At the end of May, ZioGiorgio was invited to the Czech Republic with a delegation of worldwide press to visit the headquarters of Robe Lighting.
We accepted with great pleasure as we have always been convinced that a visit to a company – and if possible to the production unit – is the best way to find out what is really behind a brand.
Robe, in fact, is an interesting member of the professional lighting sector as, despite being a relatively young company, it has undergone continuous and constant growth right from its first appearance on the market in 1994, gaining a leadership position in recent years.
The history of Robe starts thanks to Ladislav Petřek, one of the two majority partners who, together with Josef Valchar, manage the company. In 1990, Ladislav, who was working as an importer, was also involved in lighting for shows, in particular the sector dedicated to scanners. And it is, in fact, his knowledge of scanners and his work with third parties that led him to design the first official Robe branded product – the Dominiator 1200XT. In that period, the SIB trade fair in Rimini was an important international showcase that was highly appreciated by operators of the sector, and thanks to this event the activities of the company started to take off…
Robe then went on to manufacture products with its own brand, while continuing to carry out important projects for other companies, too. In fact, the Czech company has continued to manufacture a series of successful products for other companies, such as Coemar, Sagitter, TAS, Movietec, Starway… Another important date is 2006, when ColorSpot 2500E AT, probably the first moving head from Robe, appeared on the market, obtaining unique and transversal success. Looking back over the years we can see how the entire company history is characterized by constant evolution, right up to the present, with Robe, at its new factory in Valašské Meziříčí, having more than 350 employees, working on an area of more than 20,000 sq.m. and present with its products in more than 90 countries worldwide. And these figures are growing continuously, confirming Robe’s position in the top global ranking in the professional lighting sector.
A stop at Prague before going to the factory
We arrived in the capital city of the Czech Republic late in the evening of 24 May with time for something to eat, a couple of beers and then everybody – or almost everybody – off to bed for a good night’s sleep. The next morning was taken up by a nice tour around the city, with the Robe team as guides: Jiri Baros and Lea Grygarová, tireless and very patient hosts, both professional and “smart”. The visit to the historical centre of the city was beautiful and interesting, despite the cold weather that seems to be hitting Europe this spring…
After a journey of more than three hours we reached the city of Valašské Meziříčí, where Robe has its factory, and where we were welcomed warmly to the main building of the company. Once in the gates it was clear to see that everything was extremely well cared for and precise, both in form and substance, a coordinated picture that matches the “glossy” and attentive characteristic that Robe has always wanted to give its brand. And this attention to communication and to detail, also with regards to graphics, have certainly helped the brand reach its leading position on the market.
After a welcome coffee we were all eager to visit the production line and find out more about the company’s products, especially the new entry Pointe, which attracted considerable interest at the last fair in Frankfurt. We started off on our tour with Jiri Stehlik, Technical Sales Representative; and our first stop was at the R&D department where, as expected, we were asked not to take any photos. In the department, numerous young technicians were working on prototypes that are sure to become the future best sellers of Robe.
We then went to visit the different sectors of the production line. Here, once again, order and a relaxed atmosphere were clear to see, also thanks to background music in the less noisy areas, with those working really concentrated on their jobs. The modus operandi is not really different from those used by other production lines that we have seen, all of the highest level, and Robe is no exception.
Jiri pointed out to us that almost all parts needed for production are manufactured and assembled entirely in-house. Obviously, for some of the more specific parts, Robe works with external suppliers, which are often affiliated companies as we were informed later. However, the parts that can be manufactured directly by the production line are made in house. Jiri told us that one of the most recent decisions made by the company is that of becoming independent from other companies and suppliers with regards to cabling, an ever more important aspect. This decision was made considering that the previous supplier could not respond to the increasing demand in terms of diversification and quality of products.
We move on through the areas dedicated to welding, circuit boards, optics, lenses, electric motors and, from time to time, we get a glance of “naked” moving heads being assembled. We take a quick look at the inside which appears really precise with the components well bonded and positioned in the small space that the chassis provides.
A further two large empty rooms are dedicated to trials and to stress tests for the motorized spotlights. They are all there, lined up like soldiers, carrying out the repeated and controlled movements with precision and order requested by means of DMX signals used for all machines. When one of them flips (in the sense of malfunction), a technician moves in to find and solve the problem – simple and rational.
“The production line has grown considerably over recent years – and is still growing – our warehouses are fully packed with products so it’s time to expand”, Jiri says, and looking out of a window indicates the building under construction nearby where some departments are soon to be transferred, including the rooms for tests and trials that are now really crowded…
The warehouse for components is quite complicated and quite rightly Robe has decided to use cataloguing by means of barcodes, without, however, eliminating the tried and tested method of paper worksheets so as to have double checking.
Reaching the “heart” of products at nearby Reoznov
2009 was an important year for Robe when the management decided to take over the company Dioflex, in the nearby town of Roznov, specialized in the manufacture of electronic circuit boards and in the management of industrial products. And it is thanks to the almost total collaboration with Robe that Dioflex became specialized in the manufacture of control cards for the moveable heads of Robe and Anolis (another brand of architectural lighting also part of the group) and, today, 90% of Dioflex production is for Robe.
Dioflex is a smaller company with about 30 employees and several highly modern machines that print cards and preassembled elements. “The machines are almost all Japanese,” the head technician informs us, “they are really the best for this type of work and we are waiting for a new machine that is due to arrive in a few days…”.
We put on our protective overalls and anti-static overshoes and start off on our visit to the lower floors of the factory where Anolis is located. As we just mentioned, Anolis is the brand for the architectural market. Everything here is less industrialized “we work as per contracts and with customization” Jiri points out, “serial production does not make much sense for us, we prefer to adapt our products as per the requests we receive…”. Despite this, the company always has a stock of standard products available . Our day and our visit to the production unit end with the belief – if there was ever a doubt – that serious work is carried out here.
The demo room
Before we start our second day at Robe in the demo room we visit the beautiful lounge and bar area where we are offered a good Italian coffee and we meet Josef Valchar. Josef, a very friendly and welcoming person, also took us to a typical restaurant that same evening for a dinner with all the trimmings. The demo room was a real surprise: beautiful, spacious, with cinema-style seats and, of course, a well-lighted, complete and well-stocked plot! The show starts off in a somewhat unexpected – but absolutely effective – way, with a set that simulates a real theatre. A purposely created environment made up of partition walls, doors, balconies, tables, a sofa and other objects usually found in a typical theatre scene. In this first phase, in fact, our concentration is aimed at the Robe LED projectors and the show strongly highlights the colour quality and the different temperatures that can be obtained. At a certain point, in a cloud sent out by a fog machine, the scenery opens and we get a view of the stage, which has a backdrop with a real rock and roll truss circle. The music also changes and at this point the Light Designer really goes crazy with modern and powerful games of light to emphasize the light and speed of the motorized Robe items. Among the numerous products seen, I can only repeat my preference for Pointe, projectors with beam, spot and wash functions together, which, for the first time, really seem to function as a beam, spot and wash should as standalone versions. More precisely, Pointe has an incredible beam with regards to quality, angle (just imagine seeing a narrow cone of light) and density, a convincing spotlight (maybe not so complete in terms of application) and a really beautiful and mellow wash without affecting the power of the projectors much with the additional cin optics function of the filter. DigitalSpot 7100 DT, seen working at last in a more suitable environment (its performance could not really be appreciated at the fair in Frankfurt) also seemed an intelligent’ and useful product. And this is because is really works like a video projector in every way, and with enough power for several different applications, as well as a ‘traditional’ moving head with LED light sources. In our opinion, this is a product that can trigger the creativity of Light Designers and we are certain that it will soon be used on important stages…
Conclusions and … see you again soon!
Many thanks to the entire staff at Robe who brought together the right combination of ‘public relations’ with those dedicated to focus on technical aspects. The visit to the headquarters confirmed even more the image that the company has created over the years, which is that of solid and resourceful activity with many interesting ideas and great enthusiasm, which may seem banal, but which really make the difference. These types of proposals are winning ideas from many aspects and, if carried out with the right timing and pleasant personnel, can become experiences that are worth remembering and spoken about. And it is, in fact, our job to do just that, hoping to have given you an idea of the buzz and colour, because if we speak about products – well – these can be seen and appreciated better on other occasions. And with regards to Robe’s new products, we will soon see many of these at the main events and we will definitely tell you about them…
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