The digital world of UrbanThis is how Urban stays in touch with customers even in difficult times
An interview with Michael Walther and Tobias Sontheimer, who are streaming like there's no tomorrow.
The digital Urban world came into being in July 2020. It has been an exciting project for Michael Walther and Tobias Sontheimer who, since then, have tried out and optimised all manner of webinar and streaming options in order to bring the Urban world closer to you digitally. In this interview they draw their initial conclusions.
These days, every child is capable of streaming and zooming. It can't involve that much effort, can it?
Michael Walther: That's what we thought at the beginning, too. We told ourselves, we'll just take a camera, access the rest of the hardware from the office, and we've already got the internet. Let's just start with the first product demonstrations over the internet, or perhaps customers' machine inspections and approvals. But later on, when the actual webcam images were really distorted and you couldn't really tell what anything was, we realised that our first attempt was rather naive.
Tobias Sontheimer: In fact, to start with, we learned the hard way and quickly acknowledged that we wouldn't get very far without professional equipment. We've since made some major purchases – and not only of multiple camcorders, but also a professional mixer. We've also perfected our workflow. One thing is clear, it doesn't matter whether you're live-streaming a product demonstration with customers, or performing a digital machine inspection and approval in an self-contained group, there is always a need for a moderator as well as another person to deal with the production side of things and all the technology. You can't handle it all on your own.
Michael Walther: We're now making thorough use of the benefits of this technology. Our presentation software and hardware now not only allows us to integrate several cameras and to overlay images, for example, we can even also integrate our machine PCs so that our customers can see the control system as well. This is outstanding.
Is there a single platform capable of doing everything?
Michael Walther: No, there isn't. We've actually tried out all the systems and each has its advantages, but also its disadvantages. We use YouTube to live-stream product demonstrations, for example. The image and sound quality is really excellent. However, the users are very passive. They see and hear everything we present to them, but they are only able to interact and ask questions via the chat function. This is why we use other systems such as TeamViewer Meeting, or even Microsoft Teams, for digital machine inspections and approvals. These systems are particularly good for individual queries within a self-contained group of people.
How much effort is involved in a live demonstration?
Tobias Sontheimer: Rather a lot, but there needs to be because the better the preparation, the better the result. We install our equipment four to five hours before the start of a session. This means that we position the cameras and set everything up. Sometimes we also use several Go-Pros that are connected to the mixer via wireless. For the hand-held camera that Michael usually uses as moderator, we additionally have a gimbal for keeping the image stable.
Michael Walther: We usually plan the sessions so that we do a German-language version at 2 pm and then an English-language version afterwards at 3 pm. This limits the amount of effort involved, because we only need to set everything up once.
What sort of response have you had?
Michael Walther: The feedback has been really good. More and more people are participating in the sessions, and there are more and more enquires after the individual demonstrations. This shows that our concept is being well received. It was unchartered territory for everyone, in a way. For us, as well as for our customers.
Tobias Sontheimer: We have had almost one new topic a week up until April, and of course these are based on customer suggestions. After our demonstration of milling aluminium profiles on the AKS 9600 Cut, we were naturally immediately asked when we would be offering a session on milling plastic. The great thing is that we can really cover a lot of topics and demonstrate even the smaller machines and devices, such as our corner-checking device, or even the world of single-head welding machines. We held a great event on this just recently on 11 February.
So the effort appears to be worth it?
Michael Walther: Definitely. For us, it is the ability to be able to remain in contact with our customers even in difficult times, and we really value this interaction. We've seen this not only in the sessions, but also in the digital inspections and approvals. We're giving the customers the certainty that all of the parameters match when commissioning the machine and that they will be able to set stuck in right from the word go. No-one wants to lose time due to a stoppage, because the order books in the window construction industry are just as full as they ever were.