SafeLine, having recently manufactured its 100,000th SL6 emergency telephone, has paved an important technological road for the lift industry. In this story, an unexpected meeting became the start of a longtime partnership that made it possible.
by Jonas Tomasson
The one behind the ad was Lars "Lasse" Gustafsson (ELEVATOR WORLD, June 2019). Gustafsson had worked in the lift business as a technician since he was 15 years old. When he later wanted to learn about the theoretical side of electronics, he entered a community college and started manufacturing components in his basement. This meant he was always short of space; hence, the ad.
It did not take long for the two to realize they had many things in common. "We were both stuck in our jobs and wanted to do something different with our careers. We discussed development and shared a passion for electronics but from different places and in different ways" over a cup of coffee, Jäderberg recollects. Gustafsson was more interested in the practical side of things, while Jäderberg's interest lay in the problemsolving. One cup of coffee turned into eight, and day passed into night before they finished talking. Though they did not know it at the time, they had just laid the foundation of what was to become SafeLine Group.
It would take years until the two worked together for the first time. Gustafsson has always, at least as long as he can remember, had many ideas, but no one listened to them at the lift company where he was employed. He, therefore, quit his job and started his own company, fulfilling a longtime dream.
Hisselektronik AB was founded in 1995 by Gustafsson, who sold floor displays and control systems for lifts he had manufactured himself in the basement of his house. Things were going alright but not as good as he knew it could.
In 1998, a new industrial standard was on the rise in the European lift business. EN 81-28 set new safety demands for lift emergency telephones. A lot of the old telephones could only dream of fulfilling the new demands. Those available on the market were technologically old-fashioned and functioned poorly, something Gustafsson had experienced firsthand over his many years in the industry. He saw a gap in the market but knew he had to act quickly and deliver a product that was both practical and of high quality. For that, he needed Jäderberg.
Gustafsson said Jäderberg "has always been the one to make it work in the end, while I have always been the one with the industrial knowhow and the ideas." Jäderberg had worked with telephony all his career and had just the right skills Gustafsson needed to deliver a quality product in accordance with the new standard. Jäderberg had always wanted to work in development; so, when Gustafsson approached him with the offer, he was quick to accept.
The development of what would become the first SafeLine telephone started at once. Gustafsson knew that the most important thing was that the telephone functioned flawlessly but, at the same time, was easy to install. Put simply: there would be no hassle.
Gustafsson had access to a lift in Stockholm, the shaft of which was infamous for the static it caused phones within to have. "I knew if we could get it to function there, it would work everywhere," he said. He and Jäderberg rode it all day, trying out new methods, but things went poorly. They couldn’t get rid of the static, and the exact placement of the phone equipment largely decided the reception quality. (This was often the case with the equipment of that time.)
Static in calls from lift shafts is common due to electronic cables disturbing the signals, Jäderberg explained, saying that he then read as much on static issues as he could. He returned with a simple solution: the cables from the car up to the machine room should run through a current loop. This minimized the effect of static so that wherever the voice station is placed in the lift car, communication is upheld.
Based on his solution, Jäderberg produced the first SafeLine 2000 units by hand, and Gustafsson later sold them to different lift companies in Sweden. The product was an instant hit, and it did not take long before they were sold out. Those first units are still in operation, some 25 years later.
The next step was mass production of products to supply the increasing demand. For Jäderberg to produce thousands of units by hand in his home was out of the question, so an external party took on production. As this presented a risk of lowering the quality standards, Jäderberg arranged a protocol by which all units had to be tested. "I knew we needed a high standard of testing to maintain a high quality of product. Our cornerstone philosophy has always been to test every step in production. I had a music room in my house that became a testing room." He tested the first 50 units manually and, from that experience, developed SafeLine's fully automatic testing system. Jäderberg is convinced the testing systems laid the foundation for the company's reputation for reliability and, thus, its successes.
In the following years, SafeLine grew and acquired its own production line, allowing Gustafsson and Jäderberg to refine the concept with every succeeding product, while following the European standards. When the SafeLine SL6 was launched in the beginning of the 2010s, SafeLine became the biggest manufacturer and supplier of independent lift emergency telephones on the market. Of their years of hard work and, above all, cooperation, Gustafsson said with pride, "We have had an impact on the level of technology in the industry and hardened the competition. If a manufacturer is going to make a similar product, it looks toward us."
In addition to Gustafsson and Jäderberg, many of SafeLine’s first employees still work there. Employees talk about decisions coming from below, rather than from above — a company in which the technicians can take part in decisions. "We have a very positive culture, and business has always been good," Gustafsson explained. "Those two things, I think, have contributed tremendously to people remaining within the company over the years."
As it is hard for SafeLine to further improve upon its emergency telephones without also raising prices, the company has shifted focus from telephony to other segments of the lift safety market. The independent lift control system THOR is one example. It has helped SafeLine become a market leader of open control systems in Europe, and, for the first time in its history, its sales in Germany are better than its sales in all the Nordic countries combined. "Before, nobody really knew who we were abroad, but now everybody knows. It is a very conservative industry, where things move at a snail’s pace — something we always take into account when developing new products," Gustafsson explained.
There were, however, some missteps along the way. "There are certain products that we, in hindsight, could have skipped, but we have always learned something from those mistakes," Gustafsson said, continuing with a smile:
"Usually, those mistakes have originated from specific customers wanting specific functions. Then, when you finally launch the product, it turns out nobody else wanted it. Now, we have increasingly let sales and marketing decide what is needed, rather than it coming straight from the customer to development. Usually, we have let our gut feeling decide for us. Generally, it has led us in the right direction."
SIDEBAR: SafeLine Timeline
1993: Lars Gustafsson and Tomas Jäderberg meet, and the first seed of what will become SafeLine is planted.
1995: Gustafsson starts Hisselektronik AB.
1998: The European standard EN 81-28 is proposed as a new industrial standard. The development of SafeLine 2000 begins.
1999: SafeLine 2000 samples are sold to Gothenburg, Sweden. The first Global System for Mobile communications (GSM)-based lift emergency telephone is developed.
2000: SafeLine 2000 is launched.
2001: Hisselektronik hires its first employee and moves to Solkraftsvägen in Tyresö, Sweden.
2002: SafeLine is sold abroad for the first time.
2004: Jäderberg begins working full time with SafeLine phones.
2005: SafeLine starts exporting. Success is had at the first abroad lift fair, Germany's Interlift, when SafeLine 3000 (the first lift emergency telephone to combine landline and GSM in one unit) is displayed. SafeLine, with its 11 employees, relocates to its current facilities at Antennvägen in Tyresö.
2007: SafeLine Europe is founded.
2008: Hisselektronik becomes a subsidiary of SafeLine.
2009: The company's first lift control system is launched.
2010: SafeLine Sweden AB is formed.
2011: The SL6 lift emergency telephone is launched and goes on to be highly successful.
2015: The holding company J2L acquires majority shares of SafeLine Sweden AB, and Hisselektronik becomes an independent company.
2017: The THOR control system is launched.
2019: SafeLine manufactures its 100,000th SL6 circuit board.
Jonas Tomasson is copywriter for SafeLine Group. He holds a degree in Journalism from Stockholm University.