Optronic: The early years

Article posted 28 Sep 2013
The story of Optronic began in 1974, when AGA Geotronics was divided into two divisions and allocated a unit for production to Skellefteå, in northern Sweden.

”Skellefteå was a region of heavy industry, and had something of a history of working with optics,” says Hans Sundström, who was one of the first engineers recruited and is still working for Optronic. ”But it also helped that the government issued support for company localisation throughout the country and that the managing director at the time, Rudolf Wiklund, had his roots in northern Sweden.”

But finding engineers was no easy task. The “Green Wave” trend of environmentalism was in full effect, and for a lot of young people, going back to the roots to live in rural communities without modern technologies was more appealing that learning electronics and applied physics as a career.

”There were six of us that joined the company directly from high school,” Hans recalls. ”We had a one-year trainee period with AGA, and then it was time to work.”

The first task at hand was manufacturing AGA’s new distance measuring instrument for land surveying.

“We were supposed to manufacture an instrument, for distances from 10 kilometres up to 20 kilometres,” says Hans.

The technology used was similar to the time-of-flight-technology that Optronic has key competence in today.

“Today, we can take measurements in an instant. This was a whole other deal. We measured the phase shift in the light and one measurement took 15 minutes to complete.”

Major shift in technology
In the following years, a major shift in technology started to happen which would radically change the marketplace: United States military launched GPS-satellites into space to orbit the earth, marking the birth of today’s GPS technology.

Another few years down the line, that led to the inevitable: AGA decided that they should quit the manufacturing of the soon-to-be outdated instruments, and the employees in Skellefteå had to choose whether to pack up and join AGA in Stockholm, our buy the inventories and become a subcontractor. They chose the latter and the company was then named Eloptricon.

“We were ten people at the time, doing lego work. It was a tough period and after a while we decided that we wanted to develop our own line of products.”

Brainstorming sessions yielded around 100 ideas. Three of them had potential: instruments for quality control of rubber, ship testing and crankshafts. The latter led to deals with both Volvo and Saab.

“We invested everything we had made in development, but lacked marketing skills and didn’t have a lot of money,” Hans says. “Eventually, we decided to sell the company to Saab Combitech in 1984.”

In 1987, the current ownership group enters. Read the second part of the story of Optronic in our next newsletter.