With a heart of green steel, they have their sights set on becoming the best in Europe
Sustainability. A word that takes on a deeper meaning when a company really wants to make a difference. For GLS Industries, sustainability is about a genuine and far-reaching commitment. Here, both people and the world around them are at the centre on the journey to achieving a leading position in Europe.
Meet one of Elmia Subcontractor's ambassadors; the family business in Gnosjö that has set its sights on becoming Europe's leading sheet metal processing company.
GLS Industries consists of a group with 150 employees and facilities in Gnosjö and Ljungby. The company provides a complete offering of sheet metal processing that includes advanced laser cutting and punching for several different types of materials and automated bending of both small, large and advanced parts. Do you need to weld, surface treat or perhaps assemble parts? GLS has one of Sweden's most complete ranges of welding services, its own painting department and a wide range of post-processing services. Everything the company does is done with minimal energy consumption and maximum material utilisation. A winning recipe on the way to becoming the best in Europe.
How does a company create a sustainable path to the top? To answer that question, we sat down with CEO Jens Petersson and HR Manager Liv Hultén. We quickly realised that as a company in the heart of the Gnosjö region, sustainability is nothing new.
Jens Petersson summarises it like this:
"We Smålanders have been involved in sustainability since time immemorial. It's about being resource-efficient, reusing and turning things around. People used to talk about tight-fisted Smålanders, but today that's how everyone is - or should be".
Can it really be so simple to work environmentally? No. The foundations were there from the start, but the big change came when GLS chose to participate in Produktionslyftet in 2012. Produktionslyftet was a comprehensive national programme initiated by Teknikföretagen and IF Metall. The aim of the 18-month development programme was to increase the participating companies' productivity, competitiveness and development capacity. Closely linked to Produktionslyftet, the Robotlyftet project was later launched, and in 2021 the valuable Ekolyftet was launched. The project was run by RISE, KTH, IUC Sweden, Chalmers and Södertälje Science Park. This gave an extra boost to GLS's development work with a focus on climate and resource efficiency improvements.
"For me it was a bit like finding home," explains Jens Petersson. "The LEAN philosophy, and the tools we had access to, opened my eyes. We were one of three pilot companies for Ekolyftet. To have the opportunity to test and challenge our methods together with professors at Chalmers and KTH, felt fantastic. In this vein, we decided to put on the green glasses "for real". Sustainability is not just about efficiency and sustainable production. People are very much at the centre of it. It's about getting people to enjoy their workplace, be engaged and contribute their expertise. To achieve the vision and become Europe's leading sheet metal worker, we work sustainably and efficiently together with competent employees."
GLS Industries staff receive more than 5 hours of training per employee per month. When asked what GLS does to attract competent staff, HR Manager Liv Hultén answers that it is about finding the right keys.
"There are no shortcuts; we need to be genuinely interested in our employees. How can we give them the best possible conditions? For example, if you have to spend eight hours at a machine - how can we as an employer make that day a little more enjoyable? Perhaps it's not about selling the work at the machine, but rather that we have a staff club, that we have a group that meets for a beer on Fridays, or that we have other people who are interested in football at the company. When you are a subcontractor in the industrial sector like us, we may not be able to offer the hottest jobs - but we can offer security, personal development, a social community and a sense of belonging."
Liv Hultén returns to the issue of skills several times during our conversation, which is perhaps not surprising. In 2022, the number of training hours per employee totalled about 60 hours (an average of more than 5 hours per month and employee!). She says that this benefits the customers through high delivery quality, but also, the fact that the employees are given the opportunity to participate and influence, benefits both the company and the employees.
"We can never take for granted that our employees are proud to work at GLS. But I believe that if you as an employee can feel that you have been a big part of a successful development, then pride is closer at hand.
Expertise and new technology promote GLS Industries' environmental work
GLS Industries has decided to reduce its climate footprint. They are not alone. According to the EU science hub, the global steel industry is a major source of carbon dioxide emissions, accounting for 5% of total emissions in the EU and 7% globally. In fact, the European steel industry, with steel mills at its centre, needs to develop new technologies to be in line with EU climate targets. How does GLS Industries think about its own role as a manufacturer of steel products?
"We recycle an incredible 99.9 per cent of all steel in production," Jens explains. The goal is for discarded material to correspond to a maximum of 0.5 per cent of the number of articles produced. In the long term, we want to offer 100 per cent fossil-free steel in our products, but neither we nor the market are quite there yet.
When companies discuss sustainability, the focus is often on reduce, reuse and recycle. It's easy to focus on production and materials, but what people don't always realise is that competence runs like a red thread through the entire sustainability issue. The more you know, the more you can do.
"This is where training hours come into play," Liv explains. "We train the employees so that they can operate the machines in the best possible way and check that the products are of high and consistent quality. Environmental work is and should be a natural part of action plans and steering groups - we are all involved and contribute. The more we learn about sustainability, the more opportunities we discover. Our own environmental process, GLS Green Vision, is a valuable asset."
GLS Green Vision - a better future for all To reduce GLS Industries' environmental footprint, the company works with a process they have named GLS Green Vision. Jens explains how it works.
"The key words for GLS Green Vision are See - Think - Act. In simple terms, this means that GLS will constantly find and act on both large and small things that can contribute to a positive and sustainable development. GLS Green Vision consists of a few selected focus areas: Energy consumption, energy use, materials, logistics and personnel."
GLS works actively with all focus areas and all investments are made with the green glasses on. In connection with new installations, the company uses only environmentally friendly energy, which is an easy way to phase out old technology. The lighting fixtures in production halls and warehouses are replaced with LEDs, and oil as a heating source was phased out more than twenty years ago.
In 2017, GLS carried out an energy audit. Although the company has doubled its workforce since 2013, expanded 4,000 square metres and increased its turnover by more than EUR 100 million, total energy consumption has still decreased by 20 per cent. 1,500 square metres of solar panels have been installed and more will be added. The goal is to have completely climate-neutral production by 2035, which is why machine investments are made with careful consideration. When machines are replaced by new ones, it is mainly because the new ones are several times more energy efficient. But it is not only about savings in production.
"Everything in a company can be optimised," says Jens enthusiastically. 'For example, we have reviewed our logistics to reduce unnecessary transport that contributes to carbon dioxide emissions and greenhouse gases. For example, our investment in a baler led us to reduce the collection of plastic, corrugated cardboard and paper by 35 per cent. The investment in bottom-emptying containers also meant that we could reduce the number of emptying operations by half! It's also safer and more ergonomic because the driver doesn't have to get out of the truck."
Are there other platforms for sustainable business development? Both Liv Hultén and Jens Petersson agree that trade fair participation has a positive impact on both the brand and sustainability work. Jens says that GLS Industries has participated in Elmia Subcontractor for many years, not sure exactly how many, but it is at least 15 years.
"Visiting Elmia Subcontractor, or being here as an exhibitor, means that you get a whole library of knowledge at your disposal. We are all here for a reason. We want to talk business, be inspired, learn or make contacts. Elmia Subcontractor is like a sweet shop where you handpick your favourites. Knowledge is power and at the fair there is a lot of knowledge to pick up!
"You can have the world's most modern machines and the world's best business idea. But in the end, it's always about people. At Elmia Subcontractor it is clear that it is not machines but people that create successful companies. Never minimise the impact of people on the value of a brand," adds Liv Hultén.
With these words, we end our conversation with GLS Industries and wish them good luck both at the fair and with their business. With their determination, the position as Europe's leading sheet metal processor should be within reach in the long run.
Company: GLS Industries AB
Location: Gnosjö and Ljungby
Number of employees: 150
Industry: Laser cutting, punching, bending, welding, painting and finishing.
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