Jan Hörnberg, VD och Protabs grundare.

Jan Hörnberg, Protab founder.

Two young, inventive and capable mechanical engineers took the first step back in 1988. Today, Protab consists of two subsidiaries with annual sales of around SEK 70 million. It is a well-established producer of machined parts, primarily for the hydraulics and forestry machinery industries.

At the end of the 1980s, in the little village of Slipstensjön in Västerbotten, Sweden, 90 km north west of Umeå, Jan Hörnberg and Sören Häggström rented a workshop, took out a loan and bought an ultramodern CNC lathe and robot. They put their all into establishing themselves as manufacturers of high-quality machinery components.

And they succeeded. They were primarily suppliers to major forestry machinery manufacturers. Despite the economic downturn in the beginning of the 1990s, they made further investments and began collaborating with other companies, among them Idéservice and Vimek.

First two, then three and then 16
Things were soon moving flat out and in 1992 Protab built its first industrial premises with a floor space of 300 m². They hired their first employee the following year. Three years later they had invested in a large equipment inventory and had 16 employees. Things got cramped, so they extended the premises and doubled the floor space. Board professional Leif Englund was taken on to help structure the company following its rapid expansion. His efforts have been essential for Protab’s development.

Strong sub supplier
Heavy iron and steel billets were hauled up the narrow gravel road to Slipstensjön for processing into machinery components with tolerances down to the micrometre (μ). Protab’s business and successes were well received around the country. In 1996, the company was nominated ‘Gnosjö Notability of the Year’ by Föreningsbanken and the newspaper Land. These days, Protab’s precision engineering components and production solutions can be found on well-known machines and accessories all over the world thanks to its position as a sub supplier to e.g. Cranab, Indexator, Gema Industri, Komatsu and Ålö.

High-speed move
By the beginning of the 2000s it was no longer possible to continue expanding in such a little village. Protab began collaborating with engineers Renfors Mekaniska in Vindeln and pretty soon they bought the company out. In 2004 they transferred their operations to Vindeln, 40 km south. It meant better communications, more customers and collaborative partners and a bigger recruiting base. The entire move, from decision to full operation in the new premises took just two months thanks to enormous efforts by its employees. Several exciting years followed with further expansion and certification of the management systems for quality, the environment and occupational health and safety. Protab was included in the business daily Dagens Industri’s Gazelle List two years in a row.

Global crisis shock
And then came 2009. Even places like Vindeln were hurt when the banking and financial crisis exploded. Protab began to feel a business downturn as early as 2008 and took its foot off the accelerator in good time by taking many disagreeable but necessary decisions. They cut back from 48 employees to 12 and sought permission to restructure the company. One hundred per cent of the company’s creditors and suppliers gave their backing, and by the end of 2009 the restructuring was complete and Protab was still in business.

An enduring partner
”Despite the tough times it was a great feeling to know we had so many friends who had faith in us and our business. By the following year we were already back to 16 employees and annual sales of SEK 20 million. Today, we are strong and experienced; our production is stable and our components have the same high quality as they ever did. We remain focused on our role as sub suppliers. At the same time we’re intricately involved in the entire process with some customers, from concept to development and engineering to production. We have the capacity and experience to be the link in the chain that our customers need. Many of our customers regard Protab as a department in their own company. It’s something we’re very proud of,” says founder and CEO Jan Hörnberg.

New subsidiary and increased capacity
The year 2014 saw another major milestone when Protab and four employees at Sulzer Pump Solutions in Nordmaling, formed a new company – Protab in Nordmaling. The operation concentrates on metal cutting for industry. Around 15 jobs were created and the long-term goal is continued growth in terms of both geography and personnel. Initially, Sulzer is expected to be the major customer for Protab i Nordmaling, but a focus on sales and intensive marketing will extend the customer base. Thanks to Sulzer’s intention to purchase the majority of its machined components for drainage pumps from them, the new company will get off to a flying start. What’s more, product quality is assured as the existing expertise and experience can be put to good use.

Some of the major advantages include an immediate production capacity increase and the ability to reduce delivery times while also acting as backup for each company’s installations in Nordmaling and Vindeln. This provides a great sense of security for our customers and employees and means good opportunities for growth,” says Jan Hörnberg.