Imagined, expressed, achieved
At some point, every producer of custom-made sensors will find themselves climbing on the roof of a lift while seeking a solution to a problem. The entire building of CEDES, the Graubünden-based tech company, is a wonderful workshop for accomplished and aspiring makers alike.
A lift made for puzzling
If you know about the history of CEDES, you will understand why the high-tech company has stuck with what its Head of Application Engineering, Peter Grüninger, describes as a creative and occasionally chaotic approach to business. The idea for the company was born at a kitchen table, and its first photoelectric barrier was built in a basement. Today, the innovation forge from Landquart has become a major player employing more than 200 “sensor pioneers”. It develops Swiss sensors for international clients, too, including Amazon.
What is the secret behind their success? A state-of-the-art infrastructure and the same intellectual curiosity that sustained the CEDES team while they were still headquartered in a basement. Master puzzler Peter Grüninger explains: “The test lift, which was originally built out of necessity, is a major part of it all. Its owner lost a project because he hadn’t had an opportunity to test the sensors properly before. The setback vexed him, so he decided: ‘We’re going to build a tower lift. I’m not going to make the same mistake again.’ In 2006, that simple thought led to a step that has opened many doors to us and will open many more in future.”
From the lab to the infrastructure – and back
Photonics Engineer and master’s student Chris Linvers believes that moving from the lab to the infrastructure is always worth it. “We have labs with state-of-the-art equipment, sure, but a lab is not suitable for testing everything you encounter in the field.” When the engineers head to the test lift, it is usually for troubleshooting. Even their knowledge from the Chur University of Applied Sciences is not beyond re-evaluation: “If the theory I learned at university doesn’t work in the infrastructure, I improve the theory and try again. And again. And again.”
Where fun comes first
Like the test sites, the workplace of Peter Grüninger and his colleagues reflects their unconventional approach. “My lab is my source of inspiration, and it clearly shows how our department likes to work. We’re the ones with the nerf guns under our desks and the party lights in the drawer. I firmly believe that people only work well when they take pleasure in the unexpected.” Not only does their innovative setting spell fun, it also delivers maximal results in the shortest possible time. Chris Linvers explains that the team can produce a prototype in just one to three weeks. He emphasises: “That is only possible because we get to run our thoughts past the other teams – and the building – completely flexibly.”
Experimenting across departments
The drive for alternative solutions lightens up the working atmosphere across the building, and it inspires the people who make up the company to view everyday obstacles from a different perspective. Before joining CEDES, Claudia Forrer from HR only knew of the company because of the outsize lift tower overlooking Landquart. But she found plenty of reasons to stay. “The building is absolutely buzzing with creativity. Or maybe the noise is just Peter sitting on the lift again.” She can tell that her own perseverance increases with every floor. “When I take something to another department and see an engineer completely absorbed in their work, I feel inspired to keep going, too.” With all this razor-sharp focus, the engineers do sometimes forget to look after the room climate. So they installed sensors that measure air quality. When the room gets too stuffy, a red light comes on and reminds the puzzlers to open a window.
What sort of person feels at home with CEDES? People who dare to find solutions through wild trial and error and do more than just press a button on a lift to reach their goal. The team’s daily schedule certainly looks flexible and fluid, but there is one exception: beer in the park at three o’clock every Friday. That is fixed. Everyone agrees: the park is the best place to meet new people, enjoy the sun and soak up the scenery. “Just like a lift shaft”, Peter Grüninger says with a twinkle in his eye.