To secure your position and diversify risk is a must for any company in today’s ever-changing business environment. The Boskovice-based Gatema has three main pillars of their activity. First, they provide companies from various industries with their Helios ERP systems. Second, they supply prototypes of printed circuit boards for electronics and electrical engineering manufacturers in record time, and last but not least, they develop the Apollon medical audiovisual system for healthcare. On top, they always add enthusiasm, empathy and innovation into the mix for their customers.
"Many other companies began their success story in the garage, but Gatema started in 1992 in the attic," František Vlk, the company's co-owner, says jokingly.
At the very beginning, Gatema became a partner of Asseco Solutions, the main supplier of Helios ERP systems. About one year after the company was set up, there was a change in ownership, and the company had four Czech co-owners for several years. František Vlk is one of them and as an electrical engineering enthusiast, it was he who initiated the start of the production of printed circuit boards. "After my graduation, I worked on the side of our current customers. I was involved in design & development, I designed electrical devices and printed circuit boards," he recalls. Today, it is the main activity of Gatema.
In 1997, both the original section of the company from the town of Kunštát and the division from Brno which manufactured printed circuit boards moved to the town of Boskovice. Since the early 2000s, the company has had three co-owners. Gatema’s current headquarters, including the production plant, has been located in the Boskovice industrial zone since 2012. "At that time, we started developing our audiovisual system for healthcare," adds the company's managing director. Gatema thus evolved from a limited liability company and later a public limited company to its current status of a holding company with a parent company and several subsidiaries as of 2020. Gatema also plans to acquire more companies going forward.
In prototypes, speed matters
The company's three main products lines differ not only in the type of customer for whom they are intended, but also in their demands and priorities. In printed circuit boards, it is primarily about speed. "We make printed circuit boards for industries where time is the main factor. Businesses compete in launching new products on the market, and speed and responsiveness are extremely valued. The customer designs their printed circuit board and sends us the data, from which we draw up the manufacturing documentation and launch the production process. The end product is an unmounted printed circuit board," František Vlk describes.
Gatema focuses on prototype production, which involves deliveries of three, five or ten pieces. Customers are developers who design electrical products. They include IT companies, communication systems developers, healthcare institutions and everyone else who need printed circuit boards. Smaller century series are also manufactured here for some clients. It is often necessary to achieve certain well-defined qualities, which may not always be possible if manufacturing is outsourced to China.
"We can only see about a week ahead," concludes Gatema’s co-owner. Although there are no long-term orders in this industry, the company believes that there will always be demand for prototypes for electrical engineering and electronics.
Printed circuit boards are sought after all over Europe, particularly in Germany. Gatema also has customers in the Nordics, the Benelux countries and the United Kingdom. They deliver to Italy, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland and the Baltics as well.
A team of experts is worth its weight in gold
The company division that deals with Helios corporate information systems operates in a completely different way. "We are partners for Helios Orange and since 1999 also for the largest Helios Green system," explains František Vlk. In this case, the partnership involves both the business side of things and collaboration in development. Gatema specialises in production modules cooperating with the economic base of the system.
In addition to a team of developers and analysts, the Boskovice HQ also houses consultants who sell the systems and help customers implement them. Helios systems have already been implemented by Gatema experts in various types of customers, from automotive to food production.
It may seem that at present, every company already has its own information system and there are only few opportunities for sales and implementation. The managing director disagrees: "New businesses are constantly emerging and many existing companies are undergoing various changes that require a new system. Occasionally, there are also customers who are not satisfied with the approach of their current supplier." Gatema’s team of consultants, developers and analysts is able to respond to changes in customers and provide expert advice, for example, when the customer decides on new investments, such as manufacturing upgrade. This is a big competitive advantage for Gatema.
Opportunities for selling new information systems are therefore emerging all the time, but the business is more complex. Companies are now opening tendering processes, and although taking part means a lot of extra work, analyses and feasibility studies, Gatema is ready for this procedure. František Vlk confirms: "We appreciate that the customer wants a quality system for a good price. The market has become more professional and our specialists can respond to this. Added value plays a big role in the purchase of equipment and information technology. Our added value is reliable and professional support and the stable position our company has built up over the years."
Apollon is becoming popular among doctors worldwide
The third pillar of Gatema's activities is the development of the Apollon audiovisual system. The system records the progress of surgeries in high quality. The signal source can be a camera or an endoscope. The signal is then transmitted either to a large screen directly in the operating theatre and shows the course of the surgery in high resolution, or outside the operating theatre, for example to the senior doctor’s office. Using Internet connection, the signal can also be transmitted in real time to other hospitals anywhere in the world, which enables a quick expert consultation on the further progress of the surgery. The transmission can also be used in the education of medical students. The recipient can view the recording on any device: desktop, tablet or mobile. These records may be archived with relatively low storage requirements. Then they may be adapted for educational purposes or presentations. Apollon reaches its customers mainly through its German partner. It has been used in Czechia, Slovakia, Poland, Norway, England, Great Britain, Spain, Italy and South America - for example in Peru.
"The impulse for the creation of Apollon was our cooperation with a company that made similar devices. We knew a few people from their team very well, and when they were looking for a new supportive environment for their work, we decided to collaborate. The team has changed completely over time, but the Apollon product stayed with us, and we believe it has great potential for the future," says František Vlk, adding that they want to continue both with the product development, but also elaborate the marketing and sales processes.
In addition to the partner for Apollon, Gatema has also found a major partner for printed circuit boards in Germany. Thanks to this company, 50-60% of the production output goes to German-speaking countries. "We also have a subsidiary in Germany. It is a manufacturing company with forty-five employees. It also manufactures printed circuit boards, but we do not compete with each other. This subsidiary has only been part of the holding for two years, but the collaboration is going well for both sides so far, although it has been harder to meet in person recently," says the MD.
The Austrian market is smaller, but there is also an opportunity for cooperation. The acquisition initiative came from a company that was falling apart at the time. However, a sales representative of the company approached Gatema, who eventually built a new structure around him.
Fair treatment of staff paying off at critical moments
How has Gatema dealt with the past period which brought many new obstacles and challenges? "I was surprised at how quickly we managed to introduce work from home, among other things, and I also very much appreciate the attitude of our people and their discipline. We appealed to their personal accountability for the company operation, and as a result, there were only very few cases of infections within the company," the managing director praises his co-workers.
The management of Gatema relies on a human approach, treats its employees fairly, and this pays off in the form of staff loyalty. The most difficult roles to fill within the 170-strong staff are programmers and expert roles. The company therefore has a close cooperation with schools both in the surrounding area and with Brno University of Technology, among others.
Written by Vlasta Piskačová
Photos: Archive of Gatema
The full article can be found in the printed version of TRADE NEWS 4/2021 on pages 70-72.