VORNU, ESTONIA –
Crossing the street can be dangerous,
especially at night when it is hardest for
drivers to see pedestrians.
Toomas Saarniit showing a mold completed on the MDX-540
To improve the safety of roadways across Europe, many countries have enacted laws requiring pedestrians to wear reflectors at night – and violating these laws can get you a hefty fine in places like Estonia.
For Toomas Saarniit, an entrepreneur from Vörnu, Estonia, these new laws became the basis for a booming manufacturing business. His company produces soft reflectors for pedestrians that allow them to be visible
Saarniit holds a Bachelor’s degree from Estonia Business School in Tallin, Estonia, and is a veteran entrepreneur with several other business ventures under his belt. He really struck gold with his newest product, which he has branded Soft Reflector.
MDX-540 working on new mold
Soft Reflectors come in different shapes and sizes and are produced by molds. Saarniit originally turned to outside contractors to produce these molds, but the process proved expensive and problematic.
“You can’t be competitive in a market if you’re dependent on sub-contractors,” he said. “It’s too expensive. Also, you only get a single mold each time you order, which limits your product line. I wanted my company to be more flexible than that.”
He found his solution at a Roland DG fair exhibit in Sweden. Combining a Roland MDX-540 milling machine to produce the molds and a Roland SOLJET PRO III XC-540 printer/cutter to print and cut reflective vinyl decals, he transformed his business virtually overnight.
Example of the final product
“I was just looking for a photo printer that could print on the PVC media we put inside the reflectors,” he said. “But I saw the Roland DG machines and they were exactly what our factory needed. With the Roland equipment, we could manufacture soft reflectors in all different shapes and sizes – in both small and large quantities to fit the market demands.”
For Soft Reflector, manufacturing on a large scale is the easy part. The company frequently processes orders as large as 200,000 items. But the soft reflector business is just like any other today, requiring flexible manufacturing that can just as easily produce 500 reflectors. These smaller production runs were not feasible through an outsourcing model.
The machines were installed in 2006 and since then the company has quadrupled in size to 12 employees. Soft Reflector is now one of the main suppliers for Scandinavia, and Saarniit’s Roland dealer, Martin Sepp, marvels at the growth of the business.
“It’s funny,” he said. “Every time I visit Soft Reflector, they are setting up a new machine to use in production.”
In the summer of 2007, Soft Reflector moved into new, larger production facilities to handle the explosion of business – all made possible by Roland’s MDX-540 and XC-540.
Roland SOLJET PRO III XC-540