Daniel is the co-founder and managing director of tacterion, a high-tech firm which creates and produces innovative tactile sensor technologies. The Munich-based company is on an upward trajectory as it develops into a global brand, enabling connection between the physical and digital worlds.
Can you tell us how tacterion started?
We were set up as a high-tech spin-off from the German Aerospace Centre where my brother Michael was conducting research and will be five years old this October. He invented a new technology that allowed robots to get a sense of touch. We have since developed our trademarked platform, plyon®, a capacitive and resistive touch and force sensor, based on unique multi-layered architecture. We started with just two students working with us – who are still part of the company – and now have a team of 23 people.
How does plyon® work and is it a unique concept?
Yes, it’s unique, because it combines approximation, touch detection and force measurement into a silicone-based sensor. It is also flexible and thin which means that it is easy to embed into existing product designs. Finally, it is very robust which means that it is ready for industry use. plyon® is the only sensor on the market offering those characteristics.
What do you think sets tacterion apart from others?
There are a number of factors, but in particular, we have a highly flexible approach and we look to work with companies in different sectors, ranging from industrial, manufacturing, automotive, healthcare to consumer electronics. Our technology is highly customisable and scalable, and we welcome the most challenging design projects. Four of our employees have industrial design degrees, so a creative approach is a key part of our culture.
We also distinguish ourselves by not only generating data from our sensors but delivering already-processed data that can directly be used by our customers.
Finally, what sets us apart from others, is our capability to deliver turnkey solutions comprising of sensors, hardware, electronics and software. Our solution taroki® – a sensor gripper kit for robots – is, for instance, a good example of the kind of holistic solution tacterion can deliver.
What’s it like working with your brother, Michael?
It works really well, because we have different backgrounds and we complement each other. My brother has a background in science, engineering and research and is a visionary thinker – he also never shies away from challenges. Together we were able to secure funding, which allowed us to hire skilled employees and have the right framework for manufacturing.
I have a business background and studied innovation management as well as digital technology, including attending university abroad in the US and Portugal. I very much enjoy working with international clients and developing the business globally. My responsibilities in sales and marketing, as well as strategy, are a good balance with Michael’s skills.
How would you describe the culture at tacterion? What’s it like to work there?
Our people are organised into venture teams to support the generation of new ideas. Work can be very intensive, but we make sure our employees get the necessary freedom to express their talent. We encourage people to be entrepreneurial – they can bring any idea to the table and we will always support these ideas when they show market potential.
Setting up a new company can be a highly pressurised endeavour– how did you cope and what have you learned so far along the way?
The past few years have gone by so quickly, that I have not really felt that pressurised. In 2016, we received significant funding from an investment group that understands our goals and has allowed us to push forward with a number of projects and to bring on more skilled people. Although we are highly ambitious, I also practice mindfulness – you don’t always have enough hours in the day, but everyone needs some time to relax.
Do you find that there are skills shortages that are problematic for the high-tech sector?
Yes, there are shortages and you may not always be able to find someone with the right level of experience. In Munich, we are part of a dynamic ecosystem with well-known companies (like BMW, Siemens or Google to name a few) but also many fast-growing start-ups. Therefore, we face a lot of competition. We are however very appealing for candidates because of our lean structure. We offer freedom and autonomy and those who work for us have been very committed to our company. Increasingly, we are finding people want to join us because of word-of-mouth or because they were attracted by our online presence, notably on LinkedIn. This is why, tacterion spends a lot of time ensuring that we have a great company culture.
What are your thoughts on virtual events – do you think these will become more usual?
They certainly will and we have seen in recent months how useful technology can be in helping bringing people together. There are still going to be times when meeting someone in person is important, such as if you want to negotiate on a major initiative or build a relationship, but virtual communication has shown its value and this is not going to go away.
How has tacterion coped with the Covid-19 pandemic?
Our people were mostly working from home from the beginning of March and it all went very smoothly. However, because we are also a production company, we did need some of our employees to come in. So, if necessary, we ensured they had a rental car to drive to the premises, which was safer than using public transport and we also made sure they were able to respect the necessary social distance in our office as well. People are now allowed to return to their workplace and many of us are back in the office. Going forward, we will be offering our team members more opportunity to work from home if they want to. Overall, we have learned a lot from this special situation. I was really impressed to see the progress we made despite the extra challenges we had to cope with.
How do you see the next phases of growth for tacterion?
We will continue to focus on providing tactile sensor technology for different industries. We’ll notably develop further our taroki® solution which is used for robotics and automation and further advance its capabilities. We’re getting many enquiries from all over the world, in particular, seeing a lot of growth in countries like South Korea, Japan and China as well as the US but also Europe where the Corona crisis has accelerated the trend for Industry 4.0. We’re entering an exciting phase and I’m looking forward to sharing our thoughts on the future during the World Series.
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