How a degree project conducted by a Steinbeis student was translated into an ingenious product
Markus Fiedler, Managing Director of FiMAB, had an idea. He wanted to develop a configurator for electrical switchboxes as part of his studies at SBA – Management School, which belongs to Steinbeis University. He realized his ambition while conducting a degree project. Fiedler explained to TRANSFER what makes the tool so unique, the challenges he had to overcome, and why he would always recommend a degree program that is integrated into a working career.
Markus Fiedler first encountered sheet metal processing at FiMAB, the company of his father, which he would later take over himself. He embarked on his career as an apprentice energy appliance electronics technician. He then trained as a commercial specialist before deciding to study for a bachelor’s degree at the age of 45. Although he was able to expand his understanding of technology at his parents’ company, Fiedler also wanted to learn more about business itself: “At the time, doing further training as a business coach was the first step away from technology, more toward people and communication – but also to come into contact with other sectors of industry and different ways of looking at things,” he reminisces. He then decided to do a master’s degree in parallel to his work at SBA – Management School at Steinbeis University.
Scientific input – entrepreneurial output
A defining feature of project competence degrees (PCDs) at Steinbeis University is the way careers are interwoven with periods of study, a unique feature that afforded Fiedler the opportunity to translate an idea he had been thinking about for some time into practice. His idea: ARMARiO, an online configurator for electrical switchboxes. Among other things, the PCD allowed the Steinbeis student to network with others, to tap into existing know-how and skills, and to gain support securing funding. A further important aspect of Fiedler’s degree was that he could exchange ideas with students from very different industries, and that he could get to know others and approach topics from a variety of angles.
ARMARiO – improving quality and saving time
Until now, it was common for companies to order switchboxes – usually in large volumes – and then adapt them manually once on site. The idea of ARMARiO was to offer an online configurator that would improve product quality and save time by delivering made-to-measure switchboxes, even in a batch size of one. The process would work like the conventional online shopping experience, with an additional overview of current prices and delivery times. Production could be standardized, offering the quality advantages of serially produced units with enough flexibility to offer customization options – without the high price normally associated with “manual finishing.” Because switchboxes fit precisely, remaining space can be used down to the last millimeter, freeing up additional areas for control units, the most important part of switchboxes.
Challenges and opportunities
The main challenge when launching the new concept was educating other industry stakeholders. The product is particularly suited to modern plants or more compact machinery. Newer companies and startups are often open to the configurator, but Fiedler noticed a certain degree of resistance among traditional companies who tend to feel “we’ve always done things that way.”
FiMAB did, however, derive benefit from the pandemic: German digitalization developed rapidly, and lockdowns and working from home have fueled demand for the online configurator. There are also plans to make the website multilingual so that soon, users from around the world will be able to configure and order individualized products. In addition, a team of sales consultants is looking into ways to offer the configurator to other companies to allow production to be organized regionally in other parts of the world. Another goal, which has already been met, was to achieve a delivery time of ten working days. Normally, special orders take eight to twelve weeks! “We’re even aiming to meet delivery times of three days in the future by introducing lean production methods,” explains Fiedler.
Personal and professional growth during studies
Asked who he would recommend to study at SBA – Management School, Fiedler offers an unequivocal answer: “Everyone, but especially entrepreneurs who want to develop personally and grow in professional terms.” The big advantage with studying in parallel to work is that projects can be applied directly to the business. Exchanging views with others and different companies allows the project to be looked at from a variety of angles. The Steinbeis alumnus advises anyone who wants to turn their ideas into reality to talk to others about their project, to forge networks, and to learn from others – as he has experienced himself, “Every experience takes you a step forward, and any insight is a good experience.”
More on ARMARiO: www.armario.de
Prof. Dr. Peter Dohm
Steinbeis Transfer Institute Management and Business (Berlin, Gaggenau)