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20 years of smart-TEC – an interview with the management board about the company’s beginnings and future visions

2019 is a special year for smart-TEC. The Oberhaching-based company, which is part of the RATHGEBER Group, is celebrating an important anniversary. For 20 years, smart-TEC has produced customised RFID and NFC transponders, and has therefore made products more intelligent. The broad product portfolio ranges from RFID labels to industry-compatible RFID transponders. Klaus Dargahi, CEO of smart-TEC and Andreas Schrägle, managing owner of the RATHGEBER Group, remember how it all began, and venture a glimpse into the future.

Mr Schrägle, what was your plan when you founded smart-TEC in 1999?

Mr Schrägle: For over 70 years, RATHGEBER has produced customised labelling solutions, such as logos, emblems and logotypes. The main focus is on the design, the aesthetics and the haptics. Our products are truly eye-catching and can decorate anything – cupboards, skis, machinery and suitcases.
My aim and vision was to make emblems that were both beautiful and intelligent. I thought that it would be a great idea to combine beauty with intelligence, in order to lead RATHGEBER into a secure, successful future. This vision led to the birth of smart-TEC.

Mr Dargahi, you became a manager over 13 years ago. What potential did you see in smart-TEC?

Mr Dargahi: I have worked in the field of RFID and NFC technologies for over 20 years, but I immediately recognised smart-TEC as a competent market aide. I have been impressed with smart-TEC’s products since day one. They develop and produce unique RFID and NFC products through a whole range of in-house manufacturing processes – from digital printing to casting technologies, lasers, screen printing and high-frequency welding. This has always been a niche market, but one that we have expanded and successfully occupied.

Can you still remember your first client?

Mr Dargahi: Yes, very well. Our first project was an RFID-based maintenance, service and inventory solution for Berliner Wasserbetriebe. The requirements for the RFID transponder were so high in terms of temperature resistance, climatic influences, adhesion and chemical stresses, that only smart-TEC could supply it. We developed a unique RFID transponder which was fully adapted to our client’s requirements and demands, and which is still in use today.

How does smart-TEC support its customers in the implementation of Industry 4.0 and the IoT?

Mr Dargahi: For over 20 years, we have analysed business processes and to what extent RFID technology can make them faster, more cost-effective, more retraceable and safer. Our main focus is on production, maintenance, service, inventory, storage and logistics processes. This test of the internal processes and the targeted increase in efficiency is one of the key tasks involved in successfully implementing Industry 4.0 and the IoT. RFID and NFC are the most important interdisciplinary technologies in the context of Industry 4.0 and the IoT. We used to just offer RFID solutions, but now we are an important partner and advisor when it comes to successfully implementing Industry 4.0 and the IoT... even if the basic tasks haven’t in the past 20 years.

Mr Schrägle, has your dream of intelligent products come true?

Mr Schrägle: Yes and no. It takes a lot of time and patience to be a technology-driven pioneer. We all know that the RFID market has developed steadily, but not at the speed I would have expected as an owner and investor. smart-TEC has greatly contributed to market development and design over the past 20 years, and has initiated, assisted in and implemented several RFID projects.
NFC technology has achieved the right breakthrough in terms of intelligent labelling solutions. It is used in devices such as smartphones and tablets.
RFID technology has therefore taken a great step away from a purely B2B market, and towards the B2C market.
Many RATHGEBER Group customers who obtain emblems and logotypes from us ask about the integration of NFC technology, with the aim of offering their customers added value even after the transaction has been completed.

What would you say were the most important decisions that you made en route to becoming experts in RFID and NFC technology?

Mr Dargahi: When I joined smart-TEC 13 years ago, there were just two of us. Now, though, the RATHGEBER Group employs more than 20 people who develop, produce and distribute RFID products. This growth was made possible by competent and visionary employees. Large-scale reference projects, a stable network of partners, suppliers and clients, long-term cooperation as executives of the industrial association AIM, fast product development cycles and bold investments have also made the growth possible.

Let’s look into the crystal ball. What will smart-TEC’s market position be in five years’ time?

Mr Dargahi: I am certain that we will establish ourselves even more firmly as industry specialists. We laid the organisational foundations several years ago. Since then, we have become recognised experts in the railway, rail operation and railway supplier industries. We are also key players in the fields of occupational safety and personal protective equipment. There are indeed other sectors which require our RFID and NFC skills – the construction and woodwork industries, to name just two.

Mr Schrägle: NFC technology offers greater, almost inexhaustible, potential. Virtually all RATHGEBER Group customers are in promising target groups.