FLORINA: Indian, German companies are turning their attention to northern Greece

B&T Composites Florina

"B&T Composites SA", the Florina-based company manufacturing products from carbon fibres and glass fibres, is preparing to enter the field of production of high-pressure hydrogen storage tanks.

Recently, two giant companies from Germany and India have turned their attention to the northern Greece city of Florina, seeking close cooperation with a Greek company, which started in the middle of the financial crisis in Greece and managed to win first place last year among the top 10 composites factories worldwide (Composite World Top Shop ranking).

B&T Composites SA, a company manufacturing products from carbon fibres and glass fibres, is preparing to enter the production of high-pressure hydrogen storage tanks and plans investments of 10 million euros in the next three years, compared to 20 million—the last ten years or so.

"We want to consolidate our position in the European market. In this context, an agreement has been signed for strategic cooperation with a German giant, which will begin to be implemented in 2024 and concerns the production of products in Florina for all the customers of the German company in Europe," B&T founder and electrical engineer Vassilis Tiriakidis, president and CEO, explained to AMNA.

"The next big goal is further internationalising B&T, opening up to Arab and Asian countries. This goal will be formalised by the creation of a joint venture scheme with an Indian company, for the formation of which a meeting will be held in January in Oman. The joint venture will concern carbon fibre products for high-pressure storage tanks for hydrogen and other gases," he added.

The hydrogen storage tanks are also at the heart of the 18 million investment planned in Florina by B&T, a project included in the first wave of the EU's IPCEI (Important Projects of Common European Interest) for hydrogen.

"We were among the first 38 to receive approval from the Commission. Today, we are in the final talks with the Ministry of Finance, which may be completed in the spring, regarding the necessary financing and grants. If we reach the end, the goal is to implement a new factory exclusively for this product within the next five years, with a capacity of 6000 tanks per year," Tiriakidis noted.

B&T, whose exports account for more than 90% of its turnover, is also active in the field of photonics, capitalising on the fruits of research, which is carried out within the company and through outsourcing to Greek universities and research institutions in Thessaloniki, Ioannina, Athens and Heraklion.

In addition, the company participates in national and community research programs such as Horizon.

"We developed optical fibre systems that act as sensors as part of the in-house research by PhD scientists. With this technology, we can obtain data on the state of health of a product, but also of critical infrastructures such as bridges or pipelines, while it has applications in agriculture and the automotive industry," he underlines.

If B&T is running a sprint today, its start was difficult. Its VAT number was issued in 2006. In 2008, the foundations were laid for the first fibreglass pipe production unit in Florina, but its first product came off the line in 2009 when the financial crisis occurred.

"In 2008-2009, 13 PPC stations were operating in the area, and these were our first target for the disposal of fibreglass pipes, which could be used in the company's desulfurisation units. However, in 2010, with the advent of the crisis, PPC's plans were overturned. So we found ourselves with a fibreglass pipe manufacturing facility with no market for our products! Then I thought: either you go bankrupt or you run," he said.

He chose to run: “We quickly modified the line to produce both fibreglass and carbon fibre products. Not many people knew about carbon fibre in Greece, so I decided to address the European market. To take the plane from Thessaloniki and go to Germany to try to convince about our products, I left Florina at 3-4 in the morning. For 200 kilometres, I drove on empty roads, where I did not see anyone moving, not even a police car. I did this route countless times until I saw results."

From Denmark, labour migrants in Florina

In the meantime, it was now 2015, and capital controls had been imposed on Greece. Reaching European markets and knocking on doors, he was sometimes met with acceptance and sometimes irony, as he was the founder of a Greek high-end product company at a time when Greece's reputation abroad was at its nadir: "I was hearing things like 'well, you you don't have anything to eat, are you coming to sell us cutting edge products?" or "how will we transact? In euros or drachmas?"

One of the powerful companies to which he had approached at the time, in Denmark, closed the door on him without discussion. However, that company went bankrupt in the years that followed, and its sales managers sought employment in Florina!

So when someone goes to the B&T website, they see three Danes as sales managers. In addition, this connection with Denmark resulted in B&T making its first exports to that market, and the subsidiary B&T Composites Denmark was created there.

In fact, the Danish company that went bankrupt later managed to get back on its feet and knocked on B&T's door to produce products on its behalf.

Unlike Denmark, the opening of the Greek company in Russia was not crowned with success. "For two years, I fought it, investing time and money, but Russia is a very difficult market. We finally left long before the crisis in Ukraine," he said.

What elements make B&T competitive internationally?

"The fast, not necessarily the big "fish", takes the jobs," Vassilis Tiriakidis points out with a smile, according to which the company's greatest advantage is its flexibility and fast delivery, both for planned orders and for emergency ones.

In addition, the company's products are competitive in price compared to their counterparts in other European countries while maintaining very high quality. This high quality made the company a long-time partner of CERN, which you simply don't enter if you don't have to show a product of unparalleled quality.

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