Start-ups tend to be thought of as being part of the platform economics of e-commerce or perhaps the field of e-mobility. In pop culture, they are also characterized by hip young entrepreneurs positioning (or trying to position) their business models on the market. Wasch & Härte Technik Oberriet AG (WHT), however, does not fit into this cliché. The company was launched in 2016 and operates in the rather harsh industrial sector. Founders Ernst Schönauer and Giuseppe Lamorte stand behind its vision of being “the best hardening company in the world” once its start-up phase is complete. The two of them contribute a total of more than 60 years of internationally gained practical experience in the field of heat treatment. They want to further develop this know-how and make it accessible to younger employees.
Significant start-up costs for machinery and equipment
WHT’s business case based on three areas. The first area is bulk goods, which are subjected to heat treatment according to prescribed recipes. These includes fittings, screws and nails as well as axles and gears. The result of this kind of metallurgical treatment is new metals, which are generally more stable and at the same time lighter than their preceding product. The second area includes hardening and washing system services. This primarily entails repair work, which is also provided worldwide. Lastly, WHT is active in engineering and consulting and supports its customers in the development of their own products.
As the company name implies, its focus is also on “washing.” This means that it not only reliably solves physical requirements for metals and small parts; it also cleans them, thus increasing their quality for further use. The foundation for the infrastructure required in terms of the range of services was found on the site of a former fish farm in St. Gallen’s Rheintal. At the beginning of 2016, a 10,000 m² hall was rented there and extensively rebuilt. In the same year, this was followed by the assembly and commissioning of the first gas tanks, batch ovens and a car wash. WHT gained ISO-9001 and ISO-14001 certifications as early as September of the same year.
Reliable “workhorses” in the industrial environment
Since then, the young company’s further development has been vigorously pursued, because after all, the initiators strive for market leadership in technology. In addition, it aims to strengthen the Rheintal production site and create further jobs in eastern Switzerland. Right from the beginning, it has been accompanied by industrial trucks of the brands Stöcklin and Hyundai.
“We work in the bulk production of metal. The equipment is used mainly for the unloading and loading of trucks and for internal material transport to the plants and from the facilities to parking spaces for further use,”
says Co-Founder and WHT CEO Ernst Schönauer, describing their job.
The start was made in 2016 by a type ESI 16 electric stand-up high-lift truck from Stöcklin Logistik. It is equipped with initial lift and three-phase AC drive and is designed for payloads up to 3,000 kg. With a height of 1,410 mm, it achieves a lift of 1,786 mm. The device has particular advantages in terms of block storage and truck handling. The chassis width of 800 mm combined with the short stem length of 920 mm saves space, enabling unimpeded pallet handling. The side drive and a lateral support roller in combination with the terrain compensation integrated in the initial lift provide for the best traction and stability when driving.
Comprehensive portfolio for growing demands
Growth in the following year included an identical ESI 16 electric stand-up high-lift truck, three SHR 2012 high-speed lift truck, two SHR 2002s with recessed scales and the first 9-series electric forklift from the manufacturer Hyundai. Stöcklin Logistik has been active as a successful distribution partner for this series in Switzerland since the beginning of 2013. With the Hyundai 35BH-9 a four-wheel counterbalanced forklift was purchased. WHT chose a variant with a total height of 2,243 mm, which braces loads up to 3,350 kg with a maximum fork height of 4,705 mm. Another characteristic is a control that limits driving speed depending on the curve radius, so that precise and gentle cornering are always guaranteed. The drive units and the AC motors integrated in the front axle also make it possible to drive safely on steeper ramps. An optimized cylinder arrangement provides a good all-round view and when reset, a parabolic mirror expands the driver’s field of view.
In addition, WHT decided on three SHR 2012 high-speed lift trucks from Stöcklin and two SHR 2002-W devices with integrated weighing systems, each designed for a 2,000 kg lift capacity. The SHR 2012, whose shafts and bolts are made of stainless steel, switches from “high-speed lift” to “normal lift” directly during the pumping process, without any additional drawbar pull. A single pump is enough to be able to lift and move loaded pallets. The high-speed lift range requires only 3.5 pump strokes. All hydraulic functions are carried out within a valve cartridge, and no oil drainage is required during maintenance. The SHR 2002-W’s weighing system is designed with an IP 65 degree of protection and offers, in addition to taring and other relevant functions, automatic zero calibration and automatic power cut-off.
Long-term partnership on equal footing
In the meantime, another Hyundai 35BH-9 four-wheel forklift and two MS 1000 hand high-lift trucks from Stöcklin Logistik have been added. The latter are equipped with a quick-lift hydraulic unit and stand for high stability, low rolling resistance, minimum space requirements and high ease of maintenance. For safety reasons, a grid cover is also attached to the mast. Spring pressure through which the drawbar automatically remains in a vertical position is also characteristic. The newest members of the forklift fleet at WHT are two more ESI 16 electric stand-up high-lift trucks, which employees are now familiar with handling, and a device of the same series, which operates greater lift heights of up to 3,386 mm.
Ernst Schönauer is convinced that he made the right choice.
“For us as a start-up it was very important to get a strategically oriented offer, which also provided support for the restructuring and development of the company with rental equipment on favorable terms. However, it was also of relevance that the majority of the value creation is produced in Switzerland.”
The equipment is also extremely compact and enabled a quick transition from manual work on the actual product to its subsequent transport. In this respect, a change of provider would not come into question.
“Our collaboration with Stöcklin is excellent. They listen to our worries and problems and try to work them out sustainably. I feel like a customer taken seriously,”
emphasizes WHT CEO Ernst Schönauer.
Almost three years after starting operations, the company, led by him and Giuseppe Lamorte, can already boast an impressive customer base. These customers are primarily from mechanical engineering, the automotive industry, and the construction and fittings sector. Planned further growth has already been secured by possibilities for expansion on the site of the former fish farm. By the way, WHT made it into the ranks of the five finalists for the Swiss young entrepreneurs’ award, Startfeld Diamant, in 2019. This is accompanied by a two-stage application process during which the business model is reviewed and further improved. Ultimately, a provider of electrically powered passenger vehicles prevailed. WHT nevertheless remains one of the most innovative start-ups in eastern Switzerland. To be continued.