Katadyn Bucks Trend, Chooses Manual Labor Over Automation

Portable water treatment manufacturer reduces supply and logistics costs by maximizing workforce.

Switzerland's portable water treatment manufacturer Katadyn is taking an unconventional route to its manufacturing processes.

More than 80 years ago, a Swiss professor named Georg Alexander Krause figured out how to harness the disinfectant qualities of silver and began creating portable water purification units. The company he started, Katadyn, has since grabbed a dominant share of the water treatment market serving hikers, campers and the marine industry.

But in a tour earlier last week, Katadyn's chairman Adrian Schmassmann explained how the companys manufacturing follows a highly unusual model. Instead of out-sourcing much of its manufacturing needs to a supplier network, Katadyn has instead taken over an increasingly larger share of producing its own components. Moreover, it builds these supplies almost exclusively through manual trade, foregoing the use of robots or automation in its production.

"True, it's an unusual setup," says Schmassmann, "but it's also been extremely successful for us."

Schmassmann says Katadyn has been able to refine its production needs and control its processes. As one example, the portable water treatment manufacturer was able to cut its plastic supplies by 60%, while reducing logistics costs by 30%.

Cutting costs isn't the only benefit. According to Schmassmann, Katadyn has produced a more sophisticated workforce.

"They've become more motivated because we require them to learn more skills," says Schmassmann. "You're asking them to do more and weve challenged them."

Katadyn has a workforce of 100 employees, with annual sales of about CHF 40 million (US$39.1 million). About 40% of Katadyns global sales come from the U.S. -- a market which has doubled in just the last eight years.

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