Pushing innovation, realizing complex systems
by Dagmar Dieterle
Interview with Dipl.-Ing. Alex Makuch: One of three MicroStep managing directors about unusual structures, the key to success as well as strengths, goals and projects.
marketSTEEL: You are Managing Director of MicroStep since 2018. What gives you the satisfaction when you come to work every day?
Alex Makuch: I like working with people, discussing problems and forming ideas together as a team that lead to solutions. My primary goal is to create an ecosystem for my employees and not to stand in their way. I am pleased to see employees growing both at a technical and management level; all the more so if this growth is accompanied by a positive attitude and optimism about the future of the company.
marketSTEEL: You are one of three managing directors together with Eva Stejskalová and Iren Brhlík. How do you divide the jobs and responsibilities?
Alex Makuch: It is an unusual but not unique structure. Our company has always had several managing directors with shared responsibilities. Usually Eva is responsible for Research & Development, IT, Finance and Project Management; Iren is responsible for our two production sites in Hriňová and Partizánske and for Logistics. And I take care of the front-line services such as sales, marketing, technical support, application consulting and after sales.
A plus of this structure is that while each director is responsible for his or her division, we have ensured that each of us is kept up to date on the activities of the other divisions. This makes for better decisions, as they are evaluated at an early stage and from multiple perspectives. Everyone is better able to focus on their own specific areas. But we consult each other when problems and questions arise.
marketSTEEL: Mr. Makuch, how did you actually come to MicroStep?
Alex Makuch: After finishing my studies at the university, I worked with colleagues at the Institute of Control and Automation at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology at the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava. Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, we worked through the university on several engineering projects for Slovak industry. Our situation changed considerably in 1989 with the opening of the "Iron Curtain", which made private entrepreneurship possible again. Therefore, together with my colleagues from the faculty, we decided to take advantage of the situation and start our own company. At the beginning we wanted to focus on general control systems and the automation of production lines. What opened our way to CNC cutting machines was the order to create a completely new control system for an existing CNC plasma cutting machine in 1992. After we successfully completed this task, we gradually focused our resources more and more on CNC cutting. After some time we joined forces with a group of mechanical engineers and the rest is - as we say - history.
marketSTEEL: MicroStep is "Your Partner for Cutting and Automation": how many customers worldwide trust your solutions today? In your opinion, can you tell us the most relevant facts why these companies rely on MicroStep technology?
Alex Makuch: We have sold more than 2.700 machines, many of them to the same customer. This is a positive signal and confirms us in our efforts. We offer solutions that only emerge during the needs assessment in a discussion with the customer. We want to meet expectations and exceed them in the best possible way. In case of support we provide immediate assistance. We do not leave customers alone with their requirements and also want to solve their special problems.
In general, we offer more innovative products with more functionalities than other manufacturers in our segment. Our machines produce high quality products that require little or no post-processing. This fact leads to a considerable reduction of production costs for the customers. We do not offer single machines. Our goal is to provide the customer with systems that increase productivity, with the focus on the automation of their production. Since we manufacture the control system, software and almost all the hardware ourselves, we have a great deal of options for designing customer-specific machines. The main strength of MicroStep is strong, experienced and skilled employees, which enables us to develop customized machines. This is one of our unique selling points and our customers appreciate this very much.
marketSTEEL: To ensure things stay that way in the future, MicroStep is investing a lot: what measures are you taking to improve and expand your market position?
Alex Makuch: MicroStep is continuously investing in its production. Last year we already built a new factory with a size of 1.200 m2 and we just finished another new hall with a size of 1.500 m2. We have also made important investments in a new blast machine and bought a new horizontal table machine to increase productivity and further improve the production quality of our machines. However, we are aware that our employees are our greatest asset. This is reflected in our shareholder policy. People who have stayed with us for a longer period of time and have proven their skills have the possibility to participate in the company. This unorthodox system ensures the stability and continuity of the company as well as the personal investment of those involved. In addition, we continuously improve the soft skills of our employees by organizing training courses for the management and employees of specific departments. We are convinced that the key to our success is a strong research and development base with more than 70 highly qualified developers. This is not an everyday reality. Development is focused on improving individual parts of our products, the products themselves and their level of automation. Our goal is to produce fully automate manufacturing that meet the requirements of Industry 4.0. This means expanding our CNC machines with systems for automatic material loading, including an automated storage system, and systems for sorting cut parts and waste material.
These activities are aimed at increasing the production capacity of our machines and enabling their integration into automated networked manufacturing. In addition to these topics, we are also working on further improvements in the area of analytical tools and systems for predictive maintenance to significantly increase the reliability of our products and minimize machine downtime. These features were already part of our systems before the first reading of Industry 4.0. However, we are still looking for new ways to improve and/or extend their functionality.
marketSTEEL: And where will MicroStep be in ten years?
Alex Makuch: We have always been proud to be one of the most innovative companies in our segment. Over the years, we have introduced numerous new technologies to the market, many of which have been copied by our competitors. This innovative strength is our central strength and is being continuously expanded. It also allows us to increase the number of complex projects. I believe that the future will only be positive for those who are able to deliver innovative solutions.
CNC cutting systems today are complex mechatronic systems in which the software area plays a central role. Only companies that have a strong research and development base - including specialists in mechanical design, control systems, software tools and software environments that enable integration into automated production - can design such systems.
marketSTEEL: With all the challenges of daily work, how do you manage to relax and unwind?
Alex Makuch: What relaxes me most is spending time with my family. Apart from that, I love to go sailing and skiing, ride my bike or play tennis and generally do a lot of outdoor activities.