June 15, 2020
In the glass processing industry, the quality requirements for glass materials used in buildings and cars are stringent. TaiFin Glass Machinery developed a unique production technology and specialty furnaces for tempering safety glass and bending windshields – and immediately hit the giant Chinese market with its first order.
When quality and state-of-the-art technology are what matters, a Finnish SME can make its way directly onto the world market. TaiFin was founded by four production technology professionals in 2009.
“All of us founding members had long-standing experience in glass processing machinery and other similar production lines, and a strong vision that the global market would have room for us as well”, TaiFin’s Sales Director Jarno Nieminen says.
That vision has proven to be correct. Today, TaiFin is a strongly growing company that has been operating as an independent part of the German Hegla Group since autumn 2019. State-of-the-art technology is of interest to architectural and vehicle glass manufacturers throughout the world.
“We have customers in Asia, North America and the EMEA region, but the company was born directly onto the Chinese market. Already when the company was founded, it was quite clear that IP protection and patents had to be put in order for all our own technical solutions and ideas, so that others would not immediately follow behind with their copies. Without patents, a small technology company really has nothing to sell. Those investments have been worth making.”
The company’s first large order came from China. The buyer needed TaiFin’s special expertise to manufacture windshield bending furnaces for the needs of the Chinese automotive industry.
“The order and the project, which lasted for several years, were very significant for us. As a result, we set up the first production plant in China, enabling us to start our own product development and get initial funding.”
TaiFin now has its own subsidiary in Suzhou, China. TaiFin quickly became one of the leading suppliers of specialty furnaces and production lines for vehicle glass manufacturers.
“We are also able to supply special machines for the manufacture of car smart glass and the light but durable Gorilla glass needed for electric cars, for example.”
Fortunately for TaiFin, even a Chinese customer may not necessarily want to buy a Chinese product.
“The quality requirements for vehicle glass are now so stringent that really good equipment is also needed to be able to manufacture special glass that meets the criteria. That is why we have been successful in China as well.”
In the glass manufacturing industry, the largest volume, or about 85%, comes from the growing needs of the construction industry. TaiFin’s most significant innovations and patents also relate to the manufacturing technology of architectural glass and high-quality safety glass.
The manufacture of safety glass, i.e. flat glass, tempered glass and laminated glass, involves a significant and common quality problem known as anisotropy.
“It simply means tension differences in the glass. Light is refracted differently in the glass in different tension areas, which is manifested visually as streaks or various spots in the glass. TaiFin’s patented technology is based on our ability to prevent such tension differences in the glass. We have managed to solve a big problem in glass manufacturing, and also to protect related technology extensively with patents”, Nieminen describes the company’s unique flat glass tempering technology.
TaiFin’s glass tempering lines produce completely clear and transparent glass without any visible irregularities. The product development project got properly into its stride in 2013. That also created the need to protect the results of product development as fully as possible with patents.
“We contacted Kolster because I knew that Ossi Huhtanen had expertise in protecting inventions in this area of technology. We started the patenting process with Ossi, and Reijo Rantanen joined in later as well. It has been easy to work with experienced patent attorneys.”
With protected technology, TaiFin’s turnover started to grow strongly when the patented flat glass tempering furnaces were launched in 2014. As a result, TaiFin has rapidly become one of the industry’s leading suppliers for architectural glass manufacturers as well on a globally growing market.
As new technical solutions have been created, they have first been tested at Kolster with novelty searches.
“Kolster has investigated the patent jungle in the industry and studied whether competitors have patents in the same area of technology and whether the invention is new to the market. After that, a decision has been made whether to proceed with the patent process. It has also been important for us to make sure that we can start manufacturing our own equipment with freedom to operate, without fear of competitors’ patents.”
Kolster’s patent attorneys also monitor IP activities of competitors in the industry for TaiFin.
“We receive regular follow-up reports from Kolster to keep abreast of what is happening on the patent front and with competitors in the industry.”
TaiFin’s unique technology and patents have attracted the attention of competitors, and attempts have been made to revoke the company’s patents. Well-drafted patent applications have held their ground against attacks by competitors.
“Ossi and Reijo have defended our patents with good results in oral proceedings in front of the European Patent Office, and our patents have remained in force.”
Nieminen considers the oppositions of competitors to be challenging situations in which the views of an experienced patent attorney are of particular importance.
“Even though the situation has sometimes seemed challenging to myself, the patent attorney has been able to find the right path forward. It is difficult for a layman to fully understand how to read legal-technical patent text and what is actually the most essential thing in the patent claims. These matters cannot be thoroughly managed without skilled patent attorneys.”
A significant milestone for TaiFin was the merger into the German Hegla Group in autumn 2019. Hegla acquired 51% of the company’s share capital.
The acquisition was a strategic decision for both parties: Hegla wanted to expand its own product portfolio, and TaiFin gained a big partner to accelerate growth. The companies’ production lines complement each other in the glass processing value chain. The customers are exactly the same, as Hegla supplies machines and systems for glass cutting, sorting, warehousing and logistics. In addition to Germany, Hegla has companies in the United States, Great Britain and France.
“We wanted Hegla as our partner. For us, it was a good solution to obtain a partner with sufficient resources and an extensive sales network to quickly grow TaiFin’s business as well.”
With the Hegla partnership, the manufacture of TaiFin’s equipment will commence in Germany during 2020, and in 2021, production will also be launched in the United States. Production capacity will increase significantly, allowing for a bigger growth spurt.
Patents have been a big investment for a small company. According to Nieminen, however, they have been very significant for TaiFin’s business and future growth.
“We are competing in a niche industry on the global market, so protection must be comprehensive enough so that no one gets anywhere near the technology we have developed over the last ten years.”
Patenting will continue actively in the future as well. New semi-finished ideas for patent applications are already under development.
“Production automation is constantly evolving. We want to be a supplier that is able to implement even further automated production lines as extensive turnkey deliveries for the glass manufacturing industry. We are already at an advanced stage and are developing these devices further in line with our own technology vision.”
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