«It is key that we do precise work in the standardization committee. Otherwise, you will suffer from your own decisions later in the test lab.»
SNV Story No. 1: Mammut Sports Group AG
Those who engage in Alpine sport are one big family – both on the mountain and in standardization
Mammut’s success story got its start more than 155 years ago in Aargau, when Kaspar Tanner founded a rope goods factory in Lenzburg, initially to supply the agricultural sector. However, today’s mountaineering ropes made of premium materials have little in common with the oversized hemp twines of the time. Mammut now offers not only ropes but also other equipment, including shoes and clothing. The globally popular brand manufactures products according to international standards. As a long-standing partner of the Swiss Standards Association (SNV), Mammut plays an active role in standardization work.
Image source: Mammut Sports Group AG
Putting mountains in motion from the tiny town of Seon
The municipality has some 5000 inhabitants and is home to a Swiss company that each year releases onto the market two superb collections of top-notch outdoor items for mountaineering fans while also laying claim to world market leadership in two product categories: mountain ropes and avalanche equipment. The ropes are now produced in the Czech Republic, but they continue to be put through their paces at the company headquarters in Seon. The Swiss premium brand sets high standards for itself in terms of quality and sustainability. Mammut has long recognized that standardization is a strategically relevant issue deserving the attention of the CEO and not simply an expense item on the income statement.
Standards as a factor for success
Product development sometimes does not take place by the book. “Standards bring order to the chaos of our creative process. Thanks to standards, we know the limits within which we can operate. They give us the same security that a rope gives to a mountain climber,” says André von Rotz, who has been part of the Mammut family for almost 10 years as both an engineer and passionate mountaineer. He now serves as Team Leader Product Risk and Safety, Quality Management and Stewardship.
In the interplay between standards and product development, it is crucial whether a product improvement or innovation is involved. With the latter, you start with a blank slate and define standards in parallel with the product, a process that saves time and avoids imposing restrictions. A product optimization that falls within an existing standard can mean that restrictions are tighter, resulting in schedule delays. If the old standards do not precisely match the new innovations that are developed, a safety label will not be awarded. This can lead to the paradoxical situation of having a life-saving product ready to use, but not yet being allowed to sell it. As an example, André von Rotz mentions a new type of mountain rope with outstanding sharp-edge resilience that is just waiting to conquer the market and save climbers’ lives. However, Mammut and its competitors with a similar product are optimistic that the standard will soon be adapted to include the new product features. This is one more reason why Mammut prefers to help determine standards through the Swiss Standards Association (SNV) rather than have the standards influenced by others.
In the test laboratory, many metres of mountain-climbing ropes are destroyed each day to rule out any weaknesses or deviations from standards. (Source: Mammut Sports Group AG)
Those who have great ambitions need more than standards
Mammut not only relies on strict European standards but also meets other requirements. Conventional testing of standards in the laboratory is largely based on individual criteria such as tear strength. Mammut goes one step further and additionally tests the items for their practicality when used outdoors in the natural environment. A rope can be weakened on a climbing tour if it is exposed to hours of strong ultraviolet rays on a south face, for example. On the other hand, a rope should not have any functional limitations in extreme cold and should also offer optimal protection and be able to prevent a sudden fall from one moment to the next. In addition to meticulous laboratory tests, Mammut therefore also has two outdoor test days for each new collection. However, there is no Mammut mountain for this, but instead the appropriate terrain depending on the test design, which is scouted out again and again. Mammut conducts the practical days together with athletes and lead users. Mammut has also set itself the goal of anticipating misuse by less-experienced users and of preventing unnecessary falls due to such misuse. Protecting the lives of mountain climbers is not just an empty and clichéd phrase in some strategy paper but a mission that is embraced and brought to life each day.
Safety on the mountainside is a global issue
André von Rotz is a Mammut representative and SNV expert in the standardization committee CEN/TC 136/WG 5 Mountaineering and climbing equipment. This working group was formed in the 1990s under the aegis of the European Committee for Standardization (CEN).
Development of standards for mountain sports are closely linked to the history of Alpinism. Already in 1864, The Alpine Club in Great Britain defined the first standard for mountaineering ropes. Then in 1932, the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA) assumed responsibility for standardization. There are currently over 2000 UIAA safety labels for more than 70 manufacturers.
Alpine mountain guide Denis Pivot heads this working group with 54 experts from 12 countries. (Source: cen.eu/Climb mountains safely, thanks to EN 893:2019!) An annual conference is held for exchanging views and further developing the standards internationally. This conference does not take place directly on a mountain, but they often meet in the immediate vicinity of a mountain, allowing the experts to go climbing together after the intellectual exercise of discussing standards. For all experts working in the area of standardization, the collegial manner in which the working group operates and the respect with which competitors treat each other is striking. There is a sense of commitment to a higher goal and not just “bureaucratic sport”. Every decision made could one day save the life of a fellow decision-maker or one of their friends.
Life can literally hang from a thread
Let’s take one final look at the Mammut test lab. Each day, experts test kilometres of mountain-climbing ropes here, with endless curiosity and sustained enthusiasm every step of the way. Mammut has state-of-the-art equipment, with one of the rare test systems being what is known as the “drop tower”, a facility for testing falls that spans several floors. An 80-kilogramme drop mass simulates a climber’s body, allowing a test to be carried out as to whether the mountaineering rope provides the necessary protection in the event of a fall from a height of five metres. However, it’s not enough to run just one test; repetition is an important element in the test lab. For example, fake metal fingers take over this work in the carabiner endurance test, pressing against the movable locking arm thousands of times. Since most Mammut employees also enjoy mountain-climbing activities, they know how important it is that everything works perfectly. Compliance with the standards also includes complete and systematic documentation of all tests.
The drop tower simulates the fall of an 80-kilogramme climber. (Source: Mammut Sports Group AG)
Hobby, profession, passion and commitment
It is evident that many employees have turned their hobby into their profession at Mammut, and that the boundaries between superiors in the organizational hierarchy and climbing enthusiasts are quickly blurred. “During my many years of work at Mammut, I shared a flat with three of my superiors. That says everything about our respectful and collegial approach,” André von Rotz adds. Mammut offers flexible working models so that the call of the mountain can be combined with the call of work. Mammut clothing is not a uniform for employees, but part of a philosophy of life – in the office, on the mountain and in one’s leisure time. The company is currently particularly proud of its in-house Mammut Eiger Extreme collection, with which temperatures even as low as –40 degrees Celsius are no reason not to go outside. However, the greatest goal is and remains the protection and motivation of like-minded people, namely those who also engage in Alpine sport.
Mammut is a Swiss outdoor company founded in 1862 that offers high-quality products and unique brand experiences to Alpine sport fans around the world. For more than 155 years, the world’s leading premium brand has stood for safety and groundbreaking innovation. Mammut products combine functionality and performance with contemporary design. With its combination of hardware, shoes and clothing, Mammut is one of the most complete suppliers in the outdoor market. Mammut Sports Group AG is active in around 40 countries and employs some 900 people. (Source: conzzeta.com)
André von Rotz
André von Rotz is an SNV expert in the CEN/TC 136/WG5 Mountaineering and Climbing Equipment standardization committee. He has been working for Mammut Sports Group AG for almost 10 years and is now responsible for compliance with standards as Team Leader Product Risk and Safety, Quality Management and Stewardship. He is a qualified mechanical engineer, patent manager, PSA expert and IRATA Rope Access Technician. In his free time, he is always ascending new peaks and is involved in these two associations, among others: