There were two factors that brought FLIR Systems Estonia, a part of the US listed group Teledyne Technologies, to Estonia. Chance and Tiit Tallo. In the early 2000s, FLIR was subcontracted by Nolato Polymer’s subsidiary in Tallinn; when that company ceased operations, FLIR decided to seize the opportunity and move production here. And Tiit Tallo became the lead of the undertaking.
Under Tallo’s leadership, the Estonian factory gained the trust of the parent company’s management, which meant that instead of assembling components, they started to assemble cameras here – just within a year of the company’s creation. Additionally, a new manufacturing facility was built in Estonia, which created the conditions for continuous development.
Focused on efficiency
In 2007, there was a time when Estonia was mainly a country of just cheap labour, but today this is certainly no longer the case. World-class human capital, unique digital capabilities and a competitive business environment have made Estonia a smart, agile location for businesses with global ambitions. And FLIR Systems Estonia is now one of the group’s leading facilities in terms of efficiency and productivity, with approximately 15,000 employees worldwide and 170 of them in Estonia. Despite the increase in wages, the price per unit in Estonia remains cheaper than in China, Hungary or Romania. Meelis Bergmann, Head of FLIR System, says that increasing efficiency is a consistent focus for the company. “Labour costs are not always the determining factor; unit price is important,” notes Bergmann, who has run the company for the past three years doubling the company’s turnover from 43 million euros to 81 million euros.
Bergmann clarifies that when it comes to investment decisions, it is not a matter of cheap prices, but rather the economic and political environment. The company’s management has consistently proven for 15 years that Estonia is the best place for manufacturing. Currently, Teledyne Technologies’ Estonian subsidiary provides everything, from manufacturing and logistics to maintenance. Marketing and sales are the only centralised aspects, with product development located elsewhere. The company is taking bold steps here to bring product development to Estonia as well. This is one of Bergmann’s primary objectives. For that, last summer FLIR Systems Estonia donated over 50,000 euros worth of high-end thermal imaging infrared cameras with different capabilities to TalTech, one of the leading universities in Estonia, which will be shared by the IT, engineering and science departments. FLIR hopes that people at TalTech gain knowledge of infrared as a result and can then use that knowledge in product development down the line.
Russia’s war in Ukraine does nothing to undermine FLIR’s plans in Estonia. Bergmann is sure that Estonia is a perfectly secure place to conduct business now and in the future. “Estonia is a part of the European Union and NATO, the euro is used here, and it is a successful IT country,” Bergmann provides the reasons to be confident about the future.
Estonians have not got used to the good life
Cameras manufactured in Estonia are in widespread use across the globe. In the construction industry for example, infrared can help detect thermal bridges or leaks. In mines, it can help detect unwanted gases such as CO, CO2, methane or propane. In manufacturing, wear and tear on ball bearings and other systems. They are even used in agriculture. “For example, beekeepers will be able to check on the bees in wintertime – whether they are alive or dead,” says Bergmann, head of the company. A cheap infrared camera attached to your smartphone is all you need. He foresees a great future for cameras as well as their integration in augmented reality, where infrared helps detect faults, which in turn immediately directs the user to a suitable shop or specialist for repair.
In particular, Bergmann believes Estonia’s strength to be the fact that Estonians refuse to rest on their laurels. Estonia has a great quality of life, ranked 12th in the world (ahead of countries such as the US and Japan). Business is thriving, with Estonia ranking 40th in the world in terms of GDP per capita. Yet, Estonians are still a long way from resting on their laurels. “We are willing and able to work hard,” says Bergmann. His view is that many larger countries have dropped to comfort zone, while Estonians are still striving for accomplishment and have a strong will to improve.
Talent is readily available in Estonia and opportunities for hiring talent have advanced rapidly in the last couple of years. FLIR has carried out competitions for operators and engineers, and every time there are many candidates and interested parties; and the choice is wide.