Vierema, Finland — Ponsse had a big reason to celebrate and a lot to show off recently, so the company invited writers and photographers from the global forestry industry trade media to visit its facilities in Finland.
The company’s International Press Days events Aug. 23-24 coincided with the grand opening and a ribbon cutting ceremony to mark operations in its expanded factory.
The formal activities began at the factory on a Thursday when members of the media, a group of more than 50, viewed a presentation in a small auditorium and then were briefed by two company leaders – Juha Vidgrén, chairman of the board of directors, and Juho Nummela, president and CEO.
The company and its factory are based in the same little village of Vierema where Juha’s father, Einari, started the company, which specializes in cut-to-length logging machines and information systems.
A logging contractor from Wisconsin who participated in the media events remarked that the region reminded him of home, with its farms, gently sloping fields and pasture land.
The village is located in central Finland, above 63 degrees north latitude. In North America, that parallel traverses the upper portion of the Hudson Bay in Canada. In fact, Vierema is so far north that it receives less than 5 hours of daylight during the winter. The village is remote, too; the area outside of the town, where Einari lived, did not get electricity until the 1970s.
Juha’s father grew up and raised his family in this kind of environment — a remote farming village in a region of harsh winters — when the men turn to timber harvesting as farming operations come to a standstill.
Einari began working in the forest about 30 miles away at age 14. He formed his own logging business in 1962. By 1970, he was the largest logging contractor in Finland, with more than two dozen men working for him. The first machine he used was a farm tractor used to haul logs out of the woods in deep snow.
Einari began tinkering and developing equipment for logging and at first had a very limited goal: build a machine that would last two weeks without needing repairs. It took him nine months to build the first forwarder, in 1970, and in the following year he began building machines for other loggers.
It was this background that Juha reminded the media of over two days. His father founded the business on three values that endure, he said: honesty, treating all employees equally, and an unwavering commitment to customers.
Every employee is equal, and every employee is important, he stressed, from the CEO to the person performing the most mundane tasks. Anyone can contribute ideas to help the company. The point was evident not only in their remarks, but in the way both men interacted with company employees and media representatives.
Juho sketched the megatrends facing the global forest products industry, including the “sustainability crisis” and climate change, and growing exports of wood from North America and notably Russia into markets in Asia and China.
The rate of technological change has escalated, said Juho, who earned a Ph.D related to technology from Finnish universities. “We’ve never seen it happen at this level before.”
“Technology is changing everything,” he said, although the changes are not limited to digital technology.
Logging machines one day will work without operators, declared Juho. However, he declined to speculate when that technology will be achieved. His statement suggested that machines would operate autonomously — not via remote control, which would still require a person.
Ponsse has made a considerable investment in developing new, high technology, hiring computer programmers and others with expertise in technology and accommodating them by locating their offices in more populated southern Finland.
Ponsse hosted a demo at a nearby forest later to show off new machines and technology. The demo included the Bison Active Frame forwarder, which features an Active Frame cabin suspension and continuously variable power transmission to increase productivity, especially for long transport distances. The Active Frame suspension, available on 8-wheel machines, minimizes sideways movement of the cabin to allow fast driving and to improve operator comfort.
The company also unveiled two new eight-wheel harvesters, the Cobra and Fox models, the latter designed especially for thinning.
Active Crane is another new development for Ponsse. The system, used for the crane on a forwarder, enables the operator to control grapple movement instead of individual functions, improving efficiency in loading operations.
Other new technology includes:
• Improvements to the Scorpion harvester
• Long bogie option for 8-wheel forwarders
• K121 Loader for Elephant and ElephantKing forwarders
• Stage V emission engines supplied by Mercedes-Benz
• Ponsse Seat, which dampens swinging motions and vibration to improve ergonomics and reduce operator fatigue
• Ponsse Manager, a new level of digital technology to connect machines to an information network
• OptiMap2, which maps the harvester cutting trails for the benefit of the forwarder operator to optimize loading operations
The ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at the factory the next day after company officials hosted the media to a tour. The expansion took the factory from approximately 287,496 square feet to 426,888 square feet, an increase of more than 48 percent. The plant now includes more than 104,000 square feet of robotics, 3D modeling and other technology.
All machining work is automated. A substantial portion of welding has been automated, and the company is moving to automate the remainder. An automated system picks more than 15,000 parts and components so they can move just-in-time to the right point in the assembly line process. The expanded factory includes new assembly lines for harvester heads and base machines, and by the end of 2018, assembly lines for cabins and cranes will be renewed.
All Ponsse machines are manufactured to order. The factory turns out six machines per day using parts, components and sub-assemblies from 250 suppliers, 80 percent of whom are in Finland, and 20 percent in Germany. (By comparison, as Einari began manufacturing machines for other loggers in the 1970s, he built five machines a year for the first 10 years.) After assembly and start-up and initial testing, all machines are transported to the woods for field testing prior to delivery to customers.
The company’s vision is to be the preferred partner for machines in the logging industry as Ponsse focuses solely on cut-to-length machines and information systems. It has grown exponentially from 825 employees in 2010 to 1,664 globally. The Ponsse sales and service network now extends to 45 countries.
When Einari built his first forwarder for his own logging business, he drove it out of a workshop. Some villagers had gathered out of curiosity to see the new machine as it emerged.
“What kind of Ponsse is that?” joked one villager, referring to the name of an ugly mongrel hunting dog that inhabited the village.
Einari laughed. “Now we have a name for it,” he said. “It shall be called Ponsse.”