Viking Life-Saving Equipment (Thailand) Ltd. on 30 October 2002 opened a new 8,600 square meter factory in the free port zone of Laem Chabang Industrial Estate between Cholburi and Pattaya.
The opening was performed by Mr. Kjeld Amann, Managing Director of the Viking Group of companies, Danish Ambassador to Thailand, Mr. Ulrik Helweg-Larsen and Mrs. Annette Kristensen, Board Member of Viking and daughter of the founder of the company, together with the Deputy Director of the Industrial Estates Authority Thailand.
Initially, the investment was estimated to be around 30 mill Danish kroner, but according to Mr. Amann and Mrs. Kristensen, the final amount “will certainly exceed that before we are done”.
Present at the opening were also some ten invited Danish and Thai guests as well as all the currently 91 Thai employees of the company, whom both Mr. Amann and Mrs. Kristensen bid welcome in the growing “Viking Family”. Within the next six month, the 91 employees will be expanded to 200 people, Mrs. Kristensen added.
“The area is 15,000 square meters. We use today roughly 9,000 square meters, so there is room for expansion if we need this in the future,” Mr. Amann said in his speech, which also touched upon Thai-Danish cultural similarities and the importance for Viking, that all their employees view the company as more than just a job-provider.
“For us, this building is a place for all of us to come together. This building will become a place where you will spend an important part of your valuable time to realise our common goal of making your lives a little better for you and your families,” he said.
The new factory will produce almost the full range of maritime safety and security products of which Viking is the leading manufacturer in the world. It includes not only the well-known inflatable life rafts and life vests of the company, but also protective clothing against cold waters as well as clothes for fire-fighting.
Some of these products have for the past few years been produced in Lithuania. Moving the production to Thailand is expected to strengthen the company against rising competition from products manufactured in China.
“Everything we produce here is made to order from our head office in Esbjerg in Denmark and shipped to our clients around the world. We have no sales organisation here in,” Mr. Tommy Hansen, Managing Director of the new factory, explains.
Consequently, the company is also applying for incentives under BOI – Board of Investment. If the rules are not suddenly changed, the factory seems almost certain to be approved for this preferential status.
“We have for some years had a factory on the Indonesian island of Batam close to Singapore,” says Mr. Tommy Hansen.
“As it was time to expand, we thought it would be a good idea to establish our next factory somewhere else, while still maintaining the factory in Indonesia.”
For Mr. Tommy Hansen it is his second start-up of a factory in Asia. The Viking factory in Indonesia was likewise set up by him seven years ago, together with the factory manager of Viking in Denmark, Mr. Jens Pedersen.
The new factory is located next to Viking’s long time sales and service agent in Thailand, Mermaid Maritime Co., Ltd. on an area previously owned by this company.
“It has by and large been a smooth ride,” says Mr. Hansen.
“Everything has worked out fine – not least thanks to the substantial help we have received from Mr. Jørgen Lundbæk, the owner of Mermaid Maritime during the whole process,” he says, adding only that the amount of paperwork involved still keeps amazing him.
Building the factory was first put into the hands of an architect, who disappeared before the project ever got started. Then Viking turned to the former Danish engineering and construction company, Christiani & Nielsen.
“Christiani & Nielsen has done a very good job and we are quite impressed with their professionalism,” Mr. Hansen says.
The construction started in January this year. In September, Viking could move into its new premises as planned. The building is functionalistic, but at the same time aesthetic with a tall, curved roof in green corrugated steel plates.
“We require adequate space to inflate a life raft for 100 persons indoor and turn them around. They are quite big, so the lighting fixtures are 7,5 meter above the factory floor – and the building is a total of 13 meters tall,” Mr. Hansen explains.
The pleasant indoor climate inside the production hall is due to a huge ventilation system established by DISA (Thailand). Although glue and other chemicals are used in the production, there is no smell of any of the substances.
“We go by the strict Danish rules for indoor workspace climate. If you look closely, you will see that everywhere people are working with glue and other smelly substances, the tables have a small opening all around at the edge, where the air is sucked out,” he points out.
The policy of the company is that if the local environmental safety rules are in their opinion not protective enough, the company will set its own standards – hoping to influence others to follow. Consequently, with a capacity of 78,000 cubic meter of air per hour the dimension of the ventilation system fully meets the need – and then a bit more.
During the start-up phase, priority has been given to train the around 200 Thai workers to produce the top quality products, Vikings is known for.
“Especially manufacturing of life rafts is something which needs quite a substantial number of training hours. We have currently two Danish trainers out here supervising and instructing our Thai workers how to do the job. In other parts of the production, we have moved eight of our best workers from of the Indonesian factory – two women and six men – up here to help train their Thai colleagues,” Mr. Tommy Hansen explains.
All products are meticulously inspected and tested. All air- and water tight products are tested with instruments as well as with the human eye – simply by inflating the items with air and either apply soappy water (life rafts) or submerging them into a water tub (immersion suits) to check that there are indeed no leaks. There are no “acceptable quality” margins.
“We don’t accept 99 percent – either a product is 100 percent OK or it’s rejected,” Mr. Tommy Hansen emphasizes.
The new company in Thailand joins 15 other subsidiaries of Viking Life-Saving Equipment established all over the world – not including around 300 authorized Viking service companies, among others Mermaid Maritime in Thailand.
The Viking group is owned by Claus Sørensen A/S, Esbjerg – a company carrying the name of the grand father of Mrs. Annette Kristensen. Viking Life Saving Equipment in Denmark was established by her father, Mr. Tage Sørensen. Claus Sørensen A/S owns, apart from Viking Life-Saving Equipment, also a number of other major Danish companies, among others Vestfrost, a large Danish company manufacturing household refrigerators.