Tailored protection

Though personal protection might conjure up images of current global events and battle fields, a large part of those using protective garments work in the civil sector. Civil authorities, security guards and other groups, for example humanitarian operators like Doctors Without Borders, who need protection, use protective gear in situations of heightened risk. Finnish companies Sioen Ballistics and C.P.E. Production develop and deliver protective garments customised according to the specific needs of each client. 

The Helsinki-based company, Sioen Ballistics Oy, was founded in the 1980s. The Finnish Defence Forces approached the company looking for protective solutions. At the time it was operating in the construction sector. The company’s expertise in man-made fibres and insulation materials proved useful also with aramid fibres. The company switched from construction insulation to protective technology. 

Nowadays Belgian-owned Sioen Ballistics offers the highest possible competence for situations where lives are literally at stake. 

Finnish product development competence 

The company’s product range covers the entire spectrum of needs within the protection sector. This includes, for example, protective garments worn under clothing, visible vests used by the police, plate carriers used by soldiers and different shields for personal protection. 

Claes Björkstén, CEO of the company, says no two orders are the same. 

– The industry and threats evolve, specifications change constantly and operators 

come up with differing demands meaning we are constantly presented with new challenges to overcome. Different tenders and product development projects make everyday life interesting in this business. Strict product requirements bring out the best in our professionals who are continuously developing their skills and their competence. 

Product development takes place in Finland utilising Sioen’s facilities, which offer possibilities to conduct a wide range of ballistic testing. Standards and criteria vary significantly, so there is no package solution. Some of the clients want a version of a product that is already in use in the field, some look for a combination of several products. 

Protective apparel – made to order 

Björkstén says, surprisingly, that most of the products are completely new – a catalogue of thousands of previous products might serve as a starting point, but the final product is tailored specifically according to the needs of each customer. 

– As threats keep changing, more experience and information is obtained. All that makes the clients develop their demands. Nonetheless, our product development is agile and the delivery time varies from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, if the materials are readily available, says Björkstén. Everyone involved with the products also know that the lives of the users are in their hands. This is the guiding principle that is always present at every stage whether it is working on the initial idea or finishing the last seam. 


Decisions between protection and mobility 

There is a constant shifting in the industry in terms of emphasis being placed sometimes more on the product’s mobility and sometimes on the protective qualities. Due to the current global situation, the demand is concentrated on a wider protective coverage and, for example, shrapnel protection. 

Another Finnish company specialised in personal protection, C.P.E. Production, has built a new factory in Forssa, southern Finland. The new facilities are used for the manufacturing of hard, bullet-resistant insert plates against military-grade ammunition as well as ballistic helmets. 

– Manufacturing hard shell protection is new for us, quite a big leap. Our family company’s background is in ice hockey equipment and we have been manufacturing soft bulletproof vests for a long time now. We have vast experience in body protection. Our operation methods are agile and adaptive to customers’ needs, says Managing Director Harri Kolu. 

Finland is the best country brand 

Expanding the product range is a logical continuum for C.P.E. Production, but the war in Europe made taking that next step happen faster than planned. C.P.E. Production also manufactures all their products tailored according to customers’ wishes. Essential to all this is having efficient cooperation with material suppliers as well being able to carry out tests and conduct product development using the company’s own laboratory. 

Kolu says that you could not hope for a better country brand than Finland in the protective gear market. It is something the company is utilising on a global scale. 

– It is quite exceptional that in a small country like this there are two significant operators. We are great competitors with Sioen and we cheer each other on. The Finnish Defence Forces, for example, have clearly benefited from our competitive situation, Kolu says. 

Customers from Europe

Neither Sioen nor C.P.E. has private operators in their clientele. In addition to the Defence Forces and the Police, there are different companies that work in the security sector and want their personnel protected. Different countries set different legislative requirements. 

For example, in Sweden security companies provide the protective gear for their personnel making them a significant customer group. 

– In Finland, security guards purchase their protective equipment from distributors themselves. We don’t sell our products directly to private customers, Björkstén says. 

Geographical location plays a role, too. Björksten explains that the US market is extremely tough and competitive for foreign companies. Sioen concentrates mostly on the European market, as does its competitor.  

The lifecycle of special products 

Even though the ultimate responsibility of the use and storage of the products lies with the customer, Sioen Ballistics does its utmost to guarantee safety.

– Instructions for use are strict in every instance. This actually begins already in the design stage where we try to eliminate the possibilities of misuse. Each product is marked with a best before date and, if needed, the customer can be reminded about the ending of the product’s service life.

Responsibility is equally present in the manufacturing stage also. Since everything is manufactured made-to-order, production waste is minimal.

– We aim to use all purchased materials within a year so that the properties are not lost whilst in storage.

Aramid fibres are also reused and Sioen Ballistics has two European co-operation partners for this. Also the cutting waste gets recycled. The objective is to provide protective gear that is responsible in terms of both the user as well as the environment.


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