Hexonia GmbH, a military clothing and ballistic protection specialist based in Nettetal, Germany, but recently acquired by Norway’s NFM Group, aims to triple its sales figures in the current year compared to the previous year, the company has stated.
Orders for 2023, as well as further volumes for 2024 and 2025, were already awarded to Hexonia in April 2022 as part of a fast-track procurement for the German Armed Forces Combat Clothing Set.
Such growth figures are usually only known in the start-up sector and yet they also seem possible for established companies if Nils Toverud, recently appointed managing director (MD) of Hexonia, is to be believed.
In order to grow even further in future Hexonia will not focus almost exclusively on the Bundeswehr but will also tap into the German police market and further expand its international business, Toverud explained to ESD. In the run-up to the Enforce Tac 2023 security exhibition, which takes place in Nuremberg from 28 February until 1 March, ESD had the opportunity to speak with the Hexonia MD and be briefed on the company’s plans as well as the background to its acquisition.
NFM Group only acquired Hexonia from former managing director and owner Gerd Hexels at the end of 2022 and appointed Toverud, who also serves as NFM Group’s chief business officer (CBO), to the MD position. According to Toverud, who is responsible for developing new markets in his CBO role, the acquisition of Hexonia was of enormous importance for the NFM Group, which is focused on the European market – and not just because it represents the largest corporate acquisition in the company’s history.
“With the acquisition of Hexonia, the NFM Group becomes one of the leading companies for protective and combat clothing systems for armed forces and authorities in Europe,” Toverud noted.
The Norwegians see Germany as a core market for two reasons: firstly, Germany is Norway’s closest partner in relation to the defence sector alongside the United States; secondly, Germany also happens to be one of the largest markets in Europe. Toverud is convinced that proximity to the customer is the be-all and end-all in the defence and police sector. In his view this should not be limited to the proximity of a sales team, but also requires industrial manufacturing capacity in-country. “Having an industrial footprint in the core market is crucial for us; it is the only way to ensure secure supply chains and proximity to customers,” explained the Norwegian. And this is where Hexonia comes in.
The Nettetal-based company has geared over 90% of its current business operations to the Bundeswehr as a customer. The NFM Group, on the other hand, supplies ballistic protective equipment and in some cases combat clothing to the armed forces and security services in many other European countries – such as Norway and Poland, for example – but has not really been able to gain a foothold in the German market apart from through co-operative ventures. For example, the Norwegians supply parts of the protective and load-bearing equipment used in the German IDZ-ES K-Stand VJTF 2023 soldier system. However, this now looks set to change.
“Stronger together is our vision,” explained Toverud. After the takeover of Hexonia, “we want to further expand the business in Germany and open up other international markets”, he said. To ensure that this succeeds, Hexonia will continue to be maintained as an independent entity, with the new MD making it clear that, for him, maintaining “stability, stability and stability again” is the most important factor in the takeover. “Nothing is to change for either the customers or the staff,” he said. Therefore, the operative business at the Nettetal location will be continued with the same core team in the familiar manner, while the previous co-managing director, Sabine Albert, will also remain with the Hexonia management.
In addition, the growth path that has been embarked upon will be continued. Around 60 new jobs were created in 2022, bringing the workforce up to 230 people. This year they plan to continue hiring.
“We think the two companies complement each other well,” said Toverud. Where it makes sense, the NFM product portfolio will complement the Hexonia product range for the German market. This approach is already being practised in several projects. For example, the NFM Group supported Hexonia in the development of the body armour for the IDZ-ES K-Stand VJTF 2023 system. The same applies to the ballistic plates used in the body armour. On the international market Hexonia’s products and technologies then complement the NFM product range, which follows the ‘Full Spectrum Protection’ approach, meaning a holistic protection concept.
NFM has divided its product range into four core areas:
- Head protection, where the company claims to have the lightest ballistically protected helmet on the market (in its protection class) in the form of the Hjelm combat helmet system, the latest version of which will be shown at this year’s Enforce TAC. The Hexonia Trivium head protection system, which is currently being supplied to the German armed forces under their special forces helmet system tender, fits seamlessly into this range. In addition to a combat helmet, the system consists of nearly 20 other pieces of equipment. Hexonia, meanwhile, built up expertise in this field some years ago and remains a leader in it.
- The Thor load-bearing system, which consists of various vests and plate carriers. The Thor system, made of NFM Alpha laminate, is trimmed for low weight, high modularity and wearing comfort.
- The Skjold body armour system, the ballistic protection elements of which are optimised in terms of weight and performance. Here, there has been technological support from Norway for Hexonia’s product developers in the two companies’ prior history.
- The Garm combat clothing system. This, again, is an area where the German developers have the upper hand and clothing systems are a key area of expertise for Hexonia, which, according to Toverud, employs about 40 textile engineers for this purpose, corresponding to about a sixth of the total workforce.
In addition to the synergies in the two companies’ technology and product areas, Toverud sees other advantages in their merger that should also benefit the Bundeswehr and perhaps other German authorities in future. The combined size of the two companies, for example, will afford them greater purchasing power. “Size matters,” Toverud noted, “not so much in terms of cheaper purchasing, but in terms of better availability.” The MD explained that suppliers cannot afford to alienate their largest customers through unreliable deliveries, making larger companies less vulnerable to supply chain problems.
These explanations clarify the Norwegians’ plan behind the company acquisition: NFM supplies regular and special forces as well as government customers in several European countries except Germany, where Hexonia, of course, has its focus; the two firms’ product areas are complementary; and following the merger the two companies can, indeed, act as a more robust player in the market.