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An interview with Antonín Machala, Managing Director of ALTECH

“I Founded a Company to Help Disabled People Integrate into Society.”

In April 1992, a small company was founded in a garage, specializing in barrier-free solutions. This relates to the design, production, and sale of compensation and rehabilitative tools for immobile persons. Today, ALTECH Company is among the best in Europe in this field. They cooperated with the Olympics and Paralympics in Sochi, and they plan to develop their business even further.

 Dear Mr. Machala, is it true that the story of ALTECH began in the aviation industry?

Yes, for almost 10 years I worked for a company called LET Kunovice, in the field of development construction. After 1989, with changes in the market, aviation experienced a crisis which caused a substantial decrease of employment in the region. At the time I was already helping wheelchair users to repair their Alu-wheelchairs. Suddenly I discovered something that society had not given much attention - the integration of disabled people into society.

Not only were disabled people neglected in society, but in the consumer markets…

In the consumer market, assistance was almost non-existent. Therefore I founded a company in my garage which focused on the production of parts for stairmates. Later, we made products like ramps, platforms for stairs, and later, parts for aviation followed.

But you did not stay in a garage.

As the volume of our production increased, it of course became necessary to move production to bigger spaces, as well as closer to our growing workforce in Uherské Hradiště. Gradually the aviation business decreased, and after introducing our own products to the market, production for disabled persons began to rapidly increase.
Today, you are the biggest Czech producer of stair platforms. What is your greatest milestone?

The most important milestone in the evolution of the company was the cooperation with our Austrian partner. It was Austria which represented our first foreign market and enabled further growth of the company, introducing newer markets for our products.

What was so revolutionary about that cooperation?

I guess it was the honoring of oral agreements.

Many people associate platforms with wheelchair users. However, there are other important users. Who are they?

Our products are useful for all types of people who suffer a lack of mobility, including seniors. However, physical disability is diverse and very specific to the individual. Therefore, it is always necessary to discuss an individually tailored product with each client. Since we are the producer, we are able to be flexible, and can adjust the product to the needs of the client.

You company is really active regarding communication with clients. How is this useful?

Basically, communication with clients gives us ideas about the needs and requirements of the market. For us, this represents really valuable information necessary for modernization and the development of new products.

How many employees does ALTECH have today?

In our production facilities in Uherské Hradiště we now employ 180 people. 

That is quite a lot.

The production of stair platforms is very specific to the individual, which means that for each order we have to prepare an individual production design. This makes technical work necessary for each individual order, which is quite demanding. So, in our company we have 20 design engineers.

I was reading that you also focus on the modernization and development of products.

That is necessary if you want to maintain demand and the sale of your products. This is the task for our development department and its prototype workshop.

Your goal is to become the most recognized European producer of stair platforms for immobile citizens. How realistic is this goal, and how big is your foreign competition?

Competition in our field is similar to other fields. There are many importers of foreign products. On the other hand, on average ALTECH exports 80% of its products, and as far as our main product is concerned we are exporting up to 92% of total production. That qualifies us among the major European companies in the field.

Regarding foreign countries, your installations map covers almost the whole world. Where are you heading right now?

Exports outside the EU must be certified in foreign countries. Currently, the certification process is under way in Israel, the USA, and Japan. A very interesting challenge was presented by the Olympic and the Paralympic games. We were able to deliver several devices to the Olympics in Sochi. Deliveries for the Olympics in Brazil are following, and Japanese certification should enable deliveries to the Olympics in Japan in 2020.

What market do you feel needs your barrier-free products most?

Countries with growing cultural and life standards are potential long-term clients. We see a big market in Asian countries, as well as the countries of South and Central America.

You were just nominated for the Mosty 2014 Award for Exceptional Activity or Act Beneficial to Disabled Citizens. Can you give us more details about this award?

We received the award for the development and introduction of a railway mobile stair platform, which enables wheelchair users to enter and exit trains.

On top of that, last year you took 88th place in the 100 Best 2014 award.

Yes, it was a great honor. I highly value the placement ALTECH received in the 100 Best 2014.

Do you also cooperate with the state sector? After all, state organizations should be fully barrier-free.

The Czech market is divided into so-called public buildings and private entities. Public buildings are gradually being made accessible via reconstruction or new planned buildings, such as schools, post offices etc.

What about private entities? Do they perceive barrier-free access as an important attribute to their buildings?

Nowadays it is quite common that when developing new apartments or even private houses, the project architects focus on a barrier-free environment as well. It often happens that the architects of the buildings come to consult with us when preparing their project. Solutions in already existing houses are based on agreements with clients, and the acceptance of a technical draft.

Not long ago, even our Prime Minister tried “to be in a wheelchair”. What is your opinion of such activities? Is the awareness of the needs of wheelchair users growing?

Definitely, this kind of activity is very useful to both parties and helps with the integration of our products.

What plans lie ahead for ALTECH for the year 2015? Any major projects?  

Last year, we started production of a new product – stair seats. In 2015, mass production is taking place, and sales through most of our dealers in the Czech Republic and abroad. Regarding investment projects, I can mention the construction of a production hall, the delivery of automatic metal sandblasting technology, as well as enhancing the space for the production of seats.

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