SpektrumBau 2018: An invention changes the world

Switzerland is sometimes referred to as the land of inventors, as the density of successful inventions and ideas is unrivalled worldwide. One of these inventors is Alois Portmann. His BREXTOR (formerly BRC pile head milling machine) caused a sensation not only in Switzerland, but worldwide. Reason enough to interview the developer and managing director of two lucrative companies (BauPers GmbH & BRC) as part of our publications. In the following pages, we will discuss with Alois Portmann why his invention will change the world, where the difficulties of success lie and why the added value of his invention should mainly take place in Switzerland. Stay tuned, because we believe that true inventiveness should be honoured accordingly.

Interview with Alois Portmann, Managing Director BauPers GmbH,

SpektrumBau: Mr Portmann, could you briefly tell us who you are and where you come from.

Alois Portmann: I grew up in Sempach, where my professional career began with an apprenticeship as a road builder. With various further training courses, I eventually became a construction foreman and then switched to construction machinery sales. In 2001, together with three colleagues, I made myself permanent by founding Baurent (BRC from 2004).
The company BauPers was added later. Many customers have approached us with the desire to hire both a machine and trained employees on a temporary basis. We wanted to offer this service without coming into conflict with the collective labour agreements for the main construction industry and construction machinery operators, which is why we founded this new company. In the meantime, BauPers’ area of responsibility has also changed, although we are still happy to provide our good customers with machine operators. In the meantime, however, our people are mainly travelling throughout Switzerland with BREXTOR, which we use for pile breaking.

SpektrumBau: Your great invention is Brextor, a device for pile breaking. How is marketing and production going?

Alois Portmann: It is going very well, as you have already said, our child has now been baptised BREXTOR. This is because we want to have a strong and established brand on the global market in 10 to 15 years’ time, when patent protection expires. We have now reached the point where we can produce BREXTOR in series and are currently marketing it all over the world. The first machine has been in operation for around a month at FAIR, the smaller version of CERN, in Darmstadt at STRABAG. BREXTOR can also prove itself there despite the toughest conditions. On this construction site, the piles are up to 6 years old and the concrete is as hard as glass. We are therefore pleased that our machine is also well received there.
We have delivered another machine to the Philippines, where it will soon go into operation.

SpektrumBau: These are good prospects. What are the short-term goals with BREXTOR?

Alois Portmann: First and foremost, we want to create and secure many jobs in Switzerland. In my opinion, with a Swiss idea like BREXTOR, the value creation should also take place in Switzerland, whereby the greatest added value is certainly for the user and, thanks to the enormous time savings, ultimately also for the end customer, as the quality of the result is beyond all doubt.
Internationally, we were able to conclude our first distribution agreement with the company Kinshofer. This gives us the advantage of having a strong partner on our side with a very good international network, which will help us to launch BREXTOR on the global market.

SpektrumBau: The final assembly will take place in Rain (Switzerland)? Where do you source the components for BREXTOR?

Alois Portmann: Exactly, the final assembly takes place here in Rain. We want to keep it that way if possible, although sooner or later we will certainly have to reckon with a capacity bottleneck, but here too we already have some solutions up our sleeve.
We work together with steel suppliers who provide us with the raw parts. For example, Hans Meier AG in Altishofen processes our raw parts with the CNC machine and then delivers them directly to us. We obtain the drive motor from Kinshofer, whereby we modify it specifically for our application, as the standard motor cannot withstand the immense forces of our product. We have an agreement with Kinshofer to make the drive motor BREXTOR-compatible.

SpektrumBau: Regarding customised versions of BREXTOR. How open are you to special customer requests, especially in the initial phase?

Alois Portmann: We are very open in this respect and have already had a few requests for customised products, which I think we should be able to handle without any problems. Incidentally, the machine that we delivered to the Philippines was already a customised machine with special dimensions. So we are prepared for such requests.

SpektrumBau: A machine like BREXTOR is naturally subject to enormous wear and tear. Where can the customer obtain wear parts and how does maintenance work?

Alois Portmann: Wearing parts, such as chisels, are specially manufactured for us and are also purchased exclusively from us by our customers. In return, the user does not have to pay annual patent licence fees. The high-quality wear parts and the consumption-based licence fees enable the user to calculate costs consistently.

SpektrumBau: The entire development of BREXTOR up to the present day has taken about 10 years. How can you motivate yourself to keep going over such a long period of time?

Alois Portmann: First of all, we had the advantage of being in control of both the design and the application. This enabled us to massively improve the product in-house during the many development stages. This has also helped us to successfully apply processes that theoreticians say are impossible in practice. This perseverance and the absolute belief that our product will work enabled us to successfully complete the long development period.
Incidentally, a first prototype was already successfully used in 2007 in Domdidier (Switzerland) at the Aldi distribution centre, where we were able to process 7,500 small piles. It was also our good fortune that we were able to start small and gradually improve. This first order helped us to cover a good part of the initial development costs, which of course gave us additional motivation.

SpektrumBau: Major construction companies such as Eberhard Bau AG, Lötscher Tiefbau AG, Groupe Orllati and the Volken Group already rely on BREXTOR. That must be a satisfying feeling for you, right?

Alois Portmann: Clearly, it is an incredibly good feeling when you see that a product you have developed yourself fulfils a market need to the complete satisfaction of everyone involved, in our case from the building owner to the user. The fact that we can guarantee our current and future employees a certain degree of job security thanks to BREXTOR also gives us a good feeling.
Last but not least, I’m also thinking of the health of the many construction workers who used to have to cut off the pile heads by hand in order to achieve a reasonably satisfactory result. The physically irreparable damage that such work inevitably entailed is now a thing of the past thanks to BREXTOR, which makes me very happy and proud.

SpektrumBau: You have already won the Zinno award (Zentralschweiz Innovativ) Ideas Cheque competition, and now you are going on to a national competition?

Alois Portmann: Yes, winning the Zinno naturally motivated us a lot. The people who looked after us as part of this award then suggested that we should also present our project nationally. So we registered for the Swiss innovation competition, Swiss Innovation Challenge 2018, and are now among the last 25 participants in the final of this event.
With regard to these competitions, I would also like to say that we were able to learn a lot in the area of product marketing, especially from Prof Dr Rolf-Dieter Reineke, who pointed out to us that we need a strong name for our product in order to market it internationally. The experts have also prepared us very well for the future, because you have to imagine that a successful product also requires a tremendous amount of planning. We have to be prepared for everything so that we don’t have to experience any supply bottlenecks that could have a negative impact.

SpektrumBau: You designed and invented BREXTOR. Do you already have ideas for future products that could lead you to success?

Alois Portmann: I still have a lot of ideas, but at the moment the successful launch of BREXTOR is of the utmost importance, which is why I am focussing on it completely. For this reason, the realisation of new ideas would probably be more of a half-hearted affair at the moment, which is why I would like to give myself and the company a few more years. However, the development of BREXTOR is not yet complete, as there are special applications, such as 2.50 to 3.00 m high connection reinforcements, which require a specific design. There is therefore still some development potential for the individual models in the near future.

Fortunately, I can count on my very good employees, who continue the normal day-to-day business and thus create the necessary capacity for me to take care of BREXTOR! ▼

Original press release in German.

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