Managing Director Thomas Kohler relies on expertise, efficiency and a spirit of discovery in the transformation from prototype specialist to prototype and series supplier.
Precise, fast and high-quality solutions for small, intricate plastic parts: This is what we stand for at 1zu1 and this is what we achieve today and in the future in series quality. By investing in state-of-the-art infrastructure, innovative technologies and high-performance systems, we have enhanced our core competence in prototype construction in recent years. This is the basis for our role as a full-service provider of 1 to 300,000 components - from 3D printing to vacuum and injection molding. We can build on years of pioneering work within the company, the courage to innovate, a highly motivated team and trusting partnerships.
As a member of the international Prototal Group since the beginning of 2022, we share a common vision: we want to support customers from Central to Northern Europe throughout the entire product life cycle and enable the rapid market launch of new products. At 1zu1, we cover the highest quality level as a premium provider with cleanroom expertise. We are now taking the next step, joining forces and focusing on our strengths.
As Managing Director and successor to company founders Hannes Hämmerle and Wolfgang Humml, Thomas Kohler has been driving the transformation from prototype specialist to prototype and series supplier since June 1, 2023. He provides insights into the ongoing development and short and medium-term plans of 1zu1 in all business areas, talks about current challenges and opportunities and announces exciting innovations for 2024.
Thomas, you took over the management of 1zu1 on June 1. What is your initial conclusion?
Thomas Kohler: I have been with the company for 23 years, know most of our customers personally as a former sales manager and know what we are capable of. Hannes and Wolfgang have turned 1zu1 from a prototyping specialist into one of the leading providers of 3D printing, vacuum and injection molding in German-speaking countries. They have invested heavily in the infrastructure and training of specialists, managed the company in a family and economically sustainable manner and thus created the ideal basis for further development. Our owner Prototal Industries has also recognized this. Since the takeover at the beginning of 2022, I have spent a lot of time with CEO Jan Löfving and Sales & Marketing Director Ronnie Petersson and have experienced a real enthusiasm for new technologies, innovative solutions and all-round service. This exciting perspective led me to accept the challenge and continue the successful path of Wolfgang and Hannes with a strong partner at my side.
Can you outline 1zu1's development plan in a few words?
Thomas Kohler: Our goal is to achieve higher quantities with increasing quality at economical prices - in 3D printing, vacuum and injection molding. To achieve this, we are pooling our expertise within the organization, increasing efficiency at all levels and will soon be adding further innovative technologies to our range.
What are 1zu1's plans for 3D printing?
Thomas Kohler: There is still enormous potential in 3D printing in particular, and we want to exploit this as pioneers. We share a common vision with Prototal Industries and the system manufacturer EOS: we want to take 3D printing to the next level. With the third state-of-the-art P500 laser-sintering system from EOS, we have significantly increased our capacity. Thanks to the latest chemical smoothing system from AMT and the automated blasting system from DyeMansion, we are also improving the results and setting a new surface standard. We are constantly learning and improving. The combination ensures more efficient work processes, time savings and less manual effort. We now want to use all these advantages to reduce costs and increase quality once again.
How can this work?
Thomas Kohler: I don't want to give too much away at this point (laughs). It's all about efficient capacity utilization and flexibility in the lead time. These parameters play a decisive role in series projects in particular. We are currently working on a model and want to ask all our customers for their opinion soon.
3D printing will be a key focus in the coming years. What about vacuum casting?
Thomas Kohler: The production of small series in vacuum casting will become even more important. The relocation of all vacuum casting series projects within the Group to Dornbirn is a clear commitment by Prototal Industries.
Where is injection molding and toolmaking heading?
Thomas Kohler: The aim is to enter the European market. With our know-how and many years of experience in toolmaking, we will benefit from the Prototal Group's network after the familiarization phase. Our team will manufacture aluminum tools for other companies in the group and take on selected injection moulding projects, for example for clean room requirements. We are one of Europe's leading providers in this area. With an innovative solution, we will soon be increasing the capacity utilization of the tools and creating even larger quantities. We will reveal more about this next year.
What have been the biggest challenges since you started as Managing Director?
Thomas Kohler: With a few exceptions, 1zu1 has always been on an upward trajectory. Since the middle of the year, we have been feeling the effects of the tense global economic situation. In addition to the high energy prices, we have had to make savings and postpone development projects. We are constantly evaluating all processes and adapting our internal structure to the new market situation. The increasing level of automation and the volatile market situation have unfortunately necessitated a reduction in personnel in recent months. This was not an easy step for us to take, but it was necessary for the healthy further development of 1zu1. Thanks to the valuable support of our HR department headed by Inge Rein, we have now been able to place almost all affected employees with regional partner companies in Vorarlberg. The close cohesion and support within the network was very pleasing. With our still powerful team, we are now looking positively to the future.
You mentioned the introduction of new technologies earlier. What is 1zu1 planning and when will it start?
Thomas Kohler: This involves new, near-series materials, innovative processes in 3D printing and a tool revolution in injection molding. The first details will be ready for discussion in early 2024. I can already reveal one thing: We are doing pioneering work and will be one of the first companies in the world to offer these solutions on the market.
Keyword sustainability: Where can 1zu1 save resources and is this even possible with additive manufacturing, which is particularly material-intensive?
Thomas Kohler: Yes, absolutely. The key lies in recycling. By optimally adjusting all of our P500 systems and measuring the melt index weekly with special testing equipment, we have been able to increase the proportion of used powder in 3D printing by up to 10 percent. At the same time, thanks to the high packing density, we produce twice as many components per job with the P500 as with previous generations of systems, which saves us a lot of powder. With the latest technology, we can therefore achieve better results, require less material and reduce waste to a minimum. This is "pure" sustainability for our future.