Make it yourself, purchase it or cooperate with others to create it? The latter plays a crucial role in today’s economy in which companies cannot always innovate themselves, perhaps because they simply don’t want to do it by themselves or because acquisitions alone are not enough to spur innovation.
The Helbling Group from Zurich strengthens the innovative force of its customers by working with them to improve products or develop new ones. It has over 500 employees at 10 branches worldwide: in Zurich, Bern, Wil and Aarau (Switzerland), Boston and San Diego (USA), Munich (Germany) and Shanghai (China).
“But the Helbling story began in 1963 with a two-man operation in Zurich. This is also where our headquarters are and where all of our engineering and consulting divisions are represented,” says Franz von Niederhäusern, partner and member of the executive board.
Among its customers are many medium-sized and large Swiss industrial companies – and the principle of cooperative innovation is in demand more than ever before.
High-tech brings tradition into 21st century
“Zurich is an ideal location due to the size and importance of the Greater Zurich Area,” von Niederhäusern says, “but also thanks to its proximity to universities and the appeal of the city itself as seen through the eyes of the top-notch experts here.”
Helbling focuses on being close to its customers and relying on the best people who are always able to bring the analytical and creative fuel needed to get innovative projects off the ground.
“Teamwork is tremendously important in our interdisciplinary projects. In addition to professional skills, this also requires a great deal of expertise in project management, methodology, collaboration and communication,” says von Niederhäusern, himself a mechanical engineer who studied at ETH Zurich.
The Zurich tradition of engineering was and still is a success factor. According to von Niederhäusern, globally active companies, start-ups and major corporations in Zurich in the fields of IT, mechatronics and robotics are now bringing this tradition into the future. Many of these high-tech companies – though innovative themselves – collaborate with Helbling to create something extraordinary.
Case in point: Helbling engineers developed an innovative networked cooking system for AMC, a world market leader in stainless steel cookware from the town of Risch-Rotkreuz in the canton of Zug. Or when it comes to the latest optical systems, ThebenHTS in Effretikon nearby Zurich collaborated with Helbling to develop a new range of motion and presence detectors.
Digital tools becoming more and more important
Helbling specializes in particular on hard-to-solve questions relating to microtechnology, mechanics, electronics, optics, sensor technology and image analysis. The company is often called upon to develop software, particularly complex medical software, where the user interface has to be as user-friendly as possible. Helbling designed one such software application for diagnosing respiratory diseases for diagnostics specialist Eco Medics from Dürnten in the canton of Zurich.
Among its customers are also several international start-ups. “We assist them with our experience in developing series products, allowing them to create market-ready products quickly and more efficiently,” says von Niederhäusern.
Digital tools often make the difference in these processes, where engineering software for calculations and simulations can massively accelerate innovation rounds, something that applies just as much to an SME or an industrial corporation as it does to a spin-off of ETH Zurich.
As Franz von Niederhäusern explains: “For us, only the task counts. And the more difficult it seems to implement, the greater our motivation is to find a solution.”
By Yvonne von Hunnius