B&T Composites: The best composite materials company in the world is located in Florina
If Greece wants to showcase a region pioneering in the composite materials of new technologies, radiates innovation, and exhibits unparalleled export performance, that is Florina!
In the border town farm, even amid the economic Greek crisis, a unique company specializing in composite materials with carbon and glass fibers, B&T Composites, was established in a 1000 sq.m. space. Last year (2022), it rose to become the world’s top company, among the top 12!
Swords from the small mountainous Florina to the naval warriors of northern Europe.
The company that has managed, from the mountainous Florina, to supply swords to the Vikings of Denmark and the Scandinavian countries, export its products to China, India, and all European countries, and competes deservedly with international giants in the field, both in Europe-Asia and America, has won among 12 others, the title of the top business ‘Top Shop of the World’ for 2022 in the competition of the scientific magazine ‘Composites World,’ specializing in this field.
Every year, the magazine invites manufacturers and composite material industries to participate in a comparative evaluation survey that collects data on measurements related to material percentages, product delivery time, sales per employee, best supply chain practices, material recycling, certifications, etc. In the same research assessment of 2021, the name of B&T Composites was once again in the top ten of the best composite material companies originating from the USA, Europe, and India.
These global distinctions are even more magnified when considering that B&T Composites, which now exports to all European countries, China, and India, did not even exist on the map of the Greek and European market before 2010. Today, it achieves partnerships and participation in future projects, such as those promoted by the EU for hydrogen technology.
The man who envisioned the future
However, the man who created it after 2006, Mr. Vasilis Triakidis, Chairman & Managing Director of B&T Composites S.A. today, could not have predicted that one day it would reach such heights and extend so far in the specialization of manufacturing advanced components of composite materials and integrated solutions.
In 1985, having graduated from the Department of Engineering of AUTh with a degree in electrical engineering, he returned to Florina and established in the small Macedonian town ‘a classic technical office.’
“However, I had the luck, but also the ambition, as he himself says, to collaborate in 1999 with German companies that constructed the DEI (Public Power Corporation) plant in Meliti. This collaboration eventually led me to dedicate myself to the construction projects of the Meliti Power Plant, acquire vast technical knowledge, and ultimately experience ‘a different atmosphere’ working with European manufacturers”. The handover of the plant to DEI in the period of 2005-2006 allowed him to change his technological level. He left behind the technical office and contemplated creating ‘something different.’
“I had reached that level where you think you can breathe life and longevity into an idea. After much contemplation, I decided to invest in the unknown and completely innovative, up to that point, technology of carbon composites and fiberglass for Europe and Greece. There was no business plan. Nor was there knowledge of this market, while the prevailing perception was that ‘this is not for us.’ I only knew that these products existed, that they were magical. However, there was soul and belief in these materials. I believed in my abilities, and I believed in our world. They are technological products that unfold the engineer’s talent. I never considered that we are far from the centers. We are simply around the corner, just two hours from Thessaloniki.”
Thus, the first 1,000 square meters of industrial space with a production line for composite materials were built.
“Behind a crisis, there is also an opportunity.”
In 2010, while the country was experiencing a freeze in every investment effort, Mr. Triakidis quickly realized, ‘why a crisis always hides an opportunity,’ as daring investors often say. The company managed to thrive in this sector, exclusively targeting the European market at a time when the Greek economy was burdened by debt. “I believed a lot in myself and saw that I could appeal to the French, German, Dutch, Danish, and Scandinavian markets, which were mature markets”.
From its early steps, the company exported products with carbon fiber, such as power transmission shafts, rollers, and masts that traveled from Florina and, through the port of Thessaloniki, reached the Scandinavian market and the descendants of the Vikings. They witnessed one of the paradoxes of the Greek crisis, signed in the European North by Greek ingenuity and persistence.
Door-to-door, despite the strong skepticism generated by the country’s image during that period, B&T Composites from Florina entered the European market by introducing new products such as rollers for printing machines and other cylindrical mechanical components made from the revolutionary material of carbon fibers that replace metallic and aluminum structures. Their properties are now well-known, and their characteristics make them more economically viable and mechanically and energetically advantageous in industrial spaces, as they are undoubtedly very lightweight, less energy-consuming, more durable, and have a longer lifespan. The most significant aspect, however, is that the new materials, glass fibers, and carbon fibers can interact with new digital technology and its applications.
A little later, following the bankruptcy of a Danish company specializing in composite materials, B&T Composites seized the opportunity and entered the Danish market while simultaneously hiring two sales executives from the bankrupt company. ‘Through this, we expanded into Germany and northern Scandinavia. Today,’ says Mr. Tiriakidis, ‘we sell to the giant SIEMENS, and there is a pending collaboration with the largest German company. The agreement is in the final negotiation stage and is expected to close within the new year.’
Those who greeted the entry of Macedonian carbon-fiber constructions into the European market with some mild irony ‘are now the best customers of B&T Composites or have gone bankrupt,’ he adds. Especially for maritime components, the company from Florina, after the masts, has evolved further, as anything above the ship’s deck, such as awnings and other columns, is now constructed from carbon fiber.
And not only in shipping. The components and solutions it offers find application in the automotive industry, aerospace, manufacturing, industry, wind energy, and consumer goods.
“We have expanded into a range of industrial products and other specialized constructions, facing something new every day. Recently, a Belgian company approached us for the winding of carpet rollers made of carbon fiber to replace the aluminum ones, which were previously made of steel and before that, wood. This has opened up a huge market for us in the industrial carpeting industry.”
“Since its foundation, the company has viewed the EU as a major customer but has also engaged in collaborations with large companies domestically, such as Motor Oil, DEI, Elpedison, etc. However, our primary focus is on exports. Over 90% of our products are shipped abroad. We have clients in China and India. In the latter, we will soon establish a joint venture with an Indian company for mutual benefit. Our products will enter that market, and we will source inexpensive raw materials.”
The great success for B&T Composites in European hydrogen projects
Participating in a European tender of common interest for hydrogen technology, in the IPCEI Hydrogen – Technology projects, it emerged as one of the 28 European companies (including Bosch) approved in the first round of hydrogen technology investments. “Its proposal for the construction of hydrogen storage systems has been approved and awaits agreement with the government. According to Mr. Tiriakidis, the company is set to embark on a significant investment of around €15 million starting in 2024 for the construction of hydrogen storage systems. The goal of B&T Composites is of particular importance for the Western Macedonia Region, which, in its transition program to the post-lignite era, is focused on creating infrastructure for the installation of a hydrogen unit.
Over the past year, the synthetic materials company based in Florina, Western Macedonia, has also invested in fiber optic technologies. Not for signal transmission, but for applications related to sensors.
“We have developed, clarified Mr. Tiriakidis, a highly innovative technology so that in what we produce – and not only – through grids of optical fibers, we give… life to ‘dead’ products. Essentially, we place a neural network that ‘perceives’ the condition of a component, for example, a roller. Note that all constructions have a specific lifespan. Therefore, we install a mesh of optical fibers on the rollers. If anything is observed, even a small crack that is not easily discernible but affects its lifespan, signals are then sent to the smartwatch or smartphone of a user, warning about the condition of the component.
This system is characterized as a self-diagnosis system, and the ultimate goal is for self-healing to follow self-diagnosis, a system that will automatically repair the construction, and ‘that’s why we are preparing,’ he noted. Installing such a mesh on large constructions of wind turbines located in mountainous areas with difficult access allows continuous monitoring of the condition of their health. However, the goal is to achieve self-healing.”
He and the other executives of the company emphasize that all these developments are happening in collaboration with Greek research institutions. Specifically, the company collaborates with the Department of Engineering of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), the Materials Science Department of the University of Ioannina, and the Department of Laser and Optics at the Mediterranean University in Heraklion. Young scientists contribute significantly, providing the company with a prominent dynamic.
Its results are loaded onto the vehicles of international transports every Thursday, reaching European customers within 4-5 days through Thessaloniki, and exceptionally by air on the same day. At the top of the European countries importing products from the Macedonian company are Germany, the Netherlands, France, England, and Denmark. Following are Finland, Sweden, Norway, Italy, Romania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Portugal, and Spain, with countries from Eastern Europe not absent from the clientele.
“The trend is the replacement of all metals with carbon composites,” he notes. “Our customers request various closed cylindrical products, opting for constructions with multiple solutions using flexible raw materials.”
The initial facility of 1000 square meters has now expanded to 5000, with three production lines and 35 employees. The mechanical equipment is state-of-the-art, and the company has welcomed the new generation of the Tiriakidis family. The two sons, who are electrical engineers, and the daughter, who is a mechanical engineer, are already working in the company. The fourth child of the family is currently studying Chemical Engineering at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. ‘We are a family of engineers, working towards a common goal. We are constantly developing new things,’ concludes Mr. Tiriakidis.
Editor: Lina Tsingana
Version in English|: Lina Tsingana