More than half a century ago, the Swedish multinational SFK wanted to expand its activities in Spain. They chose Tudela, in the south of Navarra for its strategic location, and in 1971 they began work on what would become one of the corporation’s most advanced production plants.
Since then, the factory has received several awards from the group, among them the one that distinguishes the Best performing plant. They have also been distinguished with innovation prizes for some ideas that have come out of the Navarra plant, have been taken forward and are now standards for the group .
Julián Jiménez, general manager of SKF Española, talks to us about the differential advantages of the automotive sector in Navarra and how the regional ecosystem helps companies to be more competitive.
What is the origin of SKF in Navarra?
In 1970, SFK wanted to expand its activities in Spain. Until that time, the company had a plant in Eibar that did not offer conditions for growth and the company looked for other areas in Spain. They chose Tudela and subsequently acquired different land plots until they reached 300,000 square meters of surface area.
Why did the multinational choose this area for its bearing production plant?
We do not have specific data because the decision was made 55 years ago. But we do know that, at that time, Navarre was experiencing significant industrial growth and, in some way, the investments called for other investments in the area. And there is another factor that was decisive at that time and is also decisive today. Tudela is very well located, from a logistical point of view, with the north, east, south and central Spain, a factor that was undoubtedly taken into account.
How does SKF Española, and more specifically the Tudela plant, fit into the multinational’s strategic plans?
The product we manufacture or the product-portfolio, as we call it, is not something that has being shaped all of a sudden now, but has been evolving over the last decades. Every time the group assigned us a new project, we launched it and successfully supplied it to our customers, and that meant that new references were added to our portfolio.
The Tudela factory plays a very important role for SKF in terms of production volume and the products we develop. We are confident that we will continue to opt for new developments for the group.
What is the perception from the corporate headquarters of the Tudela plant and, in general, of Navarra?
The opinion that the SKF group has of the Tudela plant is very positive thanks to the good work that we have shown since the beginning. The factory has received several awards from the group, including the Best Performing Plant award for four years. We have also been distinguished with innovation awards for some ideas that have come out of here, have been taken forward and are now standards for the group and even for customers.
The feedback can only be positive and this is also the result of the fact that we are very committed to what we do. We anticipate problems, we anticipate market demand and we are always on the front line, striving to be able to provide a great service to our customers.
All this has to go hand in hand with quality control in production and the search for cost competitiveness. This is basic to be able to supply the automotive industry, and it is something we have to take care of at all times.
SKF Española’s head office is in Tudela and we have been operating here for 50 years. I think this is a good demonstration that things are going well and that there is a good marriage between SKF and Navarra.
What are the objectives of the recent investments in the Tudela plant in terms of sustainability? What are the group’s objectives in this area?
We must allude to SKF’s objective for the period 2020-2030, which seeks that all the companies of the group are CO2 neutral and do not emit CO2 in their activities. Our president has made a commitment to achieve this goal at all SKF production sites worldwide.
With that goal in mind, our factory started working some time ago and we have achieved CO2 neutrality since 2019. This is a great achievement of the Tudela team, which has sought formulas to reduce energy consumption and thus reduce CO2 emissions and, in turn, make these processes that generate CO2 be replaced by alternative ones. In 2019 we received an award for this, of which we are very proud.
But, in addition, SKF thinks that it is also one of its priorities to promote all those projects that can reduce the CO2 generated in the industry. In this sense, SKF discovered in Sweden a method for industrial oils to be treated in a process we call DST RecondOil. These oils can be used as many times as wanted, in a way that is, shall we say, infinite. This development has been incorporated in Tudela to offer the service to those external companies that want to implement a circular economy process. This will avoid the emission of thousands of tons of CO2 in the companies in our environment that want to be part of this project.
What opportunities does the strong presence of automotive companies in this territory provide for companies like SKF?
Operating in an industrial environment and, within that environment, having automotive activities is crucial for us to progress and to do so at the speed that the market demands of us. Doing things better today than we did ten years ago it is not enough anymore; we have to do them better than we did yesterday, given the speed at which we have to improve our activities.
Being in this environment, we can achieve synergies between the different companies, get to know each other better and, above all, work on the local to local concept. By local to local we mean that we should be able to manufacture in the region all those products that we need and that are consumed here. This would generate value in society, in Navarre and, in turn, would contribute to reduce our dependence on distant countries, given the logistical problems we have had and are experiencing and other potential difficulties that these long distances can cause.
The automotive sector is a strategic sector for the Government of Navarra. What measures does this strategic commitment translate into?
The Government of Navarra first launched the Smart Specialization Strategy S3 and, in December last year, updated it to S4. In short, what this plan determines are six initiatives for action in Navarra, which include, for example, healthy food sytems, people’s health care or the electric vehicle, to mention three of them.
All these initiatives are, let’s say, transversally crossed by concepts of sustainability and digitalization. In other words, everything that is done within the framework of these initiatives must be based on improving the sustainability of what we have today and promoting the digitalization of processes. From these actions emanate the investments that the Government of Navarra can allocate to companies such as ours.
In addition, the digitalization process makes use of companies and entities that operate in the community and are experts in the implementation of these systems. We have the University, the Navarre Industry Association (AIN), the European Business and Innovation Center of Navarra (CEIN), the Automotive Cluster of Navarra (ACAN)… A series of organizations ready to support companies.
In that sense, what we see is that all those initiatives that we companies have promoted individually to improve our competitiveness in terms of sustainability and digitalization are fully aligned with what the Government of Navarra is proposing to do. Therefore, we are working in the same direction.
Navarra is one of the communities with the highest presence of multinationals in Spain. Why do you think this is?
The permanence of an industrial activity in a certain refion depends on the companies that are operating there being able to achieve their goals. Among other things, in that region we should be able to adequately train our personnel and look for companies that collaborate with us in achieving our goals.
In this regard, I would like to mention local companies. In Navarra we have truly exemplary cases. Our collaborating companies haven’t been chosen just because they are close to us, but because they are the best in the world at what they do. In our case, many of our Navarre collaborators are SKF suppliers worldwide and supply countries such as Germany or the United States from here, from Tudela, or from our environment.
Operating in an industrial environment with strong presence of the automotive sector is crucial for us to progress and to do so at the speed that the market demands of us. By being in this environment, we can achieve synergies between different companies, get to know each other better and, above all, work on local to local dynamics.
We do not choose our providers just because they are close to us, but because they are the best in the world at what they do. In our case, many of our collaborators in Navarra are SKF suppliers worldwide and for countries such as Germany or the United States from here, from Tudela, or from our environment.
General Manager at SKF Española
FIGURES / MILESTONES
SKF Española is established through the merger of four companies owned by the Instituto Nacional de Industria (INI), Banco Urquijo and the SKF Group itself.
On July 15, 1971, construction work began on the Tudela plant.
Since 1985 SKF Española has been 100% owned by the SKF Group.
Between 2018 and 2019, SKF Group invested up to €6 million to modernize the Tudela plant and equip it with new production channels to meet growing demand.
In 2019 SKF Española reached 214 million euros turnover thanks to its more than 390 employees and a distribution network of more than a hundred points of sale throughout the country.