Supersafe, a multinational close to home

When the economic crisis began in 2007 SICAME, the French multinational specialised in equipment and services for energy and electricity distribution, decided to set up a pilot plant in Catalonia for a sector that until then, they were not in: electrical insulating gloves for operators making electrical live line maintenance. Now, two of its Catalan equipment manufacturers are undergoing international expansion under the guidance of the French company.

Electrical insulating rubber gloves

SICAME is a world leader in the field of electrical power distribution and it detected a niche market for rubber gloves. In this highly technical and specialised field the primary material – latex – is extracted from trees growing in specific areas and following treatment and testing results in an extremely high quality sophisticated product. These rubber gloves are an essential personal protective equipment to protect the lives of the workers in this field.

It is estimated that the world market for electrical insulating gloves is growing at a 20% annual rate. Since any damage to the glove may mean the death of the worker, they have a relatively short lifetime and high added value. Economic growth in developing countries and the increasing use of hybrid and electric vehicles have meant that market demand currently exceeds supply capacity and there are very few producers in the world with the necessary technology to produce such rubber gloves.

Based in Catalonia and expanding

The pilot glove manufacturing company set up by SICAME in Sant Esteve Sesrovires in Catalonia was called Supersafe and took advantage of the expertise of former employees of the Durex factory that had closed not long before. Once more the industrial tradition in Catalonia was the key to establishing new production activity in the area.

Some initial problems meant that the plant did not achieve full production capacity until 2011, but then it immediately proved itself successful. With the plant in regular production a decision was made to set up a new plant in Catalonia and another in Montreal with plans to expand in other regions. SICAME’s decision to produce electrical insulating gloves was a great success and the business began to expand.

Catalonia Trade & Investment helped the company to setup the worldwide R&D centre in the future production plant, giving Supersafe a training centre for technicians from the other plants as well as clients and also a centre for certification and re-testing of the gloves.

Proximity, local purchasing and ambitious international expansion

With its new factory, Supersafe’s production capacity has increased from 90,000 to 240,000 pairs per year, with the possibility of reaching 350,000 pairs per year and a reserve to expand to 500,000.

The aggressive international expansion plan that the company intends to carry out from Catalonia (Supersafe wants to achieve at least 8% of the world market share by 2016) is accompanied by an equally ambitious local purchase policy.

Supersafe’s production process is meticulous and requires continual quality control. The efficiency of the gloves cannot be tested until the end of the production process and that means that each stage of the process requires the most scrupulous procedures – any errors could mean major wastage.

The machinery must also operate to the highest standards. When installing the first machines Supersafe decided on the standard market models. Later on it took advantage of its industrial location to source local suppliers for the new machines it needed to expand.

Equipment made in Catalonia

Supersafe is directed by Saïd Lalaouna, PhD, a French engineer from the SICAME group, who has successfully driven each of the phases of the project and is convinced of the need for sustainable industrial activity. With that idea in mind, Supersafe looked for a local company to make two of the machines involved in the delicate process of manufacturing safety gloves – not an easy task!

For the leaching process, a manufacturer from Girona area was identified and chosen. This is a long-established company in the textile sector with broad experience in supplying international companies.

For the drying ovens and its automation Supersafe had an easier job. They build a strong relationship with a manufacturer in the Southern Barcelona Industrial area, a company with its own technology and a clear vocation to satisfy its clients, making it an easy choice to work with Supersafe.

Both manufacturers were included in the Supersafe expansion and now, as part of a factory that is a reference worldwide, both companies are global suppliers. They are on the point of entering the Canadian market to supply the other Supersafe factory that is being set up there.

What about the cost?

For Saïd Lalaouna, the concept of local suppliers is central to his business philosophy. He explains that even the furniture in the company offices is made in Catalonia. He insisted on visiting the furniture manufacturer in Cervera to check that the pieces were in fact made here. With regard to cost, his approach is eminently practical.

“Having the supplier close by, and the fact that they have worked with you in the design and installation of the product brings advantages that go well beyond simple price considerations. If one of our washers breaks down I have the guarantee that the operators in the same factory where it was made will repair it quickly, using the best knowledge of the product that there is. The effect on my production is therefore minimal and that represents a saving – the lowest cost for the highest value”.

Supersafe is an international company that could have established itself in many different countries (95% of its products are exported). It chose Catalonia for its industrial tradition and its expertise in the sector.

Having the supplier close by, and the fact that they have worked with you in the design and installation of the product brings advantages that go well beyond simple price considerations.

In all this is a paradigmatic example of how foreign investment, R&D and the local network of industry can work together to achieve international projection and opening up new markets.

Catalonia in Business