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SINTEF Manufacturing and the Tech Community at Raufoss

It is about being the best. If you are the best then location matters little.
So says Jon Sandvik of SINTEF Manufacturing AS. A metallurgist, Sandvik’s entire career has unfolded within the gates at Raufoss ever since he finished his engineering studies in Trondheim. First at Raufoss ASA, then as manager for material technology at Raufoss Technology, research director at SINTEF and now as an advisor for the same company. He has followed the industry closely ever since 1982 and was involved in the transition from a large group to multiple different companies following the winding up of Raufoss ASA from 1994 onwards. A heritage that has been further developed across companies such as Benteler Automotive Raufoss, Kongsberg Automotive, Nammo, Hexagon Ragasco and ISIFLO, to name just a few.

 Jon Sandvik – Sintef Manufacturing 

“You can travel wherever you like in the world and everyone knows what Raufoss is and what it stands for. Especially within the defense and automotive industries. There is scarcely a new Audi or Volvo produced without a suspension from Raufoss. A Scania or Volvo without brake couplings from Kongsberg Automotive or a BMW without a steering column from Steertec. There would be no barbecues without propane cylinders from Ragasco, and no water in the spring without couplings for ISIFLO. The industry knows us, although not the man on the street. Naturally enough,” says Sandvik with a smile. “Nobody in Lillehammer really knows what we do, but in Washington, Munich and Toronto they have an idea. Raufoss is an industry brand which stands for quality, reliability and efficient operations.”
A previous internal benchmark shows that we can produce certain products 30 to 35% cheaper at Raufoss than in China. One of the reasons is that in Raufoss, one person mans five assembly cells while in China it’s the reverse. Such an efficient set-up compensates for salary and quality costs, and puts us in a situation where China is actually buying components from Raufoss because they are made cheaper through our use of technology, and quality is also better. It is of course necessary to caveat that this is a simplified description and that salaries, export costs and technology development do all fluctuate, but it has been proven to the highest order that it is possible for high-cost countries to compete industrially on a global scale.

 Kongsberg Automitive 

No natural advantage – just expertise
“When it comes to things that require industrial manufacturing in Norway, Raufoss is the most natural place to turn to. And the big paradox is that in an industrial park with close to 2,500 employees, we have no raw materials, no natural advantages and zero local customers. Unlike other enterprises which trade in salmon, oil, hydropower or timber and who have both a certain local market and a resource base of raw materials that they can do something with. All we have is our global renown for producing components repeatedly and always at the right quality,” says Sandvik.
“All we have is our global renown for producing components repeatedly and always at the right quality.”
“What we deliver is expertise and competency at all levels of the organisation, from factory-floor worker to upper management. What we have is great people who are great at working together no matter they come from. But the downside is that to be the best – in our case within goods manufacturing – then you aren’t able to share the details with anyone. For competition reasons, we can’t proclaim out load that we beat the record by one minute, you can scarcely even buy a cake for your team. If you’re a competitive type, it can be hard not being able to tell anyone,” chuckles Sandvik.

 From Hexagon Ragasco’s production 

A technology community
One of Sandvik’s theories for success is the development of a technology community. Investment and energy have been poured into building up SINTEF Manufacturing which is owned by the companies together with SINTEF. It is an arena with 100 employees where common problems can be solved and new technologies developed. Technology and material expertise which are far removed from the end products and end markets of the companies. This means companies can share these early-phase investments even despite the competitive nature of the wider environment. “Other parks haven’t got that same level of cohesiveness. The closer you get to market, the more difficult it becomes to share, but farther back down the line it works great. This is pretty unique to Raufoss Industrial Park,” says Sandvik.
National initiatives at Raufoss
With that in mind, it is no coincidence that several national initiatives have come to Raufoss. There is NCE Manufacturing whose overarching goal is to foment a sustainable and profitable export industry in Norway. The Manufacturing Technology Norwegian Catapult Centre (MTNC) which assists companies in selecting the right technology. The SFI Centre for Research-based Innovation and a national research environment for goods manufacturing under SFI Manufacturing. The SINTEF Manufacturing AS research institute. And on top of all that, an NTNU campus in Gjøvik which includes goods manufacturing as one of its focus areas and Norway’s largest public vocational school which produces competent skilled workers adapted to the needs of industry.
 “We must compete with the rest of the world, and to do that we need to be the very best at what we do”
“If you work within defense, spaceflight or propane cylinders and brake couplings for the automotive industry, there is great respect between the various companies precisely because of what it takes in order for them to succeed. There is no Norwegian market for what we’re producing. We have no other option but to compete with the rest of the world, and to do that we need to be the very best at what we do,” concludes Sandvik. This time without a chuckle.

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