In a series of interviews with company leaders and key people within Allgon AB, we first meet Anna Stiwne, CEO of the radio control company Åkerströms Björbo AB. Watch the movie or read when Anna tells about the history of Åkerströms, how to look at the role of the products to make the workplace safer and more efficient and what will happen with radio control in the near future.
The Åkerströms head office is located in Björbo, in the heart of Dalarna. With a strong interest in business and industry, it was natural for Anna Stiwne to join the company in 2018. She has solid experience of industrial roles from companies such as SSAB and ABB in which she has worked both in Sweden and internationally. Since January 2019 Anna is CEO for Åkerströms Björbo AB – a company she was already impressed with and interested in at a young age.
Anna tells in the interview that Åkerströms, established in 1918 by Anders Åkerström, was founded as an electric company and was run by the Åkerström family for three generations until 2001. In the 50s, the company started developing control systems for cranes, forest winches and other applications – whatever today has been developed to include industrial radio control in several segments. The company has been part of the Allgon group since 2016; together with Tele Radio they constitute the business area Industrial Radio Control.
Åkerströms has been a part of her life since young years she explains, but the company really impressed on her during a study visit while she was in school. She was then very excited with the business and felt that the current CEO Jan Åkerström’s role could probably be something for her in the future.
“There and then I felt like – Wow, I want to do that too when I grow up”
When she started working at SSAB after studies, Åkerström’s presence and importance for industrial processes became even more evident, where the company’s logo could be seen everywhere on the steel manufacturer’s cranes. Åkerströms has for many years cooperated with SSAB and announced in October 2019 that they received an re-order from the company’s system Sesam 800 to secure the company’s gate control in the future.
Active in the industry’s most critical processes
Good and long-term customer relationships are highly valued by the company, which is very well-known in the industry, Anna further explains. As Åkerströms works closely with its customers, they have a well-developed aftermarket, with service and repairs, to ensure that the products last as long as possible and meet the high demands of the customers. Since the products are implemented in the most critical processes in the industry, it is of the utmost importance that they are reliable and robust. Being responsive to the customer’s or “partner’s” as Anna emphasizes is when it is always about close collaboration – wishes and then developing solutions that streamline and create a safer working environment for the customer’s employees is a key to Åkerström’s success.
Åkerströms has a product base that is highly customizable and can be customized together with the customer directly against orders. This means that the development project to get to a delivery does not have to be extensive, but the product life cycle is long and continuous updates of the systems are made. The updates are driven by changing norms – the machine directives – but also to increase the performance of existing systems with customers. This in itself is a long-term project with the customer, ”says Anna.
Industrial radio control is vital in contributing to a safer work environment
When Anna is asked to describe the importance of Åkerström’s solutions for industrial radio control for the safety of industrial processes, she emphasizes that it is vital. Initially, radio control mainly resulted in efficiency improvements, since control processes no longer required that several people operate systems without an operator being able to manage the remote control. Anna emphasizes, however, that today the safety aspect and the ability of radio control to create stable and secure industrial processes is the most interesting.
“The security aspect is more important than ever and will continue to be the case in the future – where the customer can make cost savings, but above all it is about people’s well-being – you should come home in the same condition as you went to work”
Anna about Åkerström’s future and market prospects
Security in particular is what Anna thinks will be a focus area in the industrial radio control market in the coming years. It is mainly about ensuring that the operator is competent enough to control the system, the way he does it and to optimize the life of the equipment. To ensure this, authorization processes will be required to secure permissions and the collection of control data to extract statistics and thus extend the life span by performing maintenance on time.
In general, Anna does not see that the forms of customer collaboration will change in the coming years, but that Åkerström’s strong business model with close collaboration with end users and distribution through partners and retailers is a strong platform. The industry has long cycles, where robustness and security characterize the market rather than trends. Åkerströms strengths are the ability to combine radio control with a new level of security as well as modernization and development of product offerings.
“The mobile side of heavy industry machines is an area where we see demand for radio control increasing – we definitely want to be there”
When asked what challenges Anna looks forward to, she points out that it is a complex technology where development takes time and classifications, norms and regulations govern the processes: “It is important to mind one’s p’s and q’s ,” she says and laughs. However, she sees that there is great development potential in a number of areas, and mentions mines, the power sector and radio control in a large number of mobile applications as examples. In general, Anna sees that the safety aspect of the process industry is an area with great development potential, and where there is much to be gained in product ratings for safety and robustness.
Tell us something about Åkerströms that we don’t already know?
Finally, Anna tells us that Åkerström’s head office in Björbo is located in an old bakery, where the mill was operated by a hydroelectric power station. Since 1972, the hydroelectric power station generates electricity for the office, which makes Åkerströms partially self-sufficient. One of many anecdotes says Anna, who adds that it has been very exciting being part of Åkerströms over the years.