The history of Tepcomp goes way back to 1984, when Henry Sahonen and Heikki Mustonen founded the company Turun Elektroniikkapalvelu Oy. The enterprising duo knew each other through their previous employer, Teleste, where Henry was employed as Materials Supervisor and Heikki as Quality Supervisor.

Both were well acquainted with the electronics business. In addition, both had the courage atypical to enterprising individuals to implement their ideas. Contract manufacturing of electronics, of course, was a business area in the significance and expansion of which both men strongly believed.

In practice, business operations did not start until 1985. The initial premises consisted of rented accommodation covering 100 m², located on two floors at Vajossuontie 3, in the town of Turku. In their small workshop, the duo manufactured their first product for Wallac, which to this day remains a customer of the company.

Henry Sahonen started as the Managing Director of the company. The company received a boost when a dexterous new staff member, Lenita Lund, was snapped up for the production section. Along with Lenita, the company began to acquire more and more employees and, within two years, the company already had more than 10 members of staff. The company still employs several of the persons who joined in the first few years. During the initial years, the first major investment by the company consisted of a flow soldering machine.

In the beginning, there was no shift-work

Initially, we literally took work home with us. There was a lot to do and few people to do it. Also, many tasks in the electronics industry, which are automated today, had to be performed by hand. Often, at the end of the working day, the boot of the car would be filled with electronics components, and the work continued at home. Hard work bore a yield, and our operations progressed with the flow of income.
In 1987, the growing company enjoyed a further addition, Ulla Mustonen, Heikki’s wife. She was responsible for the administration of the expanding company. In 1988, Henry Sahonen left the company and sold his share to the Mustonen family.

Towards the end of the 1980s, the company experienced growing pains, the main problem being insufficient accommodation. Ulla and Heikki vigorously sought to bring some order within the premises, which were overflowing with new machinery and employees. So the company came to start construction of its own industrial hall of 500 m² in Oriketo. At the same time, Heikki moved away from production to concentrate in the management of the company, with a view to the company securing a proper structure for its operations.

Challenges and big moves

By the dawn of the 1990s, the six-year old company already employed 20 members of staff, and had made something of a name for itself. The new workshop was completed in 1990, and Heikki was full of development ideas for the company. He was now more convinced than ever that in-house product design would strengthen the foundations of the company and would make it stand out in the marketplace.

In 1991, Tepcomp incorporated in-house design services by engaging electronics designer, Juha Koivisto. After twenty years, he is still employed by the company. Along with product development, the company began to take custom-designed products further. The old company name, Turun Elektroniikkapalvelut, was changed to Tepcomp Oy, which was easier for customers and more convenient when filling in forms!

During the autumn of that year, the Finnish currency, Markka, had to be devalued, and the next year it was floated. The following years were not easy for Finnish companies, nor were they easy for Tepcomp, whose new factory building was financed with a currency loan. In practice, devaluation doubled the company’s loan on paper, which turned the business upside down in one fell swoop.

For the entire 1992 and the beginning of the following year, Heikki Mustonen travelled around Finland in search of new customers. It was not an easy period, but the stunted business survived because of a wide customer base acquired from different industrial sectors. The crisis proved that a varied customer base is a good antidote against the prevention of unexpected circumstances. This teaching and strategy have been firmly implanted in the minds of the management of Tepcomp to this day.

Direction: Russia

Even though the economic collapse and the subsequent chaos in the business world may have seemed insurmountable to many, the resourceful Heikki Mustonen could predict the future. He discovered, during his numerous customer visits, that there was demand for traditional manual setting. However, due to the tight pricing competition in Finland, the work could not be undertaken cost-effectively.

Heikki was aiming for increased efficiency in the production chain and, in 1993, production was initiated in Russia, in the small village of Wärtsilä, by way of subcontracting. The premises for this were leased from a local timber mill and, initially, used production machinery from Finland was transferred out to Russia. Responsibility for the Russian operations was taken by Ulla’s brother, Sami Norppa, who was persuaded by Heikki to take up a new challenge across the Eastern border.

Sami relocated from Kuopio to Joensuu, from where he visited Russia over the next eight years some 2 000 times. The materials for goods under production were delivered by road to Joensuu, Sami then took them by road to Russia, and returned to Finland in the evening with the finished goods. At the outset, it wasn’t quite so straightforward, but inside a two-year period we learned the ways of the land, and the bureaucracy on the paperwork front was soon handled with professional precision.

Manufacturing in Russia grew very quickly and, eventually, out of the small 3000-strong population of the village of Wärtsilä, as many as 50 were employed by Tepcomp. The locals were appreciative of the company and the economic benefits it brought to the region. With hindsight, the Russian operations might well be described as dynamic.

The launching of LED operations

When it came to key decisions, Heikki Mustonen adopted a centralised management style, although he did carefully listen to the views of the company’s employees. During his management term, Heikki learned to take fast decisions and to react to changes with the right moves. The year 1997 brought along a significant milestone, which determined the new direction the company was to adopt. Tepcomp commenced the development of LED products, for which Heikki Mustonen had high hopes. 

The very first LED customer solutions consisted of front and back lights for bicycles. Going forward, Tepcomp supplied items such as side lights for coaches, which were largely developed by the in-house design team of Tepcomp. The product design and development unit served as a useful partner for many a customer, since there were few similarities between conventional bulbs and LED technology. That same year, the first full-time buyer was engaged by the company. 

In the 1990s, surface mount setting, to a large extent, was performed by hand at Tepcomp. In 1998, the industrial workshop at Oriketo was put up for sale, due to insufficient space. New premises were found at Virusmäentie 65, which contained more floor space and better facilities for new machinery. In the following year, the company acquired a Mydata surface mount machine – as well as a Reflow burner. Initially, the machine was operated in two shifts and its operation was studied by the entire personnel. In practice, the machine never had a day off!

The 2000s – time for investment

The early 2000s brought Internet-fever to Finland. On both sides of the Millennium, the evangelists for a ’new economy’ were vociferous in their praise which, ultimately, after the IT bubble burst, did also create waves in the electronics industry.

This time, recession didn’t hit Tepcomp as hard as a decade ago. There was substantial series production by volume, but in smaller batches. The saving grace, during both recessions, was the fact that the company was not married to teleclusters. At the turn of the Millennium, at least some customer sector of Tepcomp was always doing well, and so the business flourished.

This was also evident on the investments side. Five years ago, Heikki had not based his hopes on thin air over LED. The proportion of LED products against the entire sales had increased year by year, and by the start of the 2000s they had become a financially viable business. In 2001, a HEEB setting machine was acquired for the composition of stand-based LED products, and the flow soldering machine was replaced with a new one. During the following year, a second Mydata surface mount machine was acquired which, along with an increase in production capacity, brought extra supply security and flexibility.

The operations of Tepcomp were at a stage where the company had to move up a step, from a small company status. One such step involved adopting quality standards. Heikki was responsible for the project and brought the majority of the content in compliance with ISO 9000:2000 and ISO14001 quality standards. In 2003, our operating system certification was obtained, as well as a business plan and technological strategy for LED products prepared. At that time, Tepcomp also adopted a quality monitoring system of its own design, an optical inspection facility for LED products.

The more advanced machinery in the 2000s enabled increased operational efficiency, together with more highly-developed production components. For instance, the manufacturing of circuit boards for LED side lights on coaches would be carried out by way of mechanical surface mounting. Production in Russia was continued until early 2003, when, upon tightened Customs bureaucracy, we decided to cease production across the eastern border. With our new machinery, we were now able to compete at a sufficiently high level in Finland, and the company was not financially affected by the closure of the Russian production plant.

During the 2000s, LED business continued to grow but, for a long time, electronics contract manufacturing remained as the main source of turnover for the company. LED operations covered some 20 percent of the turnover. Much pioneering work was put into LED products, which was reflected in various prototypes. It could be said that Tepcomp was ahead of its time in LED technology, when the markets were not yet ready for new applications. Nearly everyone was interested, but customers did not yet dare adopt the new technology for their products. This was often partly because product designs, for example, would have had to be changed.

Owing to the various projects, Heikki had become a real LED ’guru’ and a coveted speaker at seminars. Sami Norppa took over as the Managing Director of the company in 2004, with Heikki concentrating on LED projects, which was a clear indication of the strategic emphasis. Contract manufacturing and LED product sales were separated from each other, and increasing investments were made in technical support, which was an important factor, in particular for LED customer service.

In 2005, the accounting period was changed to accord with the calendar year. In the same year, our personnel were trained in lead-free manufacturing, which was to apply to all our components. In 2006, Tepcomp acquired a new flow soldering machine and Reflow burner for lead-free production. That year also, Heikki and Ulla Mustonen received the Millennium Award for advancing LED technology, which, in Finland, could not have gone to a more deserving address.

LED products, like any other new technology, will take their time to make a breakthrough. Tepcomp introduced to the market the very first LED lights equipped with their own lens. Additionally, due to a high level of interest expressed at trade fares, the company set up an online shop for consumers, specialising in LED lights. However, the majority of LED production was taken up by customer products and projects, such as lighting for bridges and buildings. In 2006, Tepcomp was approved as a member of the ’LED Light for You’ network.

During the same year, Tepcomp acquired its first AOI (Automatic Optical Inspector) unit. Annual business strategies were prepared. The company employed a staff of 35 as well as a large volume of outsourced personnel.

2007 saw investment in new machinery. The conventional lead-based flow soldering line was replaced, and the setting capacity of stand-based LED products was increased by the acquisition of a Mydata setting machine. In 2008, a Mydata surface mount setting line was acquired, and the Reflow burner of the older Mydata surface mount setting line was replaced. For Tepcomp, 2008 was extremely busy and business was booming, even though an economic downturn was prevalent at the time.

From new strength to new growth

Towards the end of the last decade, Heikki and Ulla Mustonen started to consider retirement and the sale of their company. Their enterprise had been fruitful, but it had also taken its toll. The couple wished for new blood to elevate the company to its next phase of expansion.

A corporate acquisition in 2010 saw the company change hands. The new majority shareholder was Pekka Leppälä and the minority shareholder Uudenmaan Pääomarahasto. Various other candidates were also interested in acquiring Tepcomp.

Heikki considered the sale of Tepcomp long and hard, and various candidates for the purchase were interviewed several times. It was his firm wish that Tepcomp should continue in good hands, and that business development should play a major role also in future. Heikki met Pekka Leppälä on a number of occasions and became convinced that he had found the right man.

Pekka has under his belt nearly ten years’ of experience in selling paper machines in all corners of the world. He enjoyed a lengthy career at Metso and, among other matters, was responsible for their Italian sales and marketing activities for a three-year period. From Metso, Pekka moved on to Finpro, as their Marketing and Communications Director, where his role was to assist Finnish companies in establishing overseas. In addition, for a period of time, Pekka was the Managing Director and Partner at Entre Marketing. Pekka’s technical background, strong management experience and knowledge of international trade are the most likely traits to have landed the company sale in his favour.

Pekka Leppälä took over as Managing Director and Chairman of the Board on 7.4.2010. Pekka employed Ulla for two months, and Heikki for six months, so as to ensure a successful transition period. In practice, Heikki and Pekka spent six months face to face in one room, during which the invaluable capital of know-how was exchanged.

Change of management resulted in a change of company structure and an increase in personnel. Presently, Tepcomp employs approximately 135 staff. The design and development unit of the company has been strengthened, employee roles specified and more investments in machinery made. The latest SMD production line, Mydata SX100, was installed in June 2011.

In 2011, the company relocated to new, bigger premises at Kaurakatu 46, which consists of the previous premises of Teleste. The spiritual inheritance of Tepcomp continues inside the same premises where its seed was sown nearly 30 years ago.

Various innovative openings within the LED market have created a basis for future success. The personnel of Tepcomp promise that the next chapter of this story will prove interesting. 

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