Filtration innovation for Larox
Founded in 1977, Larox is a leading designer and manufacturer of industrial filters and a full service solution provider in filtration for separating solids from liquids.
The Finnish engineering company specialises in liquid separation and filtration equipment for use in mining and metallurgy, chemical processing and related industries, providing clients with an unrivalled combination of process expertise and service, delivering complete solutions that exceed expectations for product quality, yield, value and consistency. It helps clients to simplify their production processes and improve profitability, and offers comprehensive aftermarket services for the lifetime of solutions. The company has a progressively more international focus and around 95 per cent of its 2006 net sales of 122.8 million euros were generated by exports and the company’s foreign operations.
CEO Topi Karppanen outlines the company’s main activities: “We offer a full service for liquid separation with the filter products that the world’s process industries need. We provide related services as well, from starting to modernising and updating, through to offering spare parts. Basically, we offer anything that will enhance performance throughout the lifetime of the installation. We strategically focus on being competitive in the mining, metallurgical and chemical process industries, which means our customers are the world’s leading producers of mineral concentrates or metals, global players in the chemical processing industry and locally strong chemical companies around the world.”
Companies in mining and metallurgy, chemical processing and related industries benefit from Larox’s high performance and efficient process solutions, technologies and products. All solutions are designed for application-specific needs and are based either on over-pressure including automatic vertical pressure filters, horizontal filter presses and polishing filters, or on under-pressure such as horizontal vacuum belt filters, ceramic disc filters and conventional vacuum disc and drum filters. In addition, the company produces the established brands Ceramec, Hoesch, Pannevis, Scanmec and Scheibler, which are all supported by Larox’s aftermarket services.
Larox has a worldwide presence with an extensive network of sales and service offices, and representatives worldwide. Product engineering and manufacturing facilities are located in Lappeenranta, Finland and in Utrecht, The Netherlands, which has 60 staff.
Other locations for product engineering are Espoo in Finland and Alsdorf in Germany, which has 40 staff. “We have 450 employees spread across the world. The main factory is in Lappeenranta, where we have 210 employees,” says Topi. “Some changes are coming into effect by the end of the year whereby we will maintain our Finnish factory but our facility in Holland will close and we will outsource. We’re also developing manufacturing capabilities in countries such as Brazil, China, India and Russia.”
New product development forms an essential aspect of the company’s operations and its R&D activity helps to keep Larox ahead of the competition: “We invest about six per cent of our turnover in product development on an annual basis,” reveals Topi. “We’ve recently developed a product called Ceramic 144, which is a vacuum disc filter where the filtering element is ceramic membrane. One of the main benefits is that no air goes through the element, which maintains the vacuum inside the system that provides the separation force. We have also invested in developing a new type of rubber belt vacuum belt filter with the distinctive feature being its side vacuum box on the rubber belt. It provides several advantages such as reducing the number of components required because that vacuum box can also act as an air liquid separator, and reducing the overall height of the equipment in any greenfield investment because it requires a much smaller building than conventional solutions. Another major development has been the introduction of a fast opening membrane filter press with a plate size close to 2.5 metres, which is ideal for the coal industry and the treatment of metal mining tailings. We employ PCI (Product Continuous Improvement) and at the moment we are in a process of modulising – making the products more standard or modular – which enables us to be more price competitive.”
Larox’s growth strategy is supported by a target–oriented focus on the narrow field of expertise in solid and liquid separation, filtration, niche technologies and customer segments in global markets. The company emphasises and develops a unique concept of customer service comprising of strong customer relationships, longterm assistance, a wide sales network and an aftermarket service focusing exclusively on solid and liquid separation. Progress is based on motivating its expert personnel possessing vast knowledge and skills, its broad product and service portfolio that satisfy a wider range of customer’s filtration needs, and continuous product and application development. Larox’s growth has been predominantly organic with some acquisitions helping the company to expand. “Our parent company was established in 1977 based on one product and until 2002 we conducted our business based on that one item – the fully automatic tower press and related services. This is a high end product in the market of filter equipment and profitability of that product line together with its related services enabled us to develop our global sales and service network. In 2002 we bought Scheibler Filters Ltd, and in 2004 we acquired Outokumpu’s filter business, whilst remaining focused on our employees and being able to develop our worldwide network. It is important to consider the international nature of our business as we compete in the global marketplace. The share of a country like Finland is only five per cent. One third of our client base is the US and South America, one third is Europe and Africa, and one third is Australia and Asia.”
Larox prides itself on its excellent customer relationships which, Topi believes, is largely due to its extensive network. This has proved to be fundamental in keeping customers satisfied: “The main element in keeping our clients happy is our extremely reliable and extensive sales and services network. We are present in Zambia and Australia, we have our own subsidiaries in Canada, the US, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Brazil, Poland, Germany, Holland and the UK, and parent companies in Finland. We have our own people in Russia too and we have very close co-operation with partners in Kazakhstan, Japan and China. Alongside this excellent service, we offer a product that simply does what we promise and we provide support services for the lifetime of the installation.”
Larox’s key strength lies in its strong workforce and highly efficient manufacturing facilities. “We have very dedicated and motivated personnel working around the world and our people are in continuous contact with each other. Our employees are highly dedicated and motivated – this is a company that people like to work for,” asserts Topi. “Our manufacturing plant in Finland is where we manufacture our fully automatic power press filters, our second most profitable product, and here we have invested in automation in welding. We have a ceramic vacuum filter product line, which is outsourced – the actual products are made by another company for us. We are currently in the process of closing down our manufacturing operations in Central Europe and using manufacturing partners in Western and Central Eastern Europe. Some products are physically so big that they require more space in transportation so we have developed the skill of assembling the product at the customer’s site, after delivery.”
Maintaining its strong workforce is the company’s primary aim, as Topi explains: “Hiring and retaining competent personnel is our biggest challenge as it’s essential that we are an expert organisation. Our competitiveness and success is based on our personnel’s expertise, motivation and dedication making sure that they use that expertise for the benefit of the company. That is clearly the biggest challenge at the moment – we are in the same situation as many European equipment manufacturers in that we now have to look at the lower cost countries as a manufacturing base but I expect this geographical expansion will come from the marketing and sales side rather from the manufacturing side.”
Larox’s goal is to continue being customer oriented, innovative and competent. It will keep offering a high quality operation to customers around the world and over the next three years the company plans to double its turnover whilst increasing its workforce by just 25 per cent: “We’re supported by this wonderful economic cycle and there is a very high demand for filtration equipment on the mining and metallurgical side. I also think that chemical process energy is picking up little by little, following the mining side. Major growth for us is going to be based on keeping our current customers and selling our full product portfolio to them. There are clear signs that many of our customers appreciate that we have the product portfolio for the whole plant, or the majority of the plant, so they have only one partner to deal with – just one address, one phone number and one company standing behind the product and the service. We believe that will apply also in the chemical process industry when the demand picks u . I think that towards the end of that three-year period we will have to consider some acquisitions but nothing major – we’ll be looking at the ten to 20 million euro range in turnover as acquisition targets. We will look to acquire service companies related to serving customers using filters and companies who offer complementary products in order to strengthen our existing product lines.”
Continuing, Topi concludes: “Our vision is to be recognised as the world’s process industry solid liquid separation solution provider. We’d like to see that whenever anybody has a need for filtration then the first thought is Larox, and this will allow profitability to improve as the business grows.”
Products: Liquid separation and filtration equipment