If you compare Waldner's product divisions with each other, one thing becomes clear: This is where worlds collide! Apart from their Allgäu origins, they seem to have absolutely nothing in common. Colossal packaging machines are lined up next to agile processing systems and cutting-edge lab components, whose sterile white visually opens up a world of its own.
A deeper look reveals that despite all the differences between the sectors, the path to the new product is surprisingly similar because it is man-made.
Looking at the person to find answers
"Before any planning, we first look very carefully at the person in front of us. What does this customer want? What do they or their employees need?" Klaus Ohlinger, technical manager for processing systems, explains the first step of every new development and adds: "The finished product that ends up in front of us is, therefore, always the best possible, currently available answer to those requirements."
The consensus at Waldner is that individual product solutions are best developed in close personal exchange. "Wishes expressed in detail, but also user challenges that are only mentioned in passing, take us forward by leaps and bounds in the development, above all the user, but often also the entire industry," says Moriz Walter, Head of Product Development at laboratory equipment, and cites the example of Secuflow Vision, whose innovations are inspired by design thinking workshops with lab technicians.
"Ultimately, the market, i.e., our customers, always decide on a new product. The most ingenious idea of our developers, or the perfect prototype of our designers, is worth nothing if it remains in the shop window like a chair with golden legs that no one needs, let alone wants to pay for."
Bringing in external ideas
While the laboratory division uses a modular concept for customised customer solutions and brings external ideas into the development team through workshops, lab cafés, discussion rounds, and user group analyses, the approach is different in the "metal" division. Waldner builds processing systems and packaging machines to order, i.e., more independent of the market.
"We practically never make the same thing twice, but always produce personalised one-offs," says Ohlinger about the challenge of his customers’ requirements. Ohlinger and his team document the desired application-specific requirements in the specifications from the start, coordinate every project progress and every modification with their customers, and thus get closer to the ideal result. The process is similar for packaging machines.
Like his colleague Ohlinger, Fabian Hecht, Head of Design for packaging machines, also values his clients and their employees as external sparring partners.
"Our customers are experts in their own products. We need their say in their affairs, and we regularly demand it," says Hecht about the value of collaboration, which is maintained during the project through regular weekly meetings.
Changing the perspective until everything is up and running
During the entire project course, the development team "consciously adopts the user's perspective time and again," says Hecht, explaining the elaborate procedure in the development process, which includes the complete assembly of the machine on the Waldner factory floor.
"In practice, we may use up to three floors, a good 30 x 10 meters. We run through once without and once with the product before dismantling the whole thing and making it ready for transport," Hecht continues. However, the change of perspective for Hecht's team continues after the commissioning at the customer's site. Maintenance and on-site service calls will follow.
Withstanding friction and readjusting
Handling friction that can arise even in jointly achieved development steps is part of the Waldner concept. "Tough discussions are part and parcel of any product development," Moriz Walter emphasises. In his position as Head of Product Management, he is familiar with the internal dynamics that arise internally and directly in the exchange with the suppliers or the customers.
"Obviously, the more people bring their perspective, the more there is to negotiate. For example, higher final product costs prevent the maximum application of the latest technologies, as our developers would like to have them. In the end, the technology used and the resulting features must bring a positive cost-benefit effect for the user," says Walter.
To render optimal service to our customers, therefore, the following applies: endure friction, find compromises, and readjust. Ohlinger also uses constructive trial-and-error for the development of new process systems. "At the latest, 1:1 product mock-ups we create for our customers bring us down to earth," he recounts from practical experience. "If the user then fails to reach the scale, it doesn't show that their arm is too short, but rather that the scale - especially for them - is not yet optimally aligned," Ohlinger continues, summing up across all divisions: "When we confront our ideas, well-established patterns break down, and something new, something better, can emerge."
The view of many people on the product improves the product
The fact that different perspectives in a group boost the results is experienced by project teams from all Waldner divisions. The laboratory team has seen it recently with its new service column, created in a productive mix of internal ideas and external impulses from users to architects.
In the case of the meerkat groups mentioned at the beginning, one thing was needed above all for better results, apart from different, divergent interests: a common main goal! Human teams may function similarly.
Whether it's a new product or a growing climate challenge: For the best optimal answer currently available, this flexible way out of one's tunnel vision should be worth every attempt. This is all the more true, the faster the requirements change!