“He wanted to make the world a little better.”
Birger Ericson is an entrepreneur who created one of the largest facade renovation companies in west Sweden. The company flourished, but there were major challenges with the existing paint removal methods available at this time. Chemical paint strippers had harsh and often toxic solvents. Abrasive blasting and sanding left massive dust in the air around the work sites and beyond into the community. After years of using these methods, Birger became very ill.
He refused to settle for these very harmful paint stripping methods. He wanted to use methods and quality products which were safe for workers, gentle on buildings and non-polluting to the environment. There were no paint stripping methods in the market at that time which didn’t have harmful side effects. He decided to create new ones.
The starting point for his innovations had four basic requirements:
- They would not harm the workers and their families.
- They would not harm the building materials being stripped.
- They would not harm the environment.
- They would be so simple and safe that anyone could use them.
Despite strong resistance in the restoration and painting industries, Birger was driven by his conviction. Deep down, he knew this was the right thing to do. So, in the manner typical of a researcher and inventor, he focused even more on finding a paint stripping method which met his requirements. He found a solution – infrared (IR) light. He used IR technology to strip all the coating layers right down to the bare wood.
In the same way as a microwave oven sets molecules of food in motion and heats the food, infrared generates heat to release paint, putty and varnish from the wood and to make them easy to scrape. Birger’s biggest challenge was to find a way to heat the paint sufficiently to separate it from the wood and yet not heat the paint so hot that it turned the lead in the paint to toxic fumes. In addition, the heater had to work on all types of paint, putty, varnish and water (in latex paint). He continued developing and testing his IR paint removers for years. Finally, he succeeded and named his heater the Speedheater™ Infrared Paint Remover.
In 1980, Birger founded Speedheater Systems AB. His company reflected his strong values.
- A flat corporate organization where every employee is equally important.
- All employees are responsible for their own work area but also are responsible to support the other parts of the company.
- Cross-training is expected to create higher employee satisfaction, better cooperation between departments, higher efficiency, and greater flexibility in staffing.
- Product components are sourced locally from Swedish businesses and are eco-friendly when available.
- Products meet external safety requirements and standards.
After 10 more years of experimentation, the first Speedheater™ was ready for its debut in 1991. It was presented at a Swedish paint trade show. At this time, the company’s focus was to meet the needs of professional painters, remodelers, and old building restorers. In the late 1990’s, meeting the needs of non-professionals was added. In 2000, a handheld Speedheater™ 1100 Standard model was released for non-professional, DIYers.
The Speedheater™ 1100 Standard paved the way for more new products to make the job of paint stripping easier. Birger listened to customers. In response to DIYers who didn’t have expensive scaffolding, he created a stand to position the Speedheater™1100 securely and to be handsfree against a vertical surface like siding -– the Classic Arm. This accessory doubled the productivity of workers and reduced their arm strain. As he worked to restore his own home, ideas for how to make the process even easier emerged. He kept inventing more accessories to improve the efficiency of the Speedheater™ Method.
After years of using the Speedheater™1100, some professional and DIY customers requested a smaller and faster Speedheater™. Birger responded and in 2010, the Speedheater™ Cobra was released in Europe. In 2016, it began to be sold in the USA. Today, Speedheater™ products are finding their way around the world. Speedheater Systems’ vision is to become a world leader in paint removal technology – from their headquarters in Alingsås near Gothenburg, Sweden to the four corners of the world.
Speedheater™ products using the new IR light technology make the previously-tedious, time-consuming and dangerous process of paint stripping efficient, gentle on building materials, and safe for people and nature. For professional craftspeople and DIY enthusiasts with the right products and the right accessories, the results are high quality and paint removal becomes a pure joy.