The visitor to the production hall of Asic Robotics AG (Asic) in Burgdorf is greeted by the noise of continuous ventilation, hydraulic hissing and irregular knocking. Several assembly lines can be seen that are under construction and one of which is undergoing the final test phase. It consists of rectangular cells that are strung together with a closed underbody. The elements are linked at table height to form a continuous line and it is here that it gets really exciting: White movable arms with elegant movements reminiscent of a robot ballet reach for small metal and plastic parts and assemble them to form a plate with points of varying heights. At the same time, carefully bundled cables and hoses, metal and plastic parts move in step with the robotic arms – almost like a futuristic Lego set. Managing Director Flavio Motta confirms that this association is not as far-fetched as one might think: “What we are essentially doing here is nothing other than to combine and assemble Lego bricks in an intelligent and skillful manner.“ While this may sound straightforward, in reality it is actually very complex: For 18 years now, Asic has been developing special purpose machines or prototypes comprising highly specialized machines that put together a large number of individual components to form a larger whole. While this is often carried out for the automobile industry, other relevant sectors include medical technology and building systems as well as the packaging industry. However, the company not only constructs assembly line systems but also rotary tables and elements for manual production that can also all be combined with each other.
Persistent Inventors and Planners
The history of Asic started in 1995 when the two company founders Paul Beutler and Flavio Motta rented a former cheese factory in Burgdorf. The company grew continuously from the outset and in 2005 the time was ripe for a new building offering more room and adequately representing the company: „With its own building you can give a company a face“, explains Motta in justification of the decision back then. Today around 80 people work for Asic and together with the three subsidiaries the company has 170 employees. Asic trains two apprentices each year in the field of automation, for Motta is convinced: „We benefit from people who have been well trained and it is very important to us also to be able to pass this on.“ One of the key things that is also conveyed to the apprentices is the major importance of planning. This key word repeatedly comes up in the conversation with Flavio Motta and he explains: “When there is a new order we conduct intensive talks with the client at the outset. We are very thorough in this phase – sometimes almost persistent – because we think that all problems ought to be solved immediately at the beginning and not wait until we have already been assigned the order.” He underlines his attitude with an image from the field of sport: „You also can’t win a marathon by sprinting the last 300 meters.”
Swiss Succession Planning
Another strength of Asic lies in the efficiency and flexibility of its solutions. Based on the many robots and machines already constructed, a kind of construction kit has been developed with parts that can always be recombined in different ways and together with further inventions deliver unique results. „On top of this”, says Motta, “it’s always important to think beyond your immediate horizons – just as a certain degree of persistence and a love of tinkering are necessary for this job.” And it’s no coincidence that the region around Bern and Solothurn has developed into a stronghold of the automation and robotics industry: “People here don’t give up on things quickly. They persist until a machine is up and running. And once a system is finished then everyone – the planner, the designer, the software manager, the electrical planner and the assembler talks about ‘their’ machine.“ The company’s strong local anchoring also prompted the two founders to seek a Swiss solution for their succession. An investment group comprising three parties, including Credit Suisse Entrepreneur Capital Ltd., is now taking over the shares of Asic: “It was important for us to find a Swiss solution”, says Flavio Motta in justification of this measure, ”because our strengths comprise specific Swiss qualities.” The successor group intends to continue managing the company in the same way as before. And so special purpose machines will continue to be developed in Burgdorf for products such as window regulators that we make regular use of in our everyday lives but for which we largely have no idea about the complex procedure in which they are manufactured.