This is what business model innovation for MEM exporting looks like

Patrick Berhalter, CEO of Berhalter AG in Widnau (SG), sees his company with 85 employees as a “hidden champion” from Eastern Switzerland. The company is a global market leader in die-cutting technology. Berhalter’s technology expertise is based on a broad range of knowledge about production and installation and follows the vision “We connect ideas and people”. “In order to stay innovative and open to digitization issues, SMEs have to look beyond their own four walls,” says Patrick Berhalter.

This is what business model innovation for MEM exporting looks like

Three years ago, you started creating a new business area in addition to traditional sales of your machines. What were the thoughts behind that?

We focused very closely on our core issues of innovation and inspiration and on nurturing technology partnerships – with customers and with partners in the field.

Who are some of those partners?

We have technology partnerships with technical colleges, universities, customers, suppliers and software partners. We cover a wide range of technology-related issues. Our largest partnership is with the NTB Technical College in Buchs/SG. This cooperation includes bachelor and master theses and CTI projects. For instance, a low-cost tool technology that helps us to successfully market our high-tech automatic die-cutting presses worldwide.

How would you describe your current business model?

We currently have two independent business models (strategic business segments), die-cutting technology and “tec-spiration” (technology and inspiration). In the first segment, we operate as a traditional machine manufacturer; in the second segment, we operate as a contract manufacturer and technology partner and as a system supplier offering CNC technology and beyond. The motto: “knowing how it’s done”

is about implementing the inspiration and ideas and not just the technologies?

Yes, it’s about understanding customer demands, providing extraordinary ideas and implementing tailored customer solutions. We provide holistic thinking for our customers that includes everything from development and manufacturing straight through to the end product in order to generate a decisive added value.

How did you arrive at these ideas?

Success with unique solutions in our projects allowed us to strengthen our customer relationships. Our existing base of expertise and knowledge provided the groundwork for actively multiplying this success on the market under tec-spiration.

Are you satisfied with how your business has developed?

Absolutely, very satisfied, and it’s happened even under difficult market conditions (CHF). Fortunately we were able to achieve record machine sales in the die-cutting segment and record new customers in the tec-spiration segment. These developments speak for themselves. We used to have to do more acquisition, now new partners come to us directly.

And how does it work in exporting?

In the die-cutting segment, we export worldwide, the share is 97%. The die-cutting business segment would not work so successfully without major internationalization. Customers in Switzerland have 100% trust in Berhalter technologies. In the tec-spiration segment, 90% of our customers are in Switzerland – businesses that are technology leaders or “fast followers” who are very interested in technology. Up to 95% of these Swiss companies’ sales are in international exporting.

What is the source of this difference in the degree of internationalization?

In the die-cutting area, we provide high-performance automatic die-cutting presses and die-cutting tools worldwide for die-cutting sheets from roll feeds. These include applications such as yoghurt tops, thermoformed lids such as Sheba, Cesar and IML labels for products by major manufacturers like Néstle, Kraft, Masterfood etc. tec-spiration is successfully positioned in Switzerland and in neighboring countries. Since last year, Switzerland Global Enterprise has been supporting us in expanding into the German market. We are unique in many aspects, and we’re not afraid of taking on the challenge of the German market. Thanks to digital networking, we can also imagine strengthening our position even more.

So digital instruments and Industry 4.0 are important to you now and for your future?

Yes, very important. We have opportunities to use intelligent solutions to develop our business models, our service provision and our products toward offering “smart factory” services. We are also involved in “SME Digital”, the largest CTI project in Switzerland. Technical colleges from Vorarlberg, South Germany and Switzerland connect with industrial partners like Berhalter AG. The first workshop meeting on a “usage-based digitization navigator” is taking place at our location.

How do you generate innovations in your company, whether it be for individual products or for new business models?

We use an online tool that integrates our project organization with our CIP and knowledge management, for instance. New ideas are entered directly into the tool and distributed. The development manager uses the tool to evaluate the percentage-based process progress.

Are you currently evaluating any new markets?

We are already active worldwide – though, we do indeed want to further develop our network of representatives and to form new technology partnerships.

What would be your advice for other exporting SMEs in terms of business model innovation?

They have to be open to Industry 4.0 issues. They also have to find out for themselves which business model is the right one. It’s also important to seek out cooperation with a broad range of partners. Potential partners include organizations such as Swissmechanic, Swissmem and Switzerland Global Enterprise as well as technical colleges, universities, suppliers and customers. There are a lot of platforms that one can use to find additional inspiration and networking opportunities!

About Berhalter AG

Berhalter AG is a traditional, innovative company whose business models have a clear strategic orientation. Founded in 1960, Berhalter AG is today a partner for unique, customer-specific die-cutting and manufacturing technology solutions. The company is positioned in a broad range of industries, including food, packaging, machine engineering, energy, automobiles, aviation and space travel. Visitors can take a company tour to experience Berhalter AG firsthand and get an introduction to the topics of inspiration and innovation. Visitors will experience a world of technology as magical as a visit to a chocolate factory with four competence centers and six technology locations. You can find out more about us at

Tips, discussion material and events about new business models in the export industry

In 2017, Switzerland Global Enterprise is focusing on the topic of “Rethinking business models: the international competitive advantage of the future” in order to support, inform and connect Swiss SMEs so that they can meet current challenges in international business. You’ll find regular updates in our dossier including new articles, videos and studies on this topic.

Register for a monthly update in our Export Newsletter and reserve a ticket today for May 18, 2017 at the Forum for Swiss Foreign Trade “Rethinking business models: The international competitive advantage of the future”

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