Ponsse forest machine

Harvesting the rewards of innovation

​Specialisation and an affective culture of innovation have made Ponsse one of the world’s leading manufacturers of forest machines. Proof of this is the Quality Innovation award presented to the Ponsse Scorpion harvester in 2014. Metsä Fibre’s Botnia Nordic + softwood pulp was also awarded in the same competition. Both companies cherish their innovation culture, but what are the crucial factors specific to Ponsse’s innovation and R&D?

TEXT: TIMO NYKÄNEN, PHOTO: JESSE KARJALAINEN & PONSSE

The forest machine company Ponsse Corporation celebrated its 45th anniversary last year. This family business continues to be based in Vieremä, the small town in the Northern Savonia region of Finland where founder Einari Vidgrén originally established the company to build a more durable and stronger forest harvesting machine for his own requirements, and where the 11,000th harvesting machine rolled off the assembly line in spring of this year.

“Einari was still personally involved at the early stages of designing our new Scorpion harvester in 2010. He told us to brook no compromise and aim to create the best harvester on the market, so we took a substantial risk with Scorpion by making the leap to an entirely new level of timber harvesting technology. Some 80 per cent of the technology applied in this harvester was completely new,” explains Ponsse technology and R&D director Juha Inberg.

Inberg also observes that the shallow hierarchy of this family business and the hands-on approach of its owners have clearly strengthened the company’s operations, with decisions made swiftly and straightforwardly when the owners, R&D and manufacturing departments all work together on the same premises.

“Our core competencies are entirely within our own hands, and we have always felt that direct hiring is the right way to bring in the required skills and people. Another major difference that sets us apart from our two main competitors is that they are large international corporations in which the forestry machinery business is only a small part of overall Group operations. By contrast, we focus solely on forest machines designed for the cut-to-length system,” Inberg says.

The cut-to-length system is a Nordic approach to the logging process that involves cutting the tree trunk to the dimensions required for its eventual use. While the technique is currently only applied in about 20 per cent of the world’s timber harvesting, this proportion is growing. Its benefits include high labour productivity and environmental friendliness, enabling precise and economical use of wood even from smaller holdings.

Ponsse is currently the world’s second-largest operator in its field, with a market share of about 26 per cent. Its principal market areas are Finland, Sweden, Russia, Germany, France and North and South America, and the company has 11 subsidiaries around the world.


Ponsse forest machine

 

AT THE FOREFRONT OF TECHNOLOGICAL PROGRESS

Innovation is one of the values of Ponsse Corporation, and the company invests heavily in R&D. Inberg explains that the company’s customers are intimately involved in its R&D programmes, with all new products tested by end users before transitioning to production.

“Our standard practice is to create a prototype as quickly as we can. We then let the customer try it out in practice and tell us how it performs. Only after this concept stage can we proceed with commercialisation.”

Inberg stresses that ergonomics and the driver’s ability to cope with the work are a key design principle. The principal consideration applied in the Scorpion harvester, which entered regular production in 2014, was to place the vehicle operator literally at the centre point of the machine in order to optimise visibility and manoeuvrability. The Scorpion features advanced levelling and stabilising systems that help the machine to remain stable and keep the operator’s cab horizontal in all types of terrain. Ponsse also has patent applications pending for the associated technologies.

Innovation involves taking risks. This is the only way to develop anything that is completely new." -Juha Inberg, Technology and R&D Director, Ponsse

“Forestry machines using the cut-to-length system have long represented the most advanced technology applied in the working machine sector. We introduced the first measuring device for controlling cutting in a harvester model back in 1986, and in 1993 we deployed the first PC-based solution. Information has been directly exchanged between the harvester and the forestry company ever since,” Inberg explains.

One advantage that Ponsse enjoys is that the company has developed its own proprietary information system products since the very beginning. The corporate group includes the technology company EPEC based in Seinäjoki, which manufactures PCs and controller modules for harvesters.

Another example of innovation was the eightwheeled harvester launched by Ponsse in 2009.

“We originally aimed the eight-wheeled harvester at the Central European market, but with the global trend towards harvesting timber on increasingly steep slopes, we have found that this model now accounts for some 80 per cent of the harvesters that we sell. An even distribution of weight also minimises pressure on the ground, which is important for reducing environmental damage, especially when harvesting in softer terrain.”

Juha Inberg, Ponsse
Juha Inberg, Technology and R&D Director, Ponsse

PRODUCTIVITY, RELIABILITY AND ENVIRONMENTAL VALUES

Inberg explains that besides ergonomics and comfortable operation, the motivation for R&D in forestry machinery includes pressure to improve productivity, energy efficiency and reliability.

“A high machine-utilisation rate and reliability under all conditions – from the biting cold of Siberia to the sweltering heat of Brazil – are naturally essential, and we should also minimise fuel consumption. The latest releases in our model ranges are also largely setting the standard under increasingly strict emissions regulation for diesel engines in Europe. Interest in biofuels, bio-oils and eco-friendly cooling fluids has also increased, influencing trends in engine technology.”

Inberg notes an increasing worldwide emphasis on greater environmental responsibility, even in bidding-stage specifications.

The entire Ponsse range was re-launched in 2015 with a completely new design and appearance. The leading star of the new range is the Scorpion, which has won awards for innovation and design. The company has already shipped more than two hundred of these stateof- the-art harvesters.

The company’s basic harvester range currently comprises a total of 21 product families. All products are manufactured to order and customized with an individual selection of requested features.

Production line at Ponsse

FIRST STEPS IN THE INTERNET OF THINGS

Even though the forest machinery industry already has long experience of applying information technology and data communications, Inberg feels that this is still only the beginning. Digitalisation and the much-debated Internet of things promise massive potential.

“It should be possible to make more detailed use of the information available from forestry machines, not only to support the operations of machinery manufacturers and forestry companies, but also to serve the needs of our own servicing network and R&D. Such information is still used only to a limited extent for purposes like developing preventative maintenance solutions,” Inberg says.

Ponsse also has many machines under comprehensive servicing agreements that make the company responsible for servicing customer machines until they have operated for a certain number of hours.

“One interesting idea would be a dynamic servicing concept, whereby the machine reports its condition in real time. These reports could be combined with weather information and other details, enabling us to work out the right time for servicing. Obviously this would depend on the availability of local data communication links. Networks are not always as highly developed as they are in the Nordic countries.”

Production line at Ponsse


FREEDOM TO DREAM

Inberg feels that an effective innovation culture fundamentally depends on the complete freedom of team members to dream up and implement technical solutions without excessive micromanagement.

“We have a long in-house tradition of R&D work done by a highly experienced and capable team. My own managerial style also gives people plenty of scope and responsibility, without constraining innovation under preconceived stipulations. The Scorpion design is yet another good example of how innovation involves taking risks. This is the only way to develop anything that is completely new.”

Inberg also believes that it is important to make sure that everyone has a common and clear vision of where the company’s product and technology strategy is going, and that information is made available to everyone transparently. The shallow hierarchy at Ponsse helps to strengthen staff motivation and encourage teamwork. Inberg explains that a new rule on employee inventions that was recently introduced at the company also provides an additional incentive to creative thinking. This rewards staff members for each employee invention report, patent application and patent secured.

“Working as such a close-knit unit here in Vieremä, we can sometimes have difficulty identifying the requirements of customers in various countries quickly enough to be able to feed these ideas into the innovation process. Here I think the most important thing is to have genuine and meaningful access to customers, visiting them regularly to get first-hand information.”

To back up its innovation work, Ponsse also arranged its first hackathon event this spring, inviting all interested designers and other stakeholders with an interest in forestry machine technology. The aim of this event was to find fresh ideas for the use of information technology from the point of view of machine operators, and of fleet management and servicing.

“This also illustrates our innovation culture, insofar as we are willing to listen to new concepts and completely unconventional ideas, even from people who do not work with forestry machines on a daily basis,” Inberg explains.


 



Responsible forestry from start to finish

Juha Mäntylä, Metsä Fibre

From wood sourcing and harvesting to the final product, Metsä Fibre insists on promoting responsibility throughout the value chain. Independent forest certification advances this process, not only by ensuring the origin of wood and safeguarding forest biodiversity, but also by respecting the rights of the people who work in the forest.

Executive Vice President Juha Mäntylä of Metsä Forest explains that increased use of pulpwood, for example when the Äänekoski bioproduct mill begins operating, will require the company to pay even greater attention to issues of corporate responsibility and the ecological sustainability of the forest. The condition of lush wooded areas, baked slopes and decaying trees left standing is crucial for maintaining forest biodiversity and conserving endangered species.

“Issues of responsibility become tangible when a tree harvester moves over the terrain and its operator makes decisions. Even when valuable natural sites have been marked off in advance, for example, decisions in logging areas quite often have to be made one tree at a time, and so the operator becomes a crucial link in the process,” Mäntylä says.

He explains that the concerns of Metsä Group over harvesting technology include ensuring that harvesters are increasingly energy-efficient, and that the transportation process never loses sight of the ongoing need to reduce energy consumption. Efforts are also made to minimise the impacts of harvesting on the terrain.

“The latest innovation in this field uses laser scanning technology developed in Finland to gather more data on logging areas before operations begin. This provides precise details of such aspects as how wet the ground is, enabling us to direct the harvesting process more effectively and avoid damaging the terrain and water system.”

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT METSÄ FIBRE’S SUSTAINABLITY PERFORMANCE AT WWW.METSAFIBRE.COM/EN/SUSTAINABILITY

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