It’s all about the users
Seisenbacher CEO Werner Pumhösel im Gespräch über die Zukunft des Mobility Interiors, „dumme“ und „smarte“ Ausstattung und die Business-Transformation mitten in einer Pandemie.
Inventing Mobility Interiors is Seisenbacher’s vision. What does that mean, exactly?
It means not waiting for a potential customer to wish to buy products as long as the price is right. Instead, being familiar with the technological developments in society and the needs of passengers and operators, being able to translate them into a portfolio of products and solutions, and being proactive in building up a product and solution portfolio that fulfills these needs. We try to recognize these requirements before the train car builder, for example, and develop a solution - so that it is ready to go when the demand arises.
How do you balance needs of the three groups: operators, manufacturers and passengers?
By putting the focus on those whose needs are the hardest to predict: the passengers. Essentially, the key is to understand how to make travel time a time well spent, so that the user does not perceive the journey as an interruption. A current example: I come to the train station to sit at the tracks, my life is on pause while I sit in a tube that brings me where I want to go, and then my life can continue again. For us, the goal is to make travel time a productive and meaningfully invested time in people’s lives. Regardless of what other needs one might have. A business passenger will expect something different from a family traveling on vacation.
What concrete steps can be taken?
We try, for example, to incorporate the influence of digitalization to a great degree. At the moment, there may be WLAN in rail vehicles, but that is already the absolute peak(laughs). However, wireless charging for all devices in use is just as important a topic, as is data protection, and much more.
Our task – to put it polemically – is to make dumb fittings, coverings, dividing walls and so on smart. So smart that they really fulfill people’s needs. It is naturally also in the railway operator’s interest to offer passengers more and persuade people to use their services – instead of their competitors’.
This approach is not only beneficial in the rail industry.
Exactly right. That is why we want to move in the direction of bringing our Mobility Interior to air or sea travel.
To realize its ideas, Seisenbacher puts modularity at the center of its developments. Why is that?
To a great extent, that has to do with experience from other industrial areas where modularity is of great advantage. This approach has not really arrived in interiors yet. To stick with rail: each one is a complete work of art, made for a single project. The other extreme is of course mass-produced single parts – the same seat, for example, which is only available in different colors.
We want to use the advantages of modular construction to, on the one hand, use standardized components. This brings advantages in production, lower costs, as well as improved availability of replacement parts. On the other hand, modularity enables a great deal of individuality and adaptability. For this to work, we also collaborate with a renowned design studio.
Seisenbacher had evolved from a production partner to an innovation partner for the industry, and reoriented itself as a company…
In the past, we produced in response to demand, as a classical medium-sized business. The move toward observing needs, innovations and their implementation in interiors, is of course a paradigm shift. We redefined our company, from the inside out. We are changing quite a bit: the structures, access to information and above all, our procedures and thought processes.
How do you accomplish that?
It requires the right group of thinkers. In the last three years, however, we managed not only to establish a successful R&D division, but also to hire people who have a suitably open mindset. People who are clearly focused on the key questions. How is the world changing? What about industry? What technologies are available, and what possibilities do they open that people actually need? Our success has a lot to do with this perception, this consciousness and the passion of our people. And with a team where experience and new ideas help each other to grow, where things are looked at with fresh eyes. The best specialist is useless to us if he can’t think like a visionary. No one would have invented the light bulb if everyone had only been working on improving the candle.
Was 2020, with all of its difficulties, the right year for this transformation?
We began with the transformation process before the crisis. But we are also convinced that the crisis itself is just as easy or difficult as it would otherwise be when we reorient our focus.
The know-how and the people are there, so we didn’t have any massive investments.
After the crisis, the market will be different from before, and if we have transformed our business in the right direction, we will be in a much better position. We have of course also been affected by postponed orders, but we used the slack in our capacities for something that will bring us forward.
Speaking of “forward”. Where is Seisenbacher’s destination in the more distant future – in 5 or 10 years?
In any case, we will move quite a ways towards being a development partner of the industry. But also in passenger safety – where one of our specialties already lies – we want to get stronger. A strong focus will also be placed on sustainability. At the moment, the development and application of sustainable materials are still very restricted in the railway area, due to legal regulations. There will certainly be some developments in this area. We are also sure to encounter new production practices for more energy efficiency or lightweight construction. That way, we want to position ourselves even more as innovation partners for the mobility industry – and that includes operators as well as OEMs.