Trelleborg Stefa: more than a product, a function

Trelleborg's acquisition of Polymer Sealing Solution in 2003 closed a circle for Trelleborg Stefa, a company that traces its roots back to the 1600s.
Up to 1967, Stefa was called Stensholms Fabriks AB. Stensholm was the name of a small islet in the Huskvarna River. During the late 1600s, a new paper mill was located there, due exclusively to access to hydrological power. Two hundred years later, the company became a mechanical workshop owned by stakeholders in the Husqvarna Vapenfabrik arms factory. The name Stensholms Fabriks AB was registered in 1897. Stensholms was predominantly a subcontractor for the military weapon industry.
During World War II, Stensholms mainly produced handguns. Following the peace, demand diminished and the company started to look for alternative production. The company chose rotary shaft seals and, as a result, the first contacts were made between Stensholms and Trelleborg.
Trelleborgs Gummifabriks AB was registered on October 30, 1905. The operation concentrated on the manufacture of industrial rubber and tires. From having 100 employees and sales of slightly less than SEK 0.5 M in 1905, the Company flourished and, by 1935, had some 1,000 employees and sales of SEK 10 M.

Stefa  history images

Having been a purely domestic industrial company, Trelleborg rapidly built up substantial export operations after the end of the Second World War. By 1955, the number of employees had grown to 3,000 and sales reached SEK 125 M. In 1962, the Trelleborg Rubber Fabriek in the Netherlands was officially opened, becoming the Company's first manufacturing unit outside Sweden.
Collaboration between Stefa and Trelleborg intensified over the years and, in 1962, Trelleborg acquired Stensholms from the then owner, Haldex AB. Trelleborg was listed on the Stockholm Stock Exchange in 1964. Stensholms was renamed Stefa Industri AB on January 1, 1967.
Stefa Industri AB rapidly became one of Europe's leading manufacturers of rotary seals. Towards the middle of the 1960s, however, exports to the EEC market dried up, as high import duties made deliveries from Sweden impossible. As a result, Stefa rings, mainly of the lower standard series for the German automotive industry, started to be produced at Tretorn Gummiwerke in Hamburg. However, it was impossible to efficiently serve other EEC countries, such as Italy and France, from Hamburg.
Accordingly, in 1966, Stefa reached a licensing agreement with SAGI, an Italian company based in Turin; the company was founded in 1953 as GIANI & C. and right from the start used to manufacture oil seals. SAGI was owned by three partners and it soon became apparent that two of these wanted to sell their interests and withdraw from the company. Following negotiations, Trelleborg via Stefa acquired SAGI, on October 24, 1966. The acquisition was regarded as a significant complement to Stefa's operations. As a result of the lower costs in Italy, it was possible to relocate uncomfortable small series production to SAGI and obtain more rational and profitable production in both Landskrona and Hamburg. The possibility of delivering substantial quantities from SAGI to SKF's Italian subsidiary SKF-RIV, which was also located in Turin, was another attractive aspect. In 1968, SAGI was renamed Stefa S.p.A.
In 1967, Stefa formed Stefa GmbH, a separate subsidiary in Frankfurt that was a continuation of an agency operation formerly conducted by one person.
In 1969, Stefa N.V. was formed in the Netherlands. This was a new sales company that focused mainly on the Benelux countries. In 1975, Trelleborg Group had 6,900 employees and sales of SEK 950 M. The proportion of sales outside Sweden totaled 44 percent. In 1977, the Company's name was changed to Trelleborg AB.
In the mid-1970s, Trelleborg underwent major difficulties, after being forced to close its car and truck tire manufacturing, and most of its production of bicycle tires. In order to free up capital, a number of activities had to be divested, including AB Trelleborgplast in Ljungby. Another company on the sales list was Stefa, which had been operating at a loss for a number of years. In 1977/78, Stefa was acquired by Günther Merker and Folke Palmqvist, the owners and president and deputy president, respectively, of Harry Stickler Maskin AB and subsidiaries. The Stickler group focused solely on agency operations, which in part competed with Stefa in the market for rotary seals.
However, things did not go so well for the new owners and, at the end of January 1981, Trelleborg repurchased the Stefa group, which actually had annual sales of approximately SEK 100 M. At that time, the Stefa group also included sales companies in West Germany, Switzerland and Austria.
However, Trelleborg still needed to free up capital and, in February 1983, Stefa was sold once again, this time to Swedish company Forsheda AB.
In 1983, measures were introduced to restructure the company through the sale and closure of unprofitable operations. When profitability had been restored, an extensive program of acquisitions was implemented. The export activities grew enormously during the 80s, therefore a brand new plant in Leinì was opened in 1990: complete manufacturing lines with the latest world class moulding technology.
At the beginning of the 1990s, the Trelleborg Group's operations included mining and metals, mineral processing, the distribution of products for the building sector and the pulp and paper industry. During the latter part of the 1990s, the Group was again restructured and the divestment of non-core operations created a strong financial position for Trelleborg's future development.
In spite of Stefa's success, or right because of it should we say, Forsheda was acquired by TI Group in 1996. In 1999, ownership of the operations switched to Smiths Plc, a UK group. In April 1999, the decision was made to follow a new strategic direction and to reposition the Trelleborg Group. The strategy adopted was termed "concentration and expansion." In this context, "concentration" meant that Trelleborg would now divest the non-core operations and focus on the industrial competence at its disposal. This part of the strategy is completed through the divestment of the metal-recycling operations of Metech Inc. and the sale of the Group's distribution operations. "Expansion" meant that the Group would utilize substantial amounts of its financial resources for external growth.
In 2001 the sales turnover of Stefa reached historical peak of 12 mln.Euros, and as of 2003 Stefa is once again part of the Trelleborg Group.

Today, the operations are based in Turin area, Italy: 2 plants, 160 employees. The company is a leading world manufacturer of top quality radial oil seals, especially for customized profiles. In Italy, the name Stefa is so well known that "stefa" is sometimes the name used for oil seals in technical manuals. Most of the company's production is exported to such countries as Germany, Sweden, the UK, the US and Canada. Its customers are mainly active in the automotive and engineering industries: ZF, Luk, Getrag, Volvo, Scania, Daf, ABB, Whirlpool, Electrolux, Merloni, Dana, Carraro, SEW, Lenze, Mannesmann, Demag, etc. to name a few. Automatic and Manual Speed Gearboxes,steering systems, fuel injection pumps for automotive, reduction gears for industrial hydraulic systems, washing machines and heavy duty axles are typical application areas, besides the special applications such as electric equipment, helicopter speed gearboxes, etc.