• Specialist in refrigeration, heating and dehumidification technologies invests €5 million in former Electrolux plant in Mariestad, Sweden
  • Cutting-edge expertise and dynamic approach to manufacturing subcontracting attracts international customers
  • Rapid growth sets the stage for expansion into medtech market

Bringing new ideas to life in manufacturing is not always an easy road to travel. “Anyone can have a groundbreaking idea for a product,” says Swedish entrepreneur Jan Kristoffersson, “but innovators need strong partners to get to market.”

Closing this gap in the white goods segment is precisely what Kristoffersson had in mind when he set up Prodma in 2016, together with two former colleagues at Electrolux. Their vision was to offer flexible high-tech manufacturing services in the field of refrigeration, heating and dehumidification technologies.

The story of this spin-out venture began with a unique window of opportunity at the Electrolux factory in Mariestad, a small yet industrially vibrant town situated on the shore of Lake Vänern, Southwest Sweden.  

“When Electrolux announced it would vacate the Mariestad factory we formed a new company and stepped in, keeping most equipment and staff intact. Our business model is to harness other people’s ideas and guide them through prototyping, testing and production,” Kristoffersson explains.

The bet paid off in no time. In the space of just three years Prodma’s revenue surged from €700,000 to €15 million. Some 90 people are now employed at the 68,000 sqm plant which, far from being abandoned, proves that innovation is alive and well in Mariestad.

Salad bars go digital

Prodma’s first customer was Picadeli, a food & beverage company that set out to redefine fast food with salads based on a “digital freshness” concept. Kristoffersson and his team took on the challenge and developed together with Picadeli the refrigeration technology for the fully connected salad bar called “Arctic”, which won the LSA Innovation Award in 2017.

Picadeli has since become the European leader in self-service salads.

“The digitised salad bar provides real-time information on the status of ingredients and customers’ preferred choices. This means Picadeli can both optimise logistics and tailor the selection to customers’ tastes using data insights.”

It was a flying start says Kristoffersson as he reflects back. Prodma’s investment of €5 million to upgrade the Mariestad factory was “worth every penny” and included a new automated punch and bending line, robotic press brake systems and CNC pipe profile bending machines.

“The upgrade allowed us to develop a wide range of metal sheet and pipe geometries and to meet customer expectations in a more agile way. We also use 3D printing to create prototype parts,” he adds.  

“Most of our business has come from networking. Finding skilled engineers in thermodynamics is relatively easy in the Skaraborg region. We’ve had applicants queueing up to work with us which is very encouraging.”

Green thinking

Innovating smart components and concepts for white goods has become Prodma’s hallmark. In addition to connectivity features, this means putting the environment first.

When Wood’s, a leading manufacturer of dehumidifiers, faced new environmental regulations in the EU banning greenhouse gas-emitting refrigerants, Prodma had an eco-friendly alternative ready to go.

“We demonstrated that Wood’s dehumidifiers can be built using natural refrigerants. These have a much lower environmental impact in terms of CO2 equivalents.”

This know-how prompted Wood’s to shift its outsourcing of manufacturing from Canada to Prodma’s factory in Mariestad. 

“If you want to be competitive in Europe you need to go beyond the price factor and focus on sustainability. We apply this mindset in our processes too. We recycle excess heat from air compressors and choose metal materials over plastics whenever we can,” says Kristoffersson.

Prime time for medtech

Food & beverage is not the only segment where new refrigeration technologies are gaining ground. Kristoffersson has his sights set on Europe’s medtech sector where advanced cooling solutions are in high demand.

“Traceability is a critical aspect in medicines refrigeration and temperatures need to be kept stable at all times. We already supply refrigerators to a pharmaceuticals company in Luxembourg, but we are now targeting untapped application areas.”

While there is no lack of talent within the company, Prodma habitually reaches beyond its own walls to co-innovate solutions. 

“Skaraborg is a great region for companies that want to be innovation-driven. Gothia Science Park, the industrial innovation arena ASSAR and Skövde University are just a few local partners that we work closely with,” he concludes.

Small town, big ambitions

Mariestad’s industrial progress has never been stagnant. The town’s paper mill has been operational since 1765 which recently attracted a €230 million upgrade investment. In July 2019, the world’s first solar-powered hydrogen filling station also became operational here.

A thriving ecosystem of competences has put Mariestad firmly on the international map says Gustaf Wikblom, Head of Establishment at Skaraborg Business Region.

“Mariestad has a long legacy in forward-thinking manufacturing in a region that offers a mix of excellent infrastructure, a strong talent pool and a flourishing innovation system. This is a great advantage to SMEs with growth ambitions. Prodma is one of the champions that are now proving this point,” he concludes.