Continue innovative strength, implement complex systems
Alex Makuch – one of MicroStep’s three Managing Directors – about strengths, goals and projects of the globally active enterprise
Published 10.01.2020 | Erich Wörishofer
You are Managing Director of MicroStep since 2018. What are the highlights of your everyday work experience?
Alex Makuch: I like working with people, discussing problems and being part of a group that shapes the ideas into a solution. My primary goal is to create an “ecosystem” for my employees and not to stand in their way. I am happy to see people grow from both technical and managerial perspective, even more so when this growth is accompanied by a positive attitude towards the company and optimism regarding its future.
You are one of three MDs, together with Eva Stejskalová and Iren Brhlík. How do you divide your tasks and responsibilities?
Alex Makuch: It is an unusual structure but it is not unique. Our company has always had multiple managing directors with different responsibilities. Generally Eva is responsible for R&D, IT, the financial department and project management; Iren is in charge of both our production facilities in Hriňová and Partizánske and logistics. I oversee the front-line departments including sales, marketing, technical support, application engineers and aftersales. The advantage of this structure is that each director is accountable for his/her departments and each of us can immediately oversee activities of the other two. This ensures better decision-making because each decision is evaluated in an early stage from multiple perspectives. Everybody has peers to consult his/her decisions with and can better focus on his/her particular areas. We discuss questions and problems with each other, offer advices and propose solutions.
Mr. Makuch, what is your history with MicroStep?
Alex Makuch: After finishing my studies at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering of the Slovak University of Technology, I continued to work there at the Department of Control and Automation. Before the fall of the communist regime we worked on several engineering projects for the industry in Slovakia that were realized through the university. Our situation changed significantly with the Velvet Revolution in 1989 which made private entrepreneurship possible again. Together with a few of my colleagues from the faculty we decided to make use of the new situation and founded our own company, MicroStep. At first, we wanted to focus on general control systems and automation of production lines and other motion systems. We worked on multiple such projects including control nodes for large hydroelectric power plants and control systems for small hydroelectric power plants. What pointed us towards CNC cutting machines was a job to create a complete control system for an existing CNC plasma cutting machine in 1992. After successful completion of this task we continued to work on other projects, but gradually started to shift our resources more and more towards CNC cutting. After some time we joined our forces with a group of mechanical engineers and the rest, as they say, is history.
MicroStep’s slogan is “Your Partner for Cutting and Automation”. How many customers worldwide trust your solutions today? In your opinion, what are the most important reasons why these companies rely on MicroStep’s technology?
Alex Makuch: We sold more than 2,700 machines and many of them were bought by returning customers. That is the greatest validation of our efforts. We view these repeated purchases as a very positive sign. It shows us that the solution promised during negotiations – and subsequently delivered – has met or even exceeded customer’s expectations, that we solved any problems that may have arisen and provided prompt service and assistance. MicroStep always tries hard to work out any possible issues.
„Our unusual structure ensures better decisions.“
Managing Director | MicroStep
We usually provide more innovative products with more features than other producers in our segment. Our machines produce high quality parts that usually do not require any further machining. This brings substantial decrease in production costs for our customers. MicroStep offers them solutions, not just standalone machines. Each system is offered with the option to integrate it into customer’s production facility, both by hardware and software. Our goal is to help increase their productivity with a focus on production automation. These efforts are supported by the fact that we make all of the software and almost all of our hardware in house. This gives us great leeway when designing customer-specific machines. Many of our competitors simply cannot do that and our customers greatly appreciate the fact that we can.
The main strength of MicroStep are strong, experienced and capable people who make all of this possible.
To keep it that way in the future, MicroStep invests heavily. What measures are you taking to strengthen and expand your market position?
Alex Makuch: MicroStep is continuously investing into its assets. Last year we built a new 1,200 m2 workshop and we are just finishing yet another workshop with an area of 1,500 m2. We have also purchased a new blasting machine and a new horizontal table-type milling machine to increase our productivity and improve the quality of our machines. However, we realize that our biggest asset are our employees. This is reflected in our shareholder policy. People who have been with us for some time and have proved themselves get an opportunity to buy a share in the company. This unorthodox system ensures stability and continuity for the company as well as personal investment of the shareholding employees. Furthermore, we continuously provide our managers and other employees opportunities to improve their interpersonal skills in trainings organized for them.
We are convinced that the key to our success is a strong R&D base. We now have more than 70 highly skilled developers who focus on improving our products and their individual parts and on increasing their automation level. Our goal is to produce fully automated manufacturing cells in accordance with the philosophy of Industry 4.0. At the moment, this means augmenting our CNC machines with automatic workpiece stock and loading systems, as well as systems for sorting of cut parts and scrap material. The aim is to increase production capacity of our machines and to allow their integration into automated factories. We are also working on improving diagnostics and predictive maintenance that will significantly increase reliability of our products and minimize their downtime. We have had these features in our machines since before Industry 4.0 was a thing but we are still looking for new ways to improve and broaden their functionality.
„We are convinced that the key to our success is a strong R&D base.“
Managing Director | MicroStep
What new challenges is MicroStep facing in your opinion compared to 10 years ago?
Alex Makuch: MicroStep has been growing for the last 30 years and we have crossed the threshold between being a small company and a big one. This brings forth many challenges like the necessity to adjust the organizational structure and internal processes, standardize production as well as all the related administration.
We are continuously moving forward with our main strategy, which is to give our customers solutions to their particular needs, ideally with a good amount of automation. We are becoming well known in this area and are currently working on many complex projects where we handle not only the cutting part but also material manipulation and its transport between individual nodes of the production line, or the entire workflow of a production line and its connection to the customer’s ERP system.
There are not many producers able to deliver such complex solutions. These projects require a lot of research and development and put strain on our human resources. With more and more complex projects, our challenge right now is to find new, experienced people for the emerging specialist positions needed to bring these projects into fruition.
Last but not least, there is the challenge of maintaining a stable and well-educated network of partners all around the world. We are aiming to have a company representing us in each country that we sell to. Our local partners are able to provide swift service and their knowledge of the market increases the chance to land complex projects.
Where do you expect MicroStep to be in 10 years?
Alex Makuch: We have always been proud to belong among the most innovative companies in our segment. Over the years we brought multiple new features to the market, many of which have been later copied by our competitors. We want to continue in this trend and simultaneously increase the number of complex projects.
I believe that the future will favor only those who will be able to deliver cutting-edge solutions. CNC cutting machines are complex mechatronic systems with an extensive software suite. Only companies that command a strong R&D base, including specialists in the field of mechanical design, control systems, software tools and integration interfaces, are able to design such systems.
How do you relax to take your mind off the challenges of everyday work?
Alex Makuch: The thing that unwinds me the most is spending time with my family. Apart from that I really enjoy sailing, cycling, playing tennis, skiing, basically any outdoor activity in general.
Click here for the Interview with Eva Stejskalová