Spanflug founders Johannes Schmalz, Markus Westermeier and Adrian Lewis (from the left).
Foto: Spanflug

Spanflug: Individual Manufactured Parts for Industry

The Munich startup Spanflug automates procurement in the manufacturing industry. Founded in 2018, the company uses a platform to network companies with suppliers. We were able to ask one of the three founders, Markus Westermeier, our Seven Questions.

Munich Startup: Who are you and what do you do? Please introduce yourselves!

Markus Westermeier: We are Markus Westermeier (36), Adrian Lewis (35) and Johannes Schmalz (35), the three founders of the startup Spanflug Technologies.

Johannes and I were fellow PhD students in 2016 at the Institute for Machine Tools and Industrial Management (iwb) at the Technical University of Munich (TUM). Johannes was working in the field of assembly technology and robotics. At that time, I was head of the machine tools and manufacturing technology group at iwb. The original business idea, to automate the calculation of manufactured parts, emerged while I was working as CEO of a contract manufacturing company. At that time, however, I didn’t have a background that allowed me to analyze CAD files. This is where Johannes came in. He was familiar with the topic and was able to contribute his knowledge regarding the processing of CAD files. We performed the first feasibility studies with some support from students. One of those students was Lucas Giering, who is now Head of Product at Spanflug. After the feasibility studies with the first prototypes worked extremely well, we were confident that we could solve the entire problem. To be able to implement our plan, we needed support in software development because our expertise as mechanical engineers was inadequate for such a complex endeavor. In Johannes’ network, we bumped into Adrian and started talking. Adrian had completed his PhD in experimental particle physics at the University of Oxford in 2014. He was immediately excited about our startup idea and got on board as a member of our founding team. The current Spanflug GmbH management team includes Adrian as CTO and me as CEO.

Munich Startup: What problem does your startup solve?

Markus Westermeier: In a nutshell, we’re automating the procurement process for individual manufactured parts. We’re able to do that with a procurement platform in conjunction with an algorithm that can automatically process the CAD files and technical drawings. This makes it possible to automate and accelerate the entire process for both buyers and suppliers.

Spanflug: “We see ourselves as a deeptech startup”

Munich Startup: But that’s nothing out of the box!

Markus Westermeier: There are competitors now who are also implementing this basic concept. That being said, no other startup or established company has managed to achieve a comparable degree of automation and a technical spectrum of the same size in the field of CNC machining. For example, Spanflug connects the automated analysis of CAD files with that of the technical drawing. Creating this connection is extremely important in order to truly account for all of the technical details, such as production tolerances, in the automated process. No one else does that like we do.

Munich Startup: What have been your three biggest challenges so far?

Markus Westermeier: The biggest challenge was definitely solving our technical problem. That’s why we see ourselves as a deeptech startup. Our technical problem is the automated forecasting of manufacturing costs and the derivation of competitive quote prices for CNC machining. The solution to that challenge and constant development of our technology are what now make us stand apart from the competition.

We also invested a great deal of time in preparing our business model as a platform between customers and suppliers. It was particularly the legal aspects in this case that presented a further challenge.

Spanflug is growing very quickly at the moment. At the end of 2020, we had ten employees. By the end of this year, we would like to expand our team to about 30 employees. At the moment, we’re looking for new employees in all business areas, particularly in sales and product development. Finding software developers with the expertise that is relevant in our field is turning out to be particularly difficult. But we’re making good progress and have managed to get several new team members on board in recent months. We look forward to applications in all business areas.

Onboarding and coming together as a team in the middle of the corona pandemic is also definitely a challenge. But we hope that we’ll be able to get back to normal operations in the months ahead with face-to-face meetings, shared lunches and great team events.

“We definitely plan to become the leading platform in the market”

Munich Startup: How is business going?

Markus Westermeier: Business is going very well. We now have a manufacturing network of approximately 100 partners. We have been able to acquire over 10,000 users and more than 1,000 customers, more than half of whom are returning customers. We’re very pleased that we grew strongly last year despite corona and that the prospects for 2021 are looking extremely positive.

Munich Startup: What do you think about Munich as a startup location?

Markus Westermeier: Munich is definitely an attractive city, especially for startups. There are a few downsides, like high rents and high payroll costs, but on the other hand, you have an extremely exciting ecosystem of startups, universities and tech companies here. UnternehmerTUM also makes an important contribution in our view. We were supported by the Xpreneurs incubator after founding the company and have greatly benefitted from it.

Munich Startup: Hidden champion or shooting star?

Markus Westermeier: Spanflug is active in the industrial sector and only delivers to business customers. We don’t have any products or services meant for consumers, which means we aren’t widely known as a brand yet. It’s worth noting, however, that the market for individual manufactured parts has a sales volume of 170 billion euros a year in the EU. We definitely plan to offer the best procurement process over the long term and to become the leading platform in the market.