Latvia may seem the least likely home for a manufacturer of high-tech cutting edge aerospace and automotive materials, but SMW Engineering’s recent spinoff, SIA SMW Wheels just denies that, employing the Latvian capital’s metallurgical potential. The Baltic Times spoke to Marks Lisnanskis, the CEO of SIA SMW Wheels.
What was the start?
During the past 15 years, SMW Engineering became an international company, exporting over 90 per cent of its production to Italy, Germany, UK, and the US. But it continued to be perceived as a Russian company, which sometimes was a hindrance in starting new customer relationships – due to some level of apprehension that working with a purely Russian company represents challenges, political risks and such. Italy is where most of our clients are located. But, Latvia was a natural choice for its proximity to Russia, and for the availability of an educated labor force, as well as a reduced language barrier (most Latvian professionals speak Russian or English). It is also my birthplace, and Riga is my beloved city. I feel very comfortable here, and am generally quite satisfied with the quality of life here.
SMW Engineering opened a registered branch office in 2015, and in 2016 we acquired an existing company, and renamed it SIA SMW Wheels. We already have several joint projects with the University of Latvia Institute of Physics and are planning to start production of magnesium wire for additive manufacturing, as well as pursuing CNC machining and anodizing/painting of the lightest forged wheels.
Is Latvia able to provide the workforce you need? Do you outsource some of the services?
It is quite unfortunate that so many professionals have left – having found jobs in the UK, Germany, and elsewhere. I hope some of them will return to their birthplace, a country which is very appealing and has many wonderful elements. We do feel the shortage of qualified engineers and metallurgists to some degree, but there is sufficient local talent available here to implement our plans, and the level of education is satisfactory. Young people can be trained. In many cases, when graduates have spent several semesters at prominent universities in Western Europe, they possess additional credentials when they return to Latvia. We do outsource some projects to the Institute of Physics and are quite pleased thus far with the levels of competence there.
It is certainly worth noting the very high competence level of the MHD Research Centre, which is part of the LU Institute of Physics. They do possess state-of-the-art technologies related to electromagnetic field technologies and continue to conduct important research. We may form a joint venture in the future.
What global aerial and ground transportation leaders do you work with?
Among industry leaders, we have long-term mutually-beneficial working relationships or joint R&D projects with Brembo, Airbus, Thales-Alenia, OZ, and BBS. And we are in negotiations with several other large corporations we’d like to collaborate with.
What other technologies are you working on? Is their applicability a matter of weeks, months or years?
Laser-cladding magnesium structures from a wire are quite unique, as there are only a small number of universities in the world working on it. We are also planning to set up production capability for fabricating large structures through an additive manufacturing process – which is a unique technology for now. We are also developing special materials for space applications – to shield spaceships from dust/debris, and another version to shield cosmonauts from the electromagnetic field. All these developments won’t be commercialized until 2018. The technologies we’re commercializing now are: forging large magnesium parts (up to 3 meters in size), which is unique, as there are only a few companies in the world able to do it; and a surface treatment process for magnesium parts (such as wheels), which enables us to offer a 10 year warranty.
Can you speak a little about your striving for sustainable and eco-friendly manufacturing and contribution to the environment?
We are always very mindful of attaining a net-positive ecological effect – thus preserving and improving the environment through our operational activities. SMW specializes in making things lighter – to attain significant weight reduction of the parts/components we manufacture. That, by definition, is green and friendly. Magnesium is the lightest structural metal on this planet (as lithium and beryllium are prohibitively expensive and difficult to handle), and we are indeed the champions in wrought magnesium fabrications.
Is there anything else worth mentioning?
We would like to see the Baltic countries keep and benefit from its most intelligent sons and daughters – rather than losing them to Western European employers. The current outflow of human capital is a major problem, and various additional measures need to be instituted by the government to reverse this very regretful trend. We have some recommendations for legislators. The prevailing demographic phenomenon is not encouraging, and we feel the government is too passive about it. At the very minimum, young mothers should receive meaningful financial aid/stimulus when having more than one child, and various other support.