Good Outlook

Author: Sonja Hausmanns |
Photo: Matthias Haslauer
Behind the company building, near Ålesund, Norway, is the sea; in front of it, snow-capped mountains rise into the sky. Optimar, the new company in the Haniel portfolio, has a lot to look out on – and a lot to look forward to

Where are the ships? Are the machines running smoothly? Who needs support? The maps, photos and data columns on the screens in the control room tell the story.

“I’m a real ‘devil in the details,’” says Håvard Sætre in a friendly, but assured, tone. The tall, silver-haired Norwegian is the CEO of Optimar, and intricacies indeed play a significant role for the company: Optimar produces machines used in fish processing, and these machines must function reliably and non-stop. The functions range from slaughter, to filleting, all the way to freezing and packing. A growing business, driven by the growing worldwide demand for fish. Optimar systems are in use in around 30 countries. In 2017, the company generated sales of 107 million euros. As of December 2017, Optimar belongs to Haniel.

A success story – the company has never looked so good. In 2003, Optimar had to declare bankruptcy. The company was, simply put, overburdened by the strong growth in preceding years. That’s when some high-level managers decided to buy shares and to continue running the company. In 2014 and 2015, they acquired two additional companies and thus covered the entire range of fish processing ¬– whether at sea, onshore or in aquaculture. A clear competitive advantage, but one that was not being fully leveraged, because the three companies were acting independently in the market. That all changed in October 2016, when Håvard Sætre joined Optimar as the CEO.

He analysed the entire value-added chain and then decided to structure the offering based on technological effort involved, from high-end to standard, and to combine production in different locations. The next step was to develop a timetable for the next few years. His colleagues at Optimar call this overview “Håvard’s sheet” – a simple description, but one that is also expressed with some reverence.  Håvard’s sheet is regularly updated and is the basis for all management rounds. “Everyone at the company can track the goals for the current year, grouped by innovation, costs, improvements and quality. That helps us to stay focussed,” says Anita Larvik, who has been heading the construction department for about a year now.

Håvard Sætre, CEO Optimar

“We are very happy about the partnership with Duisburg. It couldn’t have gone any better for Optimar.”

Håvard Sætre, CEO Optimar

Along with her, Sætre also hired new department heads for research and development, production, and service and replacement parts. “We had to strengthen the teams,” says Sætre, explaining this step. Sætre, the rather cool-seeming strategist, was able to get the people at Optimar excited about his vision. “We lose and win together,” says Larvik, summing up the mood in the company.

Lice begone!

The fact that former employees come back to work to Optimar also says a lot about the company. One of these is Arnt Dahle: the 41-year-old had already worked for the company at the beginning of his career, but then changed jobs, going to the marine subsidiary of Rolls-Royce. Now he is back at Optimar, in charge of production. He leads us through the huge production hall, where workers cut stainless steel to size and assemble fish-processing machinery. Everything seems structured and tidy, almost empty. “Last week, we delivered some big production lines for Russia – the hall was practically full to the brim,” Dahle tells us. Now there is just one large machine, waiting in the courtyard for pick-up. Packed up and hidden under a thin layer of snow, it looks rather unassuming. However, “Optilice” is a breakthrough, for Optimar as well as for the entire aquaculture industry.

Anita Larvik, heads the construction department

“Everyone at the company can track the goals for the current year, grouped by innovation, costs, improvements and quality. That helps us to stay focussed.”

Anita Larvik, heads the construction department

For years, one of the biggest problems of this industry has been the salmon louse. This parasite occurs frequently in aquacultures and destroys entire fish populations. Just in Norway alone, fish farms spend over a billion euros per year battling these lice. The chemicals used against the lice pollute the seawater, which is why the Norwegian government made a decision: until the companies get the problem under control, they will not be allowed to expand further. “It was clear to us that there were enormous opportunities here for Optimar, if we could be the first to find a solution,” recalls Erik Westre, head of research and development. Within just six months, his team developed the Optilice system. In this system, the live salmon is bathed for 20 to 30 seconds in water that is at a temperature of 35 degrees Celsius. The salmon is unharmed, but the parasite dies at this temperature. Since mid-2017, Optimar has sold about 40 of the Optilice lines and is already working on an improvement. Because so far the fish have to be pumped out of the farm pools for the treatment. “We’re looking for a way to continuously delouse the fish,” says Westre, who currently has about 30 projects in the innovation pipeline.

Arnt Dahle, head of production

“Last week, we delivered some big production lines for Russia – the hall was practically full to the brim.”

Arnt Dahle, head of production

“It’s projects such as Optilice that made us enthusiastic about Optimar from the start,” says Stephan Gemkow, chairman of the board at Haniel. “Now it will be a question of expanding the success of the company without overtaxing it organisationally.” In concrete terms, that means that Haniel, the new owner of Optimar, will intervene in existing processes only when absolutely necessary – for instance, in the case of topics such as reporting, IT or law. Responsibility for the operational business remains with Optimar, while Haniel focuses on supporting the company in its growth. There are plenty of starting points for this. In addition to regional expansion, there is the issue of other species: “We can imagine developing machines in the future that will make it possible to, for example, make commercial use of krill or algae,” clarifies Håvard Sætre. But first and foremost, it has to be clear whether this investment will pay off. “We have the technical know-how – but analysing markets and megatrends is really something Haniel can help us with,” Sætre continues. He also looks to Haniel when it comes to digitalisation: “We have many good ideas, but the question is, how can we turn them into successful products that we can make money with on the market?”

Erik Westre, responsible for R&D

“It was clear to us that there were enormous opportunities here for Optimar, if we could be the first to find a solution.”

Erik Westre, responsible for R&D

In the production hall, things are cut, bolted together, welded and assembled. Several large systems were just shipped to Russia.

Space for new things

The so-called control room, which measures about twelve square metres in size, reflects the current state of digitalisation at Optimar. For example, visitors here get to know the principle of the digital twin: “When we plan a new system, we first create a virtual model. The customer can then use virtual-reality glasses to see how the individual machines are arranged and then note the desired changes directly in the system,” explains Sætre. While Optimar is already working successfully with this system for some customers, other systems are still in the testing phase. A new business model could be based on the six screens on the left wall of the control room – or rather, the data that is visible on these screens. Here, for example, the team can see where each individual ship equipped with Optimar technology is located. If a problem is reported during fish processing, service personnel can intervene directly in the software of the processing machines. In the event of a hardware problem, they send a technician to the ship. This can take up to three days, depending on the location of the ship. The idea is therefore to equip employees at sea with special glasses. The images would then be transmitted in real time via the counterpart to an Optimar expert, who then gives instructions for the repair. Sætre also sees great opportunities in data analysis. “Especially for owners of large fleets, it’s hard to track where the vessels are, what quantities are currently being fished and processed on these vessels, and whether the logistics on land are prepared for these quantities,” he says. “We can imagine offering this service in the future.” In developing such services, he relies on the collaboration with Schacht One, Haniel’s digital unit. “We are very happy about the partnership with Duisburg. It couldn’t have gone any better for Optimar.”

Video: Haniel and Optimar – a promising alliance


Haniel acquired Optimar from Norwegian financial investors Credo Partners and the company’s management at the end of 2017. The innovative company is a leading manufacturer of automated fish-processing systems for use on ships, onshore and in aquaculture. The systems are installed either on a completely stand-alone basis or together with turnkey solutions from third-party providers. Optimar’s head office is located near Ålesund, in the heart of one of Norway’s most important maritime centres.

1934 Founded
2014/15 Acquisition of the companies Peder Stette and Seaside
6 locations, in Norway, Spain, Romania, the United States
375 Employees
800 Installations worldwide