A Mind for Change - Combining Tradition and Innovation
Petra Skarja, author and entrepreneur, has visited the place where tradition is intertwined with the most advanced technology. Antique buildings and cutting-edge measuring instruments. Simplicity, homeliness, and at the same time high-level entrepreneurship. An industrial workshop with heavy machinery on the top of a mountain. Boštjan Petek is a farmer and workshop manager, who combines traditional values and incredibly creative ideas.
Driving on the narrow road in the hills, past farms and forgotten old houses, in a sharp turn around a number of bales ... And when I think we are lost ... we arrive at one of Dewesoft’s most special places. For newcomer unusual, for foreign partners fascinating, for Dewesoft indispensable - production in the hills under the guidance of Boštjan Petek, a man of good work ethics and countless ideas.
A farm. Located on the mountain almost 300 meters above the narrow valley. Down below is the company HQ on the edge of Trbovlje, in central-eastern Slovenia. At first glance, it looks like the ordinary farm, a tractor stands next to a hayrack – a traditional Slovenian toplar, actually two parallel racks roofed and with horizontal bars to be hung with hay. Only a container of industrial waste and the DEWESoft sign on the largest building in front of us confirms that there is something more happening here than just farming.
CNC machines in the barn
The alpine pastures in Slovenia provide a good basis for livestock and dairy farming and have a long tradition of producing milk, cheese and meat. Until the 1960’s it was of great societal and economic importance, yet since then it is losing ground. The Petek family has been farming on the mountain for 500 years, but Boštjan is open to new ways of making a living. The love for the animals and the farm was transferred to him from his father. However, his father was also very smart and realized that times were changing. The veteran farmer agreed to place industrial machines on the family farm.
Boštjan invites us in. It looks like an ordinary large barn house or stable on the outside, inside we can admire the orderly production space with large machines.
"Here, all Dewesoft hardware chassis are manufactured." Even for the person least interested in technics, Boštjan's enthusiastic description of the production process explained in every detail is captivating. “We machine each one out of aluminum bricks and install industrial grade electronics”.
The low ceilings, the way it was constructed ... all indicate that the building is a classic built-up barn. "It was here. In this room, we had ten cows. In 2007 Jure, mentioned that he needed a place for a machine, we moved the cows a little and put it next. When the company expanded and we received more machines, we just had to move the cows to the next room.”
Today the former barn houses 12 big CNC (computer numeric control) milling machines. Each of them approaching the size and weight of a small car. Each posing a challenge when it had to be transported up the steep, narrow and warped mountain road.
The creative farmer
Dewesoft started in 2000 with a revolutionary software program for measurement products. Later on, there was a desire to have “everything in-house” and in 2008 the decision to also make hardware. Trbovlje in Slovenia is the operational center housing all development and manufacturing facilities, including the mechanical workshop where Boštjan is leading all operations.
Boštjan began exploiting his innovative and technical skills while working on the farm – he automatized a fork with electric transmission and a rope to pull up the fork. Later he finished a mechanical engineering program at university and took a job teaching metal forming and CNC at a technical school. All along he had a wish to have his own machines at home.
Dewesoft pencils, Dewesoft lists, even bags with company logo are visible in the second room where additional machines stand. How much love and dedication to the company do engineers indeed show when they talk about the production process. Every piece is hand-crafted. Today there are 8 people in the workshop who toil very carefully to assure perfection.
High quality on the hill
From meters long bars of aluminum, blocks are cut, milled, drilled, trimmed and polished into extremely rugged chassis, which are then tested to work in all sorts of scenarios. More than 100 of these custom-made aluminum chassis for measuring devices were produced every working day in 2018.
Aluminum - or aluminium - the silvery-white metal, which makes up about 8% of the Earth's crust. Aluminum offers a rare combination of useful properties. Almost three times lighter than iron, it is one of the lightest metals in the world, but it is also very strong, extremely flexible and corrosion resistant. It is a key engineering material as it does not magnetize, is a great electricity conductor and forms alloys with almost any other metal.
The aluminum form designed in HQ is milled in the most efficient way, then polished manually and sent to anodizing. Finally, when the form is finished the chassis is coloured black, and when needed, engraved. In 2018 the workshop processed 16 tons of aluminum this way.
Boštjan is transferring his knowledge to all the staff – they are not dedicated to one special task, but all capable to perform any workshop procedure. They are committed to the highest standards of quality in development and manufacturing processes as well as the preservation of the environment. As such, Dewesoft is a TÜV SÜD certified ISO 9001 and 14001 company.
Spirit and spirits
"Come follow me," Boštjan goes up the stairs. "Here we once had hay, but now we have a place to sit, have meetings and to freshen up ..." We sit at the table. Boštjan joins us with two bottles and small glasses for each of us. "Borovničke, blueberry brandy, homemade," he proudly shows and pours.
His skills to make brandy were handed down from his father. Borovničke is a traditional Slovenian homemade drink made from wild blueberries and holding more than 30% alcohol. Home distilling is fully legal in Slovenia, producers are just obliged to register and pay excise duties. Brandy - Šnops or Žganje - on blueberries, is especially popular, but Boštjan also uses cherries and walnuts as the basis for his delicious and intoxicating beverages.
Before mentioning the general rule about the alcohol ban at the workplace, he briefly explains: "There are no rules here - We are in the mountains ... Ha-ha, no, before we were in the company, but now you are a guest in my home.”
The poster on the wall catches the eye of even the most inattentive observer in the midst of a brief business conversation. "Boštjan was a knight of the year. The award, which is given every second year to two members of Dewesoft team that show the most passion and dedication," explains Jure. At the same time, Boštjan's eyes lighten up. "Yes, it is nice to receive recognition like that," he looks a bit uneasy on the other side.
What is his motivation? "I am aware of one thing; we should always yearn to do something and create products or processes so advanced that don’t exist yet ...", he says. Good work ethics, plenty of ideas and sparks in his eyes, when an adventure ahead, is what is more appealing than any formal title or expensive business suit.
His values truly match with the core values of Dewesoft company: committed, accountable, transparent and caring.
Tradition, creativity and change
Why not move in the valley. "What can I say, we like it here in the hills," Boštjan replies. But how do foreigners feel about this place? "They are beyond surprise." Who would blame them? How could businessmen from the world's largest concrete cities not be amazed? “Many guests come back to see our production process again, how it stands. It is a unique experience for them. And they always ask for Borovničke, haha."
It seems here everything here is done in contrast to the expectations: without a tie, official diplomacy and beautiful terminology, without meaningless rules, standards of official business behavior and appearance ... And yet this is where one of the most advanced and visually completed products in the world of measurement industry is created.
"I am a slave of my own ideas," Boštjan says, when he explains about his future plans - did I already mention that he himself developed wood chip machines to heat all Dewesoft facilities? His ideas are countless and he accomplishes many of them. I am looking forward to his next project.