2022. Can we expect great changes from your management?

Markus Schnyder and I have been working side by side for more than 15 years. With him as the COO and me as his deputy together with our outstanding team, we shaped the reality of Mikron Tool.

Our company is characterised by a solid innovative spirit. This includes constant investments in the latest technologies for production and product development. We have a tremendous commitment to quality and are always looking to top our high standards. This way, we guarantee our customers continuous performance improvement with our products.

With respect to our market strategy, we make every effort to expand into future markets. I will continue to pursue this course with the involvement of the entire Mikron Tool team. It is tremendously encouraging that our future-oriented new developments are already bearing fruit.

Nevertheless, your company continues to face the current challenges. How are you handling these?

I believe that the biggest challenge for the mechanical engineering and metalworking industries in the coming years will be in the automotive industry. It is still unpredictable because of the transition from the combustion engine to electric vehicles with negative volume trends – regarding machined parts – and high price pressure.

How is Mikron Tool responding to this?

In 2008, we had to deal with the automotive industry’s greatest crisis. At that time, our product portfolio was oriented towards the machining of steel components, which are the preferred choice in the automotive industry. We quickly realised that we needed decrease our dependence on this industry to avoid jeopardising stability and job security.

Has that been successful?

Yes, absolutely. We responded with new ideas. Finding new markets became out leitmotiv. In a stroke of genius, Mikron Tool turned to processing materials that are difficult to machine: “super materials” such as stainless and heat-resistant steels, super alloys, titanium, and cobalt-chromium alloys. The big advantage was that the competition in high-performance tools for very small machining operations was still in its early stage. We have also become more internationally oriented and have begun to tap into high-tech countries such as China and the US, where heat-resistant materials and stainless steels are gaining ground. This because the aerospace market was much more pronounced in the US than in Europe. Furthermore, stainless steel has prevailed in many industries thanks to its outstanding properties. This trend has also reached Europe. The decision to diversify our product range opened completely new outlets, including in the “future markets”.

Before we address the future markets in more detail, to what extent have the geopolitical situation and the pandemic affected your company?

During the pandemic, it was a huge advantage to have globally four locations. The COVID policies of Switzerland, Germany, the US, and China differed greatly. When we suffered sales losses in one country because of the restrictions imposed, we were able to compensate for this in the other markets. Another advantage was our two production facilities: one in Switzerland and one in Germany. This meant that we were never really at risk of a total production shut-down in the event of a lock-down and stayed always able to meet our customers’ needs. In the end, we managed to achieve growth even in this difficult period. 2022 was really our best year since the foundation of the company.

As far as the geopolitical situation is concerned, we are affected by its indirect consequences such as inflation, rising prices, and the energy shortage. In the latter, energy-saving measures or the use of renewable energies are taking effect. At the Agno facility, we use a state-of-the-art mixing plant to recover heat from production and therefore no longer consume any fossil fuels. And we save 370,000 kWh a year thanks to a new refrigeration system.

In order to counteract the rising costs of materials or services, we needed sustainable measures that increase productivity and optimise processes. To this end, we can invest in new technologies and software. In times of rising prices and currency instability, it is sensible to push ahead with the necessary investments in this direction.

What influence do the most important industry trends have on your company’s strategy? What are your future markets?

One important theme is medical technology market. The growing and ageing population has led to an increased demand for medical devices. The application areas that are relevant to us are orthopaedic bone plates and screws, implants, and surgical instruments.

Another important trend is miniaturisation. It takes the conventional materials to their limits. The more future-oriented the industry, the more it needs the corresponding materials. A reduction in the weight and mass of products and an increase in their mechanical, thermal, and chemical loads lead to the use of high-performance materials.

This is what gives our company its position as a solution provider for sophisticated materials of the kind used in medical and dental technology as well as in the aerospace industry. The energy sector, the food industry, and the watch-making industry are, for the same reasons, also important growing markets. Not to forget the electric/electronic industry, which must deal with lead-free brass.

What measures are you taking to expand the future markets?

We must always be at the cutting edge of technology in order to be able to set a new technological course. Thus, we continually invest in our technology centre, which is one of the most modern R&D centres for machining in the micro segment. Our machinery has been consistently streamlined for the high-performance machining of demanding materials. Here, our specialists – who have achieved an incomparable level of knowledge with respect to tool manufacturing, materials science, and process technology – are developing ground-breaking tool innovations with a focus on the future markets. The four innovation prizes that we have been awarded in the past eight years show that we are quite good at this.

That is a remarkable good yield. What a compliment! But that cannot be enough from a market-strategy perspective, can it?

That is true. We have entered a close collaboration with the machine tool manufacturer DMG Mori. With our high-performance tools and their highly dynamic machining centres, we can develop and realise the most complex production strategies for customer projects, primarily in the field of medical technology. In such projects, we unlock our full potential for optimisation. We are often able to reduce the production times by more than 50%.

In order to provide our customers with professional support, we rely on technical experts with segment-specific training as well as the ongoing professional development of our sales force. We take part in industry-specific trade fairs, seminars, and congresses throughout the world. And, most importantly, we work with our technology partners to organise regular themed “Technology Days” in our technology and competence centre to which we invite our business customers. We recently hosted around 20 Spanish customers for Medical Day 2022. A knowledge transfer at the highest took place.

What do you consider to be Mikron Tool’s greatest strength?

The fact that we have become a full-service partner for our customers. We also offer tools that are twice as good as other standard tools. In the form of our new “CrazyService Products”, we provide engineering services from tool tests to process development. In the last 18 months alone, we have realised 40 customer projects from the medical, automotive, and aerospace industries. That is quite crazy.

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