Kaunas, Lithuania's Industrial Innovation Capital
There is still a lot of industry in Kaunas. A closer look reveals that there is also a lot of innovation going on in and around the city. These were the findings of a large delegation of Danish, Finish, Norwegian, and Swedish Chamber of Commerce participants during last Friday's visit to Lithuania's central located industrial hub.
Seventy participants of the Nordic Chambers of Commerce discovered that some near non-descript buildings did hide a lot of outstanding and innovative technology during a visit to Nordic owned Minordija, Kitron, Barker Textiles and Volgang Engelman.
Minordija, part of the Orkla Food group, employs close to 100 across the Baltics. It delivers the ingredients for many of the products in our daily diet, usually wrapped or sold under well-known brand names or the house brands of a large supermarket. CEO Audrius Mackevičius explained how his Kaunas based team of 47-food technologists, marketing, and other specialists provides ideas and product innovation to industrial food producers.
The company's research and development centre in Kaunas has an in-house bakery and confectionary facility where new products are created. Chamber members got an insight into how Minordija translates the latest trends and consumer behaviour into tasty and innovative baked goods and drinks.
From some delicious foodstuff to innovative electronics was just a short drive across town, but almost light years in terms of output. Kitron is also a Norwegian owned company employing more than 700 people in Kaunas, of which 70 are engineers. Kitron's Managing Director Mindaugas Šeštokas, described how the company, using lean management techniques, has evolved from a low cost labour producer to a centre of excellence and world-class manufacturer.
In this process, the company established research facilities in Kaunas Technical University. They also established a relationship with Kaunas Technical College to ensure recruitment of qualified technical staff. Kitron exports almost its entire production to 30 countries around the world and the customers list reads like a who's who of industrial giants with components used in medical, telecommunication, defence, and offshore applications.
The company has a very high emphasis and an extremely low tolerance for errors. That includes an extensive control set up with a post-production test facility. The Chamber participants donned clean-environment adapted clothing to experience Kitron's top-notch facilities close-up.
After a lunch, hosted by Juratė Rudienė, General Manager of the Park Inn in Kaunas, the delegation headed for the weaving mill of Barker Textiles. Edita Patriubavičiūtė, Sales Manager explained that the company relocated its manufacturing several years ago from Finland to Kaunas. The beautiful design of their products is still done in various Nordic countries. Weaving it into warm blankets woven in done in Kaunas using New Zealand wool or Lithuanian linen.
The last stop on the discovery trip was brewery Volgang Engelman. An enthusiast CEO Marius Horbačauskas hosted this visit and explained how the company, part of the Finnish Olvi group, supplies about a quarter of the Lithuanian beer market. The company produces also a variety of non-alcoholic beverages.
There is a strong emphasis on innovation and Mr. Horbačauskas, himself a certified beer sommelier, provided the visitors with history and trends in the brewing industry. Consumption has always evolved around government regulation, which explains price and taxation levels.
Two hundred people work at Volgang Engelman's modern facilities in Kaunas. It uses just 4 ingredients as decried in 1516 by Bavarian purity laws and the brewing process is supervised by two German trained master brewers.