Commercial Integrator Europe heads to scenic Austria to visit AV Stumpfl’s brand new €10mil campus, where it learns about family values, the future of 8K media servers – and Schnapps
“Our business is very much based on relationships,” Tobias Stumpfl, CEO of AV Stumpfl says as an Austrian beer is thrust into CIE’s grateful hands following a coach trip that wound (and wound) its way up an enormous mountain mostly bereft of roadside barriers, making its last stop at Loser mountain cottage – which happens to be 1,600m above sea level.
After taking a few deep breaths, CIE is welcomed with open arms into a homely Austrian restaurant perched high upon Loser Mountain, offering spectacular views of the Grundlsee lake and the surrounding Eastern Alps.
However, CIE is not here just to sample the delicious goulash and tentatively sip the Schnapps; AV Stumpfl has arranged this visit for good reason – a few hours away is the manufacturer’s brand new €10mil upgraded campus, which CIE took a tour of the day before.
Founded in 1975, the family-run company has come a long way since starting as an electronics manufacturer, then moving heavily into the creation of custom screens for the commercial sector, and more recently, prospering in the media server market.
Headed up by founder and CEO, Reinhold Stumpfl and with his wife, Ulli, heading up human resources and finance, this is no faceless corporation: the couple’s son, Tobias was named CEO last year, while younger brother Fabian oversees all things project management, sales and HR.
Export makes up for 90% of the manufacturer’s business, and since founding, the company has opened subsidiaries and franchises in the USA, Russia, the Netherlands, Australia and Singapore.
Despite this growth, custom products have always remained a key value, which is evident when touring the upgraded and expanded facility – a modern and spacious building that makes the most of its picturesque Wallern location; all large windows and natural light.
The 90 locally-based factory workers (a relatively low number of staff for a manufacturer of this size) make the majority of the screens by hand due to the custom nature of the products, whist the machines that do run are switched on from 5am until 7pm – “an unusually long time,” Tobias points out.
Part of the investment into the new campus includes a packaging area where everything is stored ready for shipment, as well as a 7m long painting chamber for custom projection screens – allowing AV Stumpfl to perform this process in-house, thereby significantly cutting down on delivery times. Due to the high demand for custom screens, this machine is running almost every day; 1,264 screens were produced in May 2016 alone.
“We invested heavily in a production and logistics department which was necessary because of growth,” Tobias explains. “We invested €8 million into this new campus and another €2 million into the expansion of the existing building.
“The major part of the investment was into a proper research and development facility – we are technology focused, we need to invest into new products and technology. Simply manufacturing and trading items is not all we are; we are developers.”
Interestingly, CIE notes that it is only women that can be seen in this part of the factory. “There’s a reason for this,” Tobias smiles. “The men tend to work in what we call the manufacturing basement, creating the servers – they like the cold.”
The female workers, it seems, prefer the heat and therefore can be found in the Eastern side of the facility. Although if the temperature still doesn’t suit, AV Stumpfl has that covered – creating its own heating and cooling system for the building after failing to find a solution to meet its needs.
The media server arm of the business (specifically, Wings Engine Raw) is what the company is currently focussing on, hence the huge investment. CIE was not invited to the manufacturing basement during the tour, but the recent cash injection is allowing the company to focus much more on this side of the business.
Tobias has seen a marked increase in the 8K version of Wings Engine Raw being deployed for themed attractions, museums, permanent installations and live events of late, stating that 80% of the time it is used for live environments such as tradeshows and staging events.
Key to its appeal is the fact that Wings Engine Raw delivers four streams of full 4K uncompressed content at 60Hz – but is the industry ready for 8K?
“No, there is of course no 8K content available,” Tobias says frankly. “However, the 8K server’s advantage is the 8K signal that can be split up into 64 smaller signals, so this way integrators can do the installation with one server driving the installation rather than many servers. Its primary feature at the moment is to cut the cost of the hardware down to a minimum.”
The relaxed vibe of the tour continues as CIE visits the upper part of the facility; think large ceiling windows, glass dividers between rooms and modern meeting spaces with no seats.
“We find it halves the meeting time if we stand up,” Tobias shrugs.
Many of the offices and rooms are empty, although they are sometimes used for customers, integrators and weekly training events. This is intentional, however, as this is the company’s way of preparing for future expansion (it is worth noting that AV Stumpfl owns the surrounding grounds).
“If we had finished the building and it were full, we would have made a mistake,” Tobias laughs. “We want to continue to grow.”
The next room features a staging event set-up demonstrating how easy it is to use two projectors to create one seamless image using automated calibration – a key feature for integrators wanting to align multiple projectors with soft edge-blending and geometry correction.
Wings Vioso projects different calibration patterns that are analysed by the system. Based on that information, Wings Vioso calculates the geometry correction and the soft edge blending of the overlapping areas. There are different calibration modes available depending on the intended projection surface: flat or curved screens, 3D models and irregular surfaces such as building facades or rocks. Best of all? The system can recalibrate without a technician on site.
CIE also got to see the only Wings Player that exists as yet during the tour, which was launched recently at InfoComm. Measuring 335mm x 90mm x 220mm, the mini media server comes with integrated automatic camera based warp and blend, multi timeline and multi master workflows with AV Stumpfl’s new software platform Wings Vioso RX, as well as full show control.
Amongst various new upcoming product developments announced during the tour was the news that a video decoding algorithm using specialised GPU instructions instead of regular CPU processes has been added to the upcoming Wings Vioso RX software.
Using the newly implemented technology, the data is transferred still compressed over the PCI bus and unpacked and decoded in the GPU. This way a way higher bandwidth and more decoding power becomes available which results in higher image quality, more concurrent video layers, higher resolutions on the same physical hardware platform.
As for the future of the company, Tobias reveals that AV Stumpfl is developing new materials for its projection screens and drive systems. “The long-term outlook at the moment is that we are investing heavily into research and development every year and we would like to increase the rate of development of new products.”
Over the next 12 months, the manufacturer plans to develop its global partner network to grow its worldwide service network.
“Our aim is to become the preferred supplier to more companies, in more regions and in new markets. To achieve this, we need to be faster to deliver products to market, offer even higher levels of localised support and well as offer the industry’s best technologies, expertise and manufacturing.
“There are several milestones coming up this year which will develop our business in new regions and market sectors,” Tobias adds. “We are moving into simulation and training, event and trade show, as well as visitor attractions.”
On Loser Mountain the day after the tour, it transpires that the choice of restaurant has significance to it, making the company’s family values more poignant still.
“There is one special thing about this event,” Tobias points out. “Our business is very much based on relationships, so we work with long term partners, integrators and distributors and we do that because we like this kind of collaboration. In fact, this event tonight is based on my brother’s wedding ceremony last year – which was held in this very hut. The guests that attended last year stayed in the same hotel that you are staying in tonight. A marriage is probably the strongest relationship there is, so we wanted to copy this idea for our partners to keep hold of that spirit.”
With the interview wrapped up, a fresh row of Schnapps shots are ready and waiting at the increasingly lively table; CIE thinks it might need them for the journey back down.