Swiss coffee machine manufacturer optimizes development and production

Thermoplan | Switzerland

Swiss coffee machine manufacturer optimizes development and production


Innovation and international breakthrough

The success story of Thermoplan AG begins in Weggis, Switzerland, by Lake Lucerne, in 1974, starting with whipped cream machines and milk foamers, continuing through the development of fully automated coffee machines for gastronomes starting in 1995. The international breakthrough of the innovative, modular- designed production series Black&White finally opened the door to a new business model: in 1999, the American company Starbucks® exclusively commissioned the 38-employee family business with the Edgedevelopment and production of a fully automated coffee machine for all of its shops. This ushered in a phase of internationalization and growth: today the company also develops production lines with Costa Coffee and Nespresso®, as well as McDonald’s.

Around 20 percent of the company’s 270 employees are currently employed in research and development. With an export share of 98 percent, Thermoplan is represented in 70 countries.

Development partnership leads to 3D CAD

Since the year 2000, all products have been designed with Solid Edge® software for computer-aided design (CAD). The new dimensions and growing complexity of the machines should optimally be managed by professional 3D engineering tools. After a market analysis, Thermoplan decided to introduce Solid Edge.

Solid Edge is very user-friendly, has a good price/performance ratio and is equipped with special functions for injection molding tools and sheet metal design. In addition, the solution is used by many of the Thermoplan’s suppliers. “Part of our strategy involves close cooperation with suppliers,” recalls Adrian Steiner, CEO and co-owner of Thermoplan. “That’s why we wanted to work with a system that has proven success there.”

Over 16 years the company’s requirements for the software and the CAD solution have grown simultaneously. “Neither we nor our engineering partners have ever lacked functions – we have never had to look for a different solution,” says Steiner. For the tinkerers and inventors at Thermoplan, Solid Edge remains an essential tool for realizing ideas and representing them in design drawings.

Digitalization supports perfect coffee enjoyment

The age of digitalization does not stop at the development and production of fully automated coffee machines. For example, Thermoplan equips its machines with specially developed software systems. “Software has become so important strategically that we develop it in-house,” explains Steiner. A user-friendly touch panel enables the user to control and configure nearly all functions of a machine.

Thermoplan’s digitalization efforts included establishing a connection between Solid Edge and the company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to improve ordering processes. Digitalization has also made it possible to better track and manage the materials used in production and Thermoplan’s quality assurance processes. The company can now also offer customer service remotely over the internet; for example, by providing instructions for replacing the water filter.

Currently, the company evaluates and develops customer requirements using comprehensive data analyses. “The head office of Starbucks is located in Seattle near Microsoft ‒ quite a cerebral neighborhood,” reports Steiner. Topics of discussion go far beyond mechatronics and precision mechanics, and include supply chain management, mobile payment and traceability.

“The harmonious interaction of all system components is crucial – like in an orchestra,” explains Thomas Mueller, CTO of Thermoplan. “For us, Solid Edge is the best business tool for visualization and cooperation with our customers, designers and suppliers.” Wherever technical details are important, they are presented in a 3D model.