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At the high-tech company TRUMPF, the path to a solution is never a straight line. Quite the contrary. In our interview with Head of Marking Solutions, Benedikt Rentsch, we learn that the team at the Grüsch office like to draw beyond the edge of the paper to find new ideas. And we find out why TRUMPF sometimes shoot their lasers at clouds.
Anyone seeking client-specific laser marking solutions for hardware or software need look no further than Benedikt Rentsch. Today, the 34-year-old manages a team of eleven, but things were quite different three years ago.
Three years ago, you joined TRUMPF as an assistant to the management. Why?
Benedikt Rentsch: It’s quite an unusual career move for an ETH graduate, I know. I finished my doctorate in mechanical engineering in 2018 and applied for a vacant position as a management assistant with TRUMPF. That was a deliberate decision. I wanted to supplement my technical knowledge with some entrepreneurial insights into running a large business. My time as an assistant taught me a great deal of useful skills that I use as a division manager today.
Now, you’re close to the development side of things again. How versatile are lasers?
BR: Incredibly versatile. There are lasers everywhere, from the jewellery industry to space travel. Our fields of application range from macroscopic labelling processes to lasers for microchip manufacturing, which are invisible to the naked eye. There are many applications that the public doesn’t even know about. In collaboration with the University of Geneva, TRUMPF worked on an exciting project in the field of disaster prevention last year. It all started with a TRUMPF laser being put up on Mount Säntis. Its purpose was to shoot at clouds to hit thunderbolts before they can strike. This system can prevent billions’ worth of damage in hot spots, such as airports and densely populated residential areas.
A laser-based lightning conductor? That certainly fits your employer branding: “Trusting in brave ideas”.
BR: Yes, we take that motto very seriously, especially in my division. In my role as supervisor, I don’t tell people how to solve a problem. Quite the contrary. My team consists of highly qualified technicians. They’re all extremely knowledgeable and skilled in their own specialisms. When we receive a request from a client, we hold round-table discussions a few times a week. Everyone gets together to analyse the problem, from student interns to experienced technicians. My team contributes all sorts of ideas. This results in approaches that none of us, not even I or an experienced development manager, could come up with on our own.
Your team seems to work in an agile way. Quite apart from that, can a large, family-run company such as TRUMPF respond to social changes quickly enough?
BR: Why would a family-run company not be agile? A family-run company is managed in a way that keeps it successful for many generations. At the same time, a large family business also needs to be courageous and forge new paths, as it won’t survive otherwise. TRUMPF employs more than 14,000 staff in around 70 locations. In Switzerland, we focus on lasers for labelling and microstructuring purposes among other things. We can’t ask the parent company in Germany for permission every time we need to respond swiftly to new market conditions. The same goes for my division: I need to be able to act in the best interest of my team. Thankfully, I am allowed to.
Why should tech enthusiasts consider TRUMPF?
BR (laughs): Well, I am one, too. Honestly, the figures are what convinced me. For an industry company, TRUMPF spends a lot on development. In the 2021 financial year, 11 per cent of revenue was invested in development. And we have tools that many passionate tech enthusiasts would not be able to access on their own. As a result, we can try new things – and fail – without it being a problem. In short, TRUMPF is a paradise for techies.
Which crazy vision do you, as a techie, still want to make a reality?
BR: Oh, I’ve got a good one. It’s to do with nuclear fusion. Nuclear fusion is a way of generating energy. Researchers have been studying it since the 1960s, but their efforts have not been very fruitful. Unlike nuclear fission and fossil fuels, this would be a sustainable approach to solving our energy problem. Right now, we can see our energy resources dwindle, and we desperately need to find new sources. Here’s how: put extremely simply, a magnetic coil fuses hydrogen isotopes into a helium nucleus. Energy is generated from that nucleus. A laser could heat the hydrogen isotopes to more than 100 million degrees, thus triggering the reaction.
Who knows – Benedikt Rentsch and his team may well be the first people to make the world a better place using lasers. Having experienced their impressive amount of knowledge and passion, we wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.