voestalpine Precision Strip is known to be a highly agile business, making it all the more incredible that the steel strip specialist with Swedish roots has reached the biblical age of 350.
Sweden’s Värmland was the ideal steel production location during the 17th century, offering abundant iron ore deposits and limitless energy in the form of timber and water. This was recognized by Johan Börjesson, who was both mayor of the district town of Karlstad and an entrepreneur: in 1670, he established a small hammer mill in the nearby rural community of Munkfors, where he used the power of the flowing cascades on the Klarälven river to beat pig iron into bars.
Although Börjesson may never have thought that sometime, in the far future, his enterprise would become part of a global Group with subsidiaries in more than 50 countries and around 49,000 employees, he had sufficient business acumen to ensure that his small mill in Munkfors would be a permanent fixture.
The secret of cold rolling
In 1818, the first blast furnace at the site began operating. From 1869, the sound of beating on the Klarälven gradually faded away as rolling replaced the work of hammering, and the entrepreneurs at Uddeholms AB took over the small mill. From 1880 onwards—more than 200 years after Johan Börjesson—it would be the legendary metallurgist and plant manager Gustaf Jansson who would make history in Munkfors: during his career at the plant which spanned an incredible 50 years, he brought the rolling mill in Munkfors to the global marketplace.
Shortly after Jansson’s arrival in Munkfors, and under his direction, the team worked in strict secrecy to build their own cold rolling machinery. Applying the classic approach of trial and error, Jansson and his team finally succeeded in managing the new technology. Today, it is extremely hard to properly appreciate the level of excitement these results produced: never before had such wafer-thin, precision-worked, and smooth steel been seen.
In business with King Gillette
In 1884, aged only 34 and just four years after starting at the company, Jansson was made the manager of the plant. From 1890 onwards, it was everything the company could do to keep up with the demand for its cold-rolled steel.
The response in Munkfors was to build new facilities. In 1893, production started at the new rolling mill on the Laxholmen. From this date onwards, this was where steel was annealed, cold rolled, hardened, heat-treated, and cut, and just a few years later, customers would include the American razorblade manufacturer King C. Gillette.
From BÖHLER to voestalpine
It was more than simply luck which turned Gillette into Jansson’s biggest customer: during his early years as an engineer, the cosmopolitan Jansson had spent four years working at the Washburn & Moen steel mill in the USA, not only learning to speak English but also gaining a thorough understanding of business in the US.
The company’s success demanded further investment. In 1931, three years before Jansson’s death, the plant relocated away from the banks of the Klarälven, moving inland to a new and considerably larger site in Munkfors. Here, Jansson’s successors are still at work: from 1991 as BÖHLER Uddeholm, and since 2015 as voestalpine Precision Strip AB.