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Welders live dangerously: they are constantly subjected to intense ultraviolet radiation, toxic fumes and heat. While they are still likely to only protect themselves with a mask, the protective helmets are increasingly used not only because they are more comfortable and safer, but also because they increase work efficiency. These protective helmets have been developed in Switzerland by the company Optrel AG Wattwil, located in the district of Toggenburg.
When it comes to working with steel, welding is omnipresent. Welding operations of various types and sizes must be carried out in the automotive, transportation, construction, industrial machinery, and chemical, oils and gas industries—to name a few. For example, cruise boat building requires kilometers of welds. And even when large-scale productions use welding robots, many tasks are still performed manually by specialists. Robots often show their limits when, for example, it is necessary to carry out particularly complex junctions, work with special alloys, or weld in a constrained space.
Optimal Protection Equipment Required
Welding activities expose humans to toxic fumes, dust, vapors and gases, heat, and ultraviolet rays. These conditions create great challenges for welders and their equipment as they work toward achieving high-quality results. The head area is critical to the work process—the equipment must not impede the visibility of the object to be welded, while allowing the welder to remain comfortable. "Conventional welding helmets rarely meet these requirements," explained Marco Koch, president of the Optrel SA Board of Directors.
Daniel Ritler | Director of operations
"This product is made by a Swiss SME for Swiss SMEs. We speak the same language, display the same spirit, and can communicate quickly and directly."
Must-Have Automatic Equipment
In 1985, Optrel’s Albert Koch (Marco’s father) realized that only active helmets could meet all these requirements. "The company Optrel AG, which he founded with other partners, is the origin of the active headphones," said Koch. "Various components within the helmet automatically react to light and heat." Today, the welding helmet developed and produced in Switzerland by Optrel SA is a true high-tech product, from its heat-resistant coating and ventilation system to its internal headset and perfect ergonomics.
The R&D department at Optrel AG has developed all the core technologies within these welding helmets. First, they feature an ADF darkening filter that automatically darkens depending on the light intensity of the visible area using LCD technology. Other special filters provide high-color fidelity. What’s more, the helmet uses a combination of batteries and solar cells to provide sufficient power to the headset.
New Launch, Old Brand
After the 1998 sale of Optrel AG to the French group Bacou, the name change to Sperian Welding Protection AG led to the disappearance of the Optrel brand that had been "long associated with active welding helmets," recalled Koch. After the possibility of relocation to Slovakia was announced, potentially eliminating a number of jobs in Wattwil, the son of company founder decided to act. Koch bought the company in the summer of 2010, restoring it to its original name, Optrel AG. This quick decision was immediately supported by the market, as the "young company" began to show positive growth figures.
New System Required to Serve SMEs
With the partial restructuring of the global organization, as well as the company’s focus on the marketing and development of new products, it was necessary to quickly adapt IT systems to SMEs (small and midsized businesses). "After trying for six months to adapt our SAP solution to SMEs, we went looking for a flexible ERP system that was developed specifically for SMEs in the Swiss market," said Daniel Ritler, CEO of Optrel AG.
With ProConcept ERP from SolvAxis, the company quickly found the right partner and product. "This product is made by a Swiss SME for Swiss SMEs. We speak the same language, display the same spirit, and can communicate quickly and directly," Ritler said of why the company selected the system.
Since late 2011, 36 out of 60 employees use ProConcept ERP’s logistics and finance modules. The logistics module handles the buying and selling process, as well as storage and manufacturing, while the finance module manages all financial workflows. Employees particularly appreciate the system’s ease of use, and the interface elements that are common to all modules. Ritler added that the system integrates easily with many IT environments, including the Office applications suite, as well as the company’s CAD and PLM software. “We benefit from both the flexibility of the software, as well as from the experience of SolvAxis’ consultants," he said.
Optrel AG’s work with SolvAxis will continue in the future. Optrel AG wants to strengthen its technological position and become the leading international manufacturer of anti-glare products—not only in the welding industry, but also in the medical sector, for example. The company has already developed IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) glasses dedicated to dermatology and laser hair removal for one client.
"We plan to complete our implementation of ProConcept ERP solution with the CRM, export, and quality modules," explained Ritler. As customer proximity and high quality are typical advantages of being an SME, Optrel AG plans to use these assets to speed innovation. "We plan to commercialize our innovations and, thus, enjoy a lead of about five years on the competition," said Ritler.*
*Toggenburger Tagblatt, March 15, 2012
Daniel Ritler | Director of operations
"After trying for six months to adapt our SAP solution to SMEs, we went looking for a flexible ERP system that was developed specifically for SMEs in the Swiss market."
Safe and Smart
Worldwide, millions of welders rely on Optrel products