Machine Design

Mr. Wow Effect

105360130_Jürgen R. Schmid
Machine tool visionary: industrial designer Jürgen R. Schmid. Source: Design Tech

Jürgen Schmid knows how to make an impression with simple means. The industrial designer and head of Design Tech always wears white, like a doctor, but chooses lightweight linen for a more relaxed look. Thanks to his fashion sense, he usually stands out when he meets with his customers in the machine-building industry – people accustomed to interacting with men in suits and ties.

As an industrial designer, Mr. Schmid has specialized in designing machines. He is considered a luminary in an industry that consists of small and medium-sized companies, Germany’s Mittlestand. “The eye plays an important role in purchase decisions, even in machine construction,” Juliane Hehl, managing partner at Arburg and granddaughter of the company’s founder, told Handelsblatt. Mr. Schmid designed the Allrounder 1120, the largest injection molding machine in its category, for the Black Forest company, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of injection molding machines.

In machine construction, a conservative field where unembellished gray or blue metal covers often conceal sophisticated German technology, Mr. Schmid likes to use the more versatile design possibilities of plastics. The sleek Allrounder 1120, which is more than 10 meters (39 feet) long, looks more like a futuristic subway car than a mundane industrial machine.

Mr. Schmid emphasizes the “wow effect” in his designs. “Design is important factor in conveying the competitiveness of technology,” he said. At Arburg, competitiveness translates into an injection molding machine that applies 650 tons of pressure in the production process. The device operates at high speeds, quietly and with total precision, and it features a user-friendly touchscreen, gesture control and retractable steps. The elegantly shaped front of the device, with its over-sized, tinted windows, looks deceptively simple, given the complexity of the processes it conceals.

Machines shown on the internet or presented at trade shows have to make an impression on customers. Their functionality must be quickly apparent. Of course, design is also about maximizing efficiency. “Customers have come to expect attractive design,” Mr. Schmid said. “But commercial success is the most critical aspect.” He welcomes that challenge, and has even agreed to performance-based fees with some of his clients.

Almost no decision - investment decisions are no exception - is made rationally. Gut feeling always plays a role.

Mr. Schmid sees a day when autonomous shuttles and drones will convey tools into multi-layered production platforms. He is fascinated with what future machines will look like and how they will function in such environments, and also how they will be developed.

“Tool-a-thons” are one such concept. Mr. Schmid envisions freelancers and independent teams working against the clock to create dynamic solutions for real-life projects, similar to today’s software hackathons. And if he has his way, customers will stop buying tools but hire them on a pay-per-use basis.

Mr. Schmid became an entrepreneur early in his career. After graduating from the Schwäbisch Gmünd University of Design, he drifted through three jobs in two years, quickly bored by each. “I don’t do well as an employee,” he said. He preferred to work on his own ideas. At 27 and with 3,000 Deutschmarks (€1,534) in seed capital, he founded his own company, Design Tech, in 1983. He specialized in machines and components from the start, and has since received more than 160 awards. This year, he picked up two coveted Red Dot: Best of the Best awards. The first was for an innovative transport and loading system capable of managing both vertical and horizontal loads. The second was for a contour honing tool, a diamond device to produce special bore molds for engine cylinders.

Mr. Schmid has also founded an academy, where high-school and university students gain insight into industrial design. More important to that business are the seminars offered to company directors, executives, developers and marketing experts. Customers often have no idea how important machine design is, according to Mr. Schmid. The owners of small and medium-sized machine-building companies are usually the ones making major decisions and need to be enthused about new directions in design.

And his creative exchanges extend well beyond the machine building industry. For the last decade and more, he has organized design talks with prominent figures, including renowned brain researcher Manfred Spitzer. Mr. Spitzer taught him that almost no decision – investment decisions are no exception – is made rationally. Gut feeling always plays a role. In other words, the brain knows what we want before we become conscious of our needs. “Good design targets the subconscious,” Mr. Schmid said, adding that when you have to start explaining technology to a customer, you’ve already lost the game. And Mr. Schmid doesn’t like to lose.

Martin-Werner Buchenau reports from Stuttgart as Handelsblatt’s Baden-Württemberg correspondent. To contact the author: buchenau@handelsblatt.com

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