The development history of ZIM Flugsitz GmbH from Markdorf near Friedrichshafen plays like a time-lapse movie. In a fantastically short period of time, the founders, Angelika and Peter Zimmermann, have turned the company into a global player.
The two mechanical engineering graduates founded their own engineering firm for machine and aircraft construction in 1995. Until 2008, they worked as a service provider for other companies filling their order books with an increasing number of development services for aircraft construction. In addition to wing and fuselage components for aircraft, they also developed their first aircraft seat that was approved and production-ready in 2009. This was the impetus to found ZIM Flugsitz GmbH. Peter Zimmermann looks back and explains the decisions made at the time: “We were a service provider at the end of the value creation chain and we saw a great deal of potential in the aircraft seat market. Therefore, we set ourselves the goal of taking over the development, production and distribution for ourselves and founded a company.”
The Zimmermann’s tackled the construction of a production facility and the associated operating infrastructure with optimism and entrepreneurial courage. Everything had to be planned carefully: Purchasing, development, production, quality assurance, sales and accounting, effectively building a company up from scratch. In early 2009, they broke ground for the production buildings on the Markdorf industrial estate. At the same time they presented the first Economy Seat EC01 – ZIMflexible at trade fairs in Long Beach/California and Hamburg. The company received its first order in July 2009 for over 3,500 EC01 seats to be installed in the Airbus A300 and A310 as well as the Boeing 747. Production started on the first series in November 2009.
Satisfied customers also convinced other potential customers resulting in Thai Airways placing an order for various aircraft types to be fitted with the Economy Seat EC01 in 2010. By November 2010, the process had to be changed from individual manufacture to a processing line thanks to the high number of orders. In 2011, ZIM Flugsitz received follow-up orders from Thai Airways and was able to win over new customers such as airberlin, Air Transat, Mahan Air, Luxair, Blue 1 and Japan Airlines. In the same year the first Business Class Seat BC01 was developed and brought onto the market on behalf of Air Transat (Canada). These were then delivered in spring 2012.
The company’s founders recognised what customers want and were able to launch strong products onto a technically demanding market. They do not fly the flag for reliability, flexibility, timeliness and high-quality for nothing. “Made in Germany” sounds good if it goes hand in hand with quality and meeting customer needs. A “weighty” factor in their success is the reduced weight. In fact, when developing aircraft seats everything revolves around weight. The lighter the seat, the more economical the airline. It is an important feature in this era of budget airlines. Even high-quality processing, which comes with a surprising amount of manual labour, must be considered in relation to the operating costs. The longer a seat lasts, the longer the intervals are between the cost-intensive replacements. ZIM FLUGSITZ hit the mark with their concept and philosophy. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that the healthy number of orders led to the production capacity being reached in 2012. A new production hall was built in Markdorf in 2013. Now, they also have a laboratory that carries out static tests and component, material and durability tests.
In April 2014, ZIM FLUGSITZ surprised the market with a successful seat for the Premium Economy Class. The PC01 – ZIMmagic is characterised by its design, seat comfort and integrated high-quality entertainment electronics. It is hardly surprising that even Lufthansa and its subsidiary Eurowings ordered this seat for their aircraft. A large order from Singapore Airlines boosted the successful product launch. Also in 2014 the Economy Class Seat EC00 – ZIMunique received the highest accolade in the Crystal Cabin Award at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg.
In the meantime the company had made a name for itself worldwide for creating weight-optimised, high-quality aircraft seats for the Economy, Premium Economy and Business Classes. By the end of 2016, 65,000 aircraft seats produced by ZIM FLUGSITZ were in flight around the world. And there will be many more to come. Thanks to their international success, the production capacity has reached its limit once more. Therefore, on 3 March 2017 production will start at a second location in Schwerin. As the main headquarter in Markdorf has no more opportunities for large-scale expansion, Schwerin was chosen as the location for the new site as it is closer to Airbus and the port of Hamburg.
The rapid growth of the company has been facilitated by great courage, dedication and personal commitment and has already led to a turnover of 48 million Euros in 2015. This inevitably begs the question, what drives the entrepreneurs? Angelika Zimmermann has the answer: “The joy of innovation. As engineers specialising in machine and aircraft construction, my husband and I have developed an enthusiasm for technology that is reflected in our products. Our goal is to share this joy in innovation with the specialists working in our development and production departments and to use it to offer our customers the very best.” This enthusiasm has not just infected the company but has captivated the family as well. Both of their sons, who are currently studying aerospace and law, have already decided to work for the company.