Ponsse introduces its latest, uniquely designed harvester, the ScorpionKing, at event in Rhinelander, Wisconsin
Ponsse North America picked a beautiful setting close to their home base of Rhinelander, Wisconsin to debut their latest harvester offering, the ScorpionKing. The location for the North American unveiling of the Scorpion series was the perfectly fitting Cedric A. Vig Outdoor Classroom (CAVOC), an outdoor educational property that is a part of the Rhinelander Public School District.
The weather for the August 8th event was equally ideal, a classic 80 degree summer day with plenty of sun. To encourage the 700 attendees to make the trek to northern Wisconsin, Ponsse provided coach bus services originating from towns near their service centers in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, Gladstone, Michigan, and Gaylord, Michigan. Among the crowd was Ardin Wiitala, of Wiitala-Vozka Logging in Westboro, Wisconsin. He has a long history with Ponsse machines, having purchased the third Ponsse harvester in the country, which was named Lay Down Sally. Wiitala observed, “I was surprised to see so many young people here today.” Noting that the average age of loggers currently stands at 58, Wiitala said, “These are some of the things you need to attract younger people into the industry. They all love the technology and you can’t get higher tech than the ScorpionKing.”
In a display of outdoor corporate theater, Ponsse first fired up their Ergo harvester on the far side of a nearby rise in the rolling forest. As the Ergo crested the hill with emcee Antti Räsänen, the Machine Marketing Manager from the Ponsse headquarters in Finland, giving the audience key details about the machines, attendees watched the harvester in action. This was followed quickly by a similar entrance of their Buffalo forwarder loading the cut-to-length red oak harvest of the Ergo. The star of the show, a well-polished ScorpionKing, appeared over the hill to the buzz of attention in the audience. As the ScorpionKing nimbly navigated the rolling and rocky terrain, attendees captured the action with numerous cameras and cell phones.
Introduced last year to the global market in Sweden at the world’s largest international forestry show, Elmia Wood, the ScorpionKing has created a great deal of notice in the CTL industry. While only two ScorpionKing units have arrived in North America so far, the Company has already sold a total of nine machines, including the two on display at the official unveiling. What has grabbed the attention of potential buyers is the focus that Ponsse put into developing a harvester designed with operator ergonomics, safety, and comfort in mind. According to Ponsse chairman and owner Juha Vidgrén, “It’s a new generation of machine. First of all, there’s a lot of technology inside. But the main idea is to keep the productivity up by giving the operator the best possible place to work.”
To engineer an operator cab tagged by Ponsse as ‘an office with a view’, the Company started their R&D in 2007 rethinking the human aspect of harvester operation. While they had built an initial prototype by 2008, company founder Einari Vidgrén was not satisfied with what he saw. Restarting the design process from the ground up, Ponsse engineers created the eight wheel Scorpion and ScorpionKing touting a unique frame design with three sections linked by rotating joints. The front frame component supports the front wheels, the rear frame carries the engine, hydraulics, and the rear wheels. The middle frame is all about the cabin and the crane, keeping it hydraulically balanced up to 15 degrees front to back and 12 degrees sideways, while the front and rear frame sections automatically tilt as the terrain changes. The technology of the Scorpion series detects the direction and position of the crane and presses the rear frame in the direction of work. Pressing the rear wheels against the ground improves the machine’s stability when working to the side. The three frame component design results in the cabin being mounted on a low pivot point that minimizes tilting and swaying of the cabin.
The prototype for this unique design was completed in 2011 and put into test operation for a full year before manufacturing of the new model began. Juha Vidgrén noted that no news of their new secret harvester design ever leaked out from Ponsse’s home town of Vieremä, Finland in the two years of testing prototypes and manufacturing the final products. “Even though we live in this culture of taking photos by phone and sending them to Facebook, no one in the village wanted to tell the secret.” The Scorpion series is currently available in 10 countries in Europe and North America. Vidgrén is pleased with the response in sales thus far. “This is a solution for working in very hard conditions,” he noted.
With the third frame section to keep the cabin level and allow it to pivot on a point that is centered on the operator’s seat, Ponsse believes that the improved comfort will allow operators to stay fresh throughout the harvest day. The Company believes that this will result in more productivity which in turn will ultimately allow loggers to be more profitable. According to the CEO of Ponsse North America, Pekka Ruuskanen, “It’s the most ergonomic machine on the market. That’s the future of logging. The operator always stays level so there’s more productivity, less stress, he’s not so tired when he goes home.”
Ardin Wiitala echoed those sentiments, “When you’re sitting in there for ten or twelve hours, comfort is a big deal.”
Ergonomics and operator comfort was top of mind with many potential customers as well. Jared Fitchett, owner of Jshar Timber Harvesting, a family operation from Libby, Montana said, “Operator comfort and safety is huge in my line of business.” Fitchett runs a whole tree mechanical logging operation now, but is considering a move to cut-to-length. Taking a top down view of the business, he noted, “The markets that you have, you’re really getting stretched very thin in making a profit, so you have to have machinery that is more fuel efficient. But not only that, you have be able to sit in there in a comfortable environment with no fatigue, with something that goes long periods of time with very little maintenance, and make a profit.”
Expanding further on the operator experience, Ponsse coupled the Scorpion series with a new, uniquely designed C50 crane. Mounted on a structure behind and on both sides of the cab, the crane removes any visibility obstructions that are inherent in many designs. With a reach of 34 feet and a turning angle of 280 degrees, the crane gives the operator the feeling that the cab, controls, and the crane work together as a single unit.
Dennis Schoeneck, owner of Enterprise Forest Products of Rhinelander, Wisconsin liked what he saw in the new crane design. “It’s really agile, the operator can really see out that window.” A Ponsse machine user since 1998, he still gets excited when Ponsse shows their latest offerings. “I can’t wait to get in and cut a tree with that,” he said.
The specifications for the Scorpion and ScorpionKing are closely matched. Both are eight wheel harvesters utilizing the C50 crane. Both models use the same Mercedes-Benz 275 hp engine. They are both designed to work with the Ponsse H series heads. The primary differences between the two models are that the ScorpionKing has heavier built bogies and differentials as well as dual hydraulic pumps. The Scorpion has a single 210cc pump and the ScorpionKing has both a 145cc and a 190cc pump.
Jared Fitchett’s first experience with Ponsse machines was, at the very least, quite unique. After training on a Ponsse last January, he was off to the bitter environment of Siberia as a star in a Discovery Channel series entitled Siberian Cut. The reality series, which is being released around the world this fall, pits logging teams from both the U.S. and Russia against the brutality of the Siberian winter in order to satisfy the contracted demands of a Russian ‘Colonel’. Ponsse machines were clearly present in scenes from the series. (discovery.com/tv-shows/siberian-cut) Fitchett continuously looks for new avenues to keep his business successful. “The Scorpion offers a lot of the features that we have there (in Montana) in the leveling bunchers. You can work in steeper ground safely, more efficiently, with less cost,” he noted. Seeing comfort, ergonomics, and safety as essential to the future of logging, he said. “If you’re not in that niche or that type of logging, you’re not going to succeed.”
From a sales perspective, Ponsse sales reps are excited with the response thus far. Sam Heikola, Ponsse sales representative for eastern Wisconsin said that the feedback he has received has been all positive. “People are amazed at how stable it is, how the operator seems to sit so comfortably doing all that in uneven terrain.” He continued, “Operators are always looking to get a more ergonomic, comfortable machine to operate, easier to access for service. And this is all that.”
Heikola’s counterpart for the western side of Wisconsin, John Holmes, proclaimed that the Scorpion series is the “most innovative harvester on the planet.” Referring to the new C50 crane, he stated that, “It’s the one thing in a harvester that we’ve never had before and that’s unlimited visibility.” Holmes has successfully presented the Scorpion series to those in the trade, having sold one of the machines himself. The Scorpion, he says, gives him something new to show potential customers. “We offer something now that nobody else does.”
Like many others in attendance at the ScorpionKing event, Dennis Schoeneck also sees the importance of ergonomics in forest harvesting as a major issue. “Ponsse has always been the leader in that,” he stated. “Comfort to me,” he continued, “that is nine out of ten because that machine is useless to a man who is tired.”
As expected, Ponsse hopes to lure new customers away from their competition. Pekka Ruuskanen was pleased with the feedback he has received. “All our customers are really excited to see the machine. I’ve already seen some competition customers come to see the new kid on the block.” The goal of reaching new customers seems to be on track as Ruuskanen noted that, of the sales of Scorpion series machines so far, half have come from operations using other harvester brands. “They can see the future,” he added.
Juha Vidgrén gave a simple summation of the big picture view that his company took when engineering the Scorpion series, “We really want to have a solution for our customers so that they can do the work well.”
Seventeen year Ponsse veteran Ted Benson, owner and operator of Low Impact Logging from Iron River, Michigan, will be testing a ScorpionKing in his operation in the near future with the intention of keeping it if he likes it. Having been to Finland twice to see Ponsse equipment being built first hand, he stated, “The amount of time we put in these cabs a day, it’s the only way to go. It only costs a little more to go first class. There it is.”
The Scorpion series unveiling was the key event of a weekend packed with Ponsse activities. The demo was followed by a Scorpion celebration party at nearby Holiday Acres, a classic Northwoods Wisconsin resort. The crowd grooved to country rock provided by the Mud Dogs Band. Demonstrating their flare for a good time, the Ponsse bash was further entertained by a contest for the most memorable black and yellow attire. The winners included Brigitte Kumbier, Dean of Trade and Industry for Nicolet College in Rhinelander, Scott Schoeneck, a local customer from Rhinelander as well as the employee team of Bart Tegen and his wife Becky Tegen. Each received $250 for fashionable displays of the official Ponsse colors.
Coinciding with the Scorpion series demo and continuing on into the following day, Ponsse held their parts marketing days promotion base at their service center just west of Rhinelander. On Saturday, the Company held an auction to find new homes for some of the harvesters, forwarders, and a variety of support equipment in their inventory.
Spouses were not left out of the Ponsse event-filled weekend. On Saturday, Wisconsin River cruises delighted guests with a soothing and scenic boat tour of the Wisconsin River just south of the Ponsse North America headquarters.