Valtavalo: Automated production of energy-efficient lighting solutions
As a manufacturer and supplier of LED lighting solutions, Valtavalo was founded in 2008 when brothers and IT experts Markku and Tuomas Laatikainen sought to realise their dream of working for the same company. They developed their business idea in the field of building automation technology, where they came upon LED lamps. They soon identified a new product developed in Asia, namely LED tubes. After ordering samples from manufacturers, they had the tubes analysed at the University of Oulu, where their old friend, Master of Science (Technology) Tuukka Prykäri was finishing his doctoral dissertation. Prykäri became a partner in the Laatikainen brothers' new company.
Valtavalo's research and development activities are conducted in Oulu, Finland, while their fully automated production plant is in Kajaani. The benefits of automation include cost-efficiency and exceptionally high quality in volume production, due to the automatic testing of all end products. Thanks to mechanical engineering and automated assembly, the products have an extremely low error percentage.
The company's turnover has been increasing by some 50% a year over the last four financial years. In 2011, the company received around EUR 400,000 in capital investments which it used to acquire production lines. Another EUR 350,000 investment received in November 2013 was used to accelerate growth. The number of personnel has increased steadily: the company currently employs 15 people.
“Our key clients are in the industrial sector, and our potential target customers include warehouses, parking halls, hospitals, stores, offices and all buildings that formerly used traditional fluorescent lights. Our products have a long lifespan, use less energy and soon pay themselves back. LED lighting saves up to 65–70 per cent of energy compared to traditional fluorescent lights,” says CEO Markku Laatikainen.
Valtavalo's key markets include the Nordic countries, most importantly Finland and Sweden.
“We have faced some competition, but are seeking to differentiate ourselves by offering top-quality products, a long product lifespan, automated production in Finland and low lifecycle costs.”
Valtavalo practically created the LED tube market in Finland and perhaps the whole of Europe. There is no doubt about the company's impact on product development, which has made LED tubes a safe lighting product in Europe.
“We had challenging times at first and had to build the market bit by bit. In the early days, LED tubes had a questionable reputation due to low-quality Chinese products. The Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency Tukes had to throw itself into cleaning up the market. When buyers are mainly used to purchasing from large companies, a newcomer in the field doesn't necessarily inspire confidence. Changing traditional approaches to the purchase of lighting can be very difficult,” Laatikainen says.
“We are in continuous cooperation with European authorities in charge of electrical safety. We have also participated in the preparation of new international standards for recently completed LED tubes. This will ensure that LED products by different manufacturers are compatible – even with the old fluorescent lights.”
“Funding from Tekes enabled us to internationalise rapidly. A third of our turnover already comes from abroad and we are continuously increasing this figure.”
Back to Finland
In 2012, Valtavalo understood that it would fare better if it kept its manufacturing operations in Finland rather than in China. The company moved all production back to Kajaani.
“We had quality assurance problems, and manufacturing in China was no longer an option. Keeping production in our own hands is beneficial in may ways, as customers have increasingly strict expectations. Coming back was not that simple, though. We had to design our product and production line in a completely new way, in order to compete with low-cost countries,” says Laatikainen.
Digitalisation is as important to Valtavalo as to any company in the world. There is no point in fighting it – it is better to consider the opportunities it offers and then implement them.
“For us, everything from communications to production processes is digital. At the end of the assembly line, our database collects light and electrical measurement results on all of our products. Our customers can go to our website, enter the code or serial number printed on an LED tube, and download individual test data on every tube.”
markku.laatikainen (at) valtavalo.fi