Durable. Sustainable. Innovative!

Interview with Dipl.-Ing., SFI Michael Brandhorst, CEO of Photon Meissener Technologies GmbH

Dipl.-Ing., SFI Michael Brandhorst, CEO of Photon Meissener Technologies GmbH
Dipl.-Ing., SFI Michael Brandhorst, CEO of Photon Meissener Technologies GmbH

Without Photon Meissener Technologies GmbH, many railway companies would be at a standstill, literally not going anywhere: The company contributes significantly to mobility in Germany with its products for distribution, signaling, and communication technology. We talked to CEO Michael Brandhorst about literally 'excellent' innovations and a commitment to sustainability that is inherent in the product itself.

Economic Forum: Mr. Brandhorst, the roots of Photon Meissener Technologies GmbH go back more than 100 years. How has the development to today's system manufacturer progressed?

Michael Brandhorst: The company started as a manufacturer of ignition cables. After initially developing into a housing manufacturer, it has become a system manufacturer since 2016. About 80% of our products are in the railway sector, of which 70% are infrastructure products and between 5 and 10% are products for rail vehicles. The remaining 30% are general mechanical engineering, such as in telecommunications, as well as protective housings and special projects in the field of speech technology.

Economic Forum: What does your portfolio look like in detail, what products do you offer?

Photon Meissener Power Plant Smart ID
The Power Plant Smart ID was awarded the SET4FUTURE Innovation Award in 2020

Michael Brandhorst: Broadly speaking, it includes those that are located in the rail itself as well as to the right and left of it. For example, we build the complete enclosures for copper cables and fiber optic cables, which are laid for signal technology along the rails. In addition, we deliver the entire connection technology up to complete distribution cabinets with a focus on digital interlockings: For years, we have been developing products for the Digital Rail Germany, the major project of Deutsche Bahn. Our portfolio also includes communication technology, such as emergency call columns for platforms or emergency intercoms in tunnels. We supply these ready to use, fully equipped and completely developed and tested by us. We also build charging stations for cars and now for e-bikes on order. Our newest project for the railway is a power column, 'Elektrant2 Smart ID', where diesel-powered trains can be supplied with electricity overnight without having to run the diesel engine. Thus, this product contributes to the idea of sustainability.

Economic Forum: Your products are regularly awarded innovation prizes. Can you give us some examples?

Michael Brandhorst: The Elektrant Smart ID received the SET4FUTURE Innovation Award from the Saxon Association Rail S in 2020. In 2022, we were awarded the innovation prize for a novel tamper-proof enclosure for digital interlockings. We use our know-how to develop products that we believe Deutsche Bahn or ÖBB can use.

Economic Forum: You name Deutsche Bahn and ÖBB as your customers. But you do not only work in the railway sector, do you? How is the company structured in general?

Michael Brandhorst: Manufacturing products for state and private railway companies is our core competence, but as part of the Photon Group, we also work for customers in the automotive and aerospace industries. Here at the Meißen site, we have 90 employees and generate annual sales of over 13 million EUR. The entire group employs 300 people and has annual sales of 30 million EUR.

Economic Forum: Your know-how as a company that contributes significantly to mobility in Germany is also reflected very concretely in the corresponding certifications – what are they specifically?

Michael Brandhorst: For one, we are of course ISO 9001:2015 'Quality Management System' certified, and since the beginning of 2023 according to DIN EN ISO14001:2015 'Environmental Management System' and further according to EN 15085-2 CL1 'Welding of railway vehicles and vehicle parts'. So, we are a certified operation for railway vehicles and railway vehicle components. In addition, we are a Q1 supplier of Deutsche Bahn AG, thus having the highest certification achievable for companies supplying Deutsche Bahn, as well as the DB certification for powder coating.

Economic Forum: What are the strengths of Photon Meissener Technologies, what sets you apart from the competition?

Michael Brandhorst: We are a small, medium-sized company with short decision-making paths. We have a highly motivated, well-trained team and a knack for developing the right products, i.e., those that have unique features that set them apart from others. With us, there is only a low turnover; there is a familiar and pleasant working atmosphere. And last but not least, we are successful in finding good specialists and suitable young talent. We start this at schools, where we organize an 'open company day' for the 7th and 8th grades. Furthermore, I also have an extensive regional network that enables me to find suitable employees.

Economic Forum: What are future topics for your company?

Michael Brandhorst: Our products are very durable, 30 years and more, and therefore sustainable in themselves. Next year, we will also install a PV system on the roof. The topic of AI remains exciting as well – especially in terms of security.