Troax, Inc. and Folding Guard
Troax, Inc. has been in business for over sixty years as the top manufacturer of mesh panels used for safety fencing and industrial partitioning. Its products are used in applications from automotive to manufacturing. After listening to its customers, Troax helps them meet their safety, security and storage goals through quality, innovation, and design.
The company was founded by the Axelsson brothers in a shed at the family farm in Tyngel, Sweden in 1955. The business has grown from making products by hand to being a highly automated and highly successful international entity with sales offices and distribution points in over thirty-eight countries and headquarters in Hillerstorp, Sweden.
“We’ve got coverage and support just about everywhere,” says Jeff Tiedt. He is the North American director of sales and marketing for both Troax and Folding Guard, a wire mesh solutions company that Troax acquired in December of 2016.
Troax expanded to the United States in 2010, as North America was the logical and strategic choice for building its market. This was followed in 2014 by the acquisition of Italy-based Satech, a respected maker of modular protection systems for industrial machinery. The acquisition helped with additional growth and solidification of the southern European market. Soon after, in 2015, Troax went public and began trading on the Stockholm Stock Exchange (Nasdaq Stockholm) and has emerged as a consistent and attractive investment.
To expand its North American presence and market position further, Troax Group AB – through its subsidiary Troax, Inc. – acquired Chicago-based Folding Guard which has been a respected manufacturer of high-quality safety, storage, and security products for industrial, government, military, consumer, and commercial markets since 1962. Troax will continue to develop and promote the Folding Guard brand in North America and begin production of the Troax product core in the 167,000 square foot Folding Guard facility. The company has also taken on another 50,000 square foot location for warehousing and distribution.
The expansion into North America also helps solidify relationships and offer service and support advantages to companies with European roots – companies that have customers and business interests here in the U.S. and Canada.
With regards to the Troax primary market focus, “It mostly revolves around safety fencing and machine guarding,” says Tiedt. “So if you’ve got an automated process – it could be an assembly line, a welding station, or the paint area – you have this perimeter guarding to keep people out of areas where there’s potential danger. Our tagline is ‘protecting people, property, and processes.’ So people, that’s obvious; you want to keep them safe. Property: you’ve got things on the other side of that fencing or guarding that are of value, and you want to protect that. And processes: in manufacturing, you have these assembly lines. If somebody gets in there, they could also affect the quality and throughput of those systems.”
The company continues to experience growth in the automotive and manufacturing sectors, along with other areas like warehouse and distribution facilities, especially when they become much more complex and much more automated.
The company has nurtured relationships with material handling automation integrators and adapted products to meet the staggering increased growth. The “global” factor becomes huge as does the ability to meet supply demands and volume requirements required to sustain this growth. “In terms of markets, automotive and manufacturing is always going to be strong,” states Tiedt. “Automated warehouses and dynamic logistics becomes that next area.”
Since massive companies are working toward same-day delivery and pick-up for products such as groceries that have been ordered online, this trend is expected to continue to see exponential growth. Tiedt says Troax and Folding Guard’s machine guarding systems, industrial partition, and storage cage solutions are not “high-tech or sexy products, but they are absolutely necessary products.” Companies invest millions of dollars in robotic equipment, intelligence, programming, controls, “but they can’t turn any of that on until our product is in place, creating that safety barrier,” he says.
Tiedt encourages members of his team to get out onto the shop floors of customers, be on the installation sites, and gather practical, hands-on knowledge. Although the company has a large contingent of engineers and customer support professionals, Troax believes in direct feedback from clients. What he hears is how easy the products are to use and install.
Until now, almost all of the company’s product design and innovation has come from Europe. However, the European and American markets are different. The North American entity is providing more input as the company grows, recognizing that there are opportunities in the U.S. that require unique products and solutions that are not asked for in the mature markets.
“We’re getting to the point where we are going to be the largest business unit within the Troax Group in terms of volume,” says Tiedt of the company, which expects to double in size by 2023. Globally, Troax presently has over six hundred employees worldwide.
The company promotes itself through its website, social media, and marketing out of Sweden to ensure a consistent worldwide message, as well as participating in trade shows. It also sponsors webinars with the Robotics Industries Association (RIA) and through its direct sales force. Folding Guard will manage all of its marketing functions out of the Chicago operations.
“We are heavier in that regard than any of our competitors,” comments Tiedt. “Most of them rely on regional-type sales and telemarketing and e-commerce. Even though we’ve designed a standard product range with high levels of adaptability, one that’s very interchangeable and flexible with the same product being able to be used in different applications, every solution is going to be custom in some form or fashion.”
The main point of customer contact often takes place through engineers or project managers, since they are the ones designing machines and systems and integrating all components – one of the foremost being safety. Once clients provide the team of five designers with a computer-assisted drawing (CAD), it is imported into a proprietary design tool, and designers can then layer the company’s portfolio of products around the dimensions given by a customer as well as change heights, colors, alter types of mesh products, and add different styles of doors. At the same time, a material list is being created, so the design process is not only detailed, but efficient, as it’s simultaneously building the quote.
“So what the customer gets back from us is obviously their quote, their design, a line drawing, a 3D rendering, and if they need it in a CAD file, we offer a generic STEP file that they can drop down into their AutoCAD or SolidWorks renderings,” he says. “And that’s a huge part of what we are able to offer, because it saves customers the time and expense of having to do that design work themselves.”
Troax has been instrumental in helping to develop industry standards in Europe. The company has also played a direct role in creating the beginnings of harmonized, global standards seen in both ANSI and ISO procedures. Troax is also ISO4001 and ISO9001 certified and proactive with regards to environmental sustainability.
Because its panel systems, partitioning, and mesh products need to be both safe and aesthetically pleasing, in 2016, Troax invested in a new paint line that allows for much faster changeovers from one color to the next at its Hillerstorp facility. Similarly, the company is making investments at its Chicago-area Folding Guard operations, where it will be able to manufacture and paint in non-standard colors out of Chicago. Here it will also manufacture staple items domestically, helping offset the logistics involved in keeping a warehouse full of products.
Although it is the winner of many top supplier awards, Troax remains modest about its achievements and prefers to go about its business quietly.
“We want to be off the radar,” says Tiedt. “We want to be the big boy, and we are. We know our market. We know what customers need, because we listen. We’re not so proud that we say, ‘We’re going to make a product, and the market’s going to buy it.’ We’re really good at selling the problem, making people aware of what they should be doing and having the product available once we convince them of that. Because if they don’t buy into the fact they need to protect their people, property, and processes, then there really is no need to discuss any further.”
Safety has become a much more important part of businesses in recent years. Companies do not want people to get injured and are realizing the financial consequences of accidents.
“If somebody gets hurt, the impact, cost, and public exposure is not something you want to be in the news for,” states Tiedt. “Everybody sees articles about this all the time. You do searches for ‘workplace injuries,’ and a lot of it is tied to things that could have been avoided with proper protection – and we fall into that category. It’s rare to find somebody who thinks they don’t need that.”