Words and images by Samora Chapman
Ponsse recently held an international press visit and product showcase at its headquarters in Vieremä, northern Finland. The two-day event was attended by forestry journalists from around the world, who were told the fascinating story behind the company, given insight into product developments, a tour of a logging site to see the machines in action and a strong dose of traditional Finnish culture (involving good food, hot saunas and terrible gin!)
Traveling from Helsinki to the countryside in the north, a mosaic of ancient forests and icy lakes stretch as far as the eye can see. Nestled between the forests and open fields are traditional wood houses and log cabins, painted in a distinctive red-ochre hue. Inside these homes children are still told creation stories that revolve around trees.
With a population of just 5.5 million, Finland is one of the world’s largest producer of pulp, paper and cardboard and one of Europe’s largest producers of sawn timber. Finland belongs to the northern coniferous forest belt and about 50% of the trees are Scots pine, followed by an assortment of species including Norway spruce, common birch, downy birch and silver birch – Finland’s national tree species.
The forest industry is the main source of income for many regions in Finland and accounts for approximately 20 percent of all Finnish exports.
Wood is a defining feature of the landscape, economy and an integral part of Finnish culture. Intrinsically connected to the forestry narrative in Finland is Ponsse – a global leader in the field of forestry machines based on the cut to length method.
The Ponsse story
At the heart of the story is the somewhat mythical character and founder, Einari Vidgrén. Einari was born in 1943 to a logging family in the small northern village of Vieremä.
By age 14 he was working in a logging camp – felling with a crosscut saw, extracting and transporting timber with a horse-drawn cart and enduring weather conditions that sometimes reached -50°c!
As he grew up, Einari proved to be ambitious and resourceful – at 19 years old he got a loan to buy a Russian tractor and trailer and started his own forestry contractor business. By 1970 he had one of the biggest contracting businesses in the country, with 27 employees and six machines.
At the time, the local industry was was mostly utilizing Valmet and Volvo machines.
“The machines were often breaking down and Einari always had two men fixing machines,” explains the animated Juha Vidgrén, son of the founder and current chairman of the board at Ponsse.
“When a machine broke down in the snow, he couldn’t send an email or phone the manufacturer! So he travelled many miles searching for parts and expertise.”
Frustrated with the equipment, Einari teamed up with his brother in law, a blacksmith, to build a machine that would last longer than two weeks without breaking down.
“It took nine months to create, just like a baby, and when it was finally revealed it looked like shit!” exclaims Juha. “He had no money for paint and the wheels were really far apart. The ugly machine was named after the sturdy, ruffian, mixed-breed hunting dog in the village called ‘Ponsse’.”
Despite its strange appearance, the prototype machine received positive feedback and Einari founded Ponsse in 1970 (with no education, engineering skills or money!)
He built a 300 m2 factory in Vieremä with support from the local municipality and hired Jouko Kelppe, a young engineer from Salo. The first serial PONSSE forwarder, the PONSSE PAZ, was produced in 1971. In 1974 Ponsse hit the international markets and soon the company was building around six machines per year. Ponsse gradually gained global renown for its reliable, lightweight, high-performance forwarders.
Some seminal moments in the growth and development of the company include:
• 1986: launch of first harvesting head.
• 1987: launch of first harvester.
• 1993: Ponsse becomes first company to install PC-based measuring device system on their machines.
CEO and president Juho Nummela commented on the business today: “Technology is rapidly changing and automation is constantly increasing. The big question is – when will we have a machine with no operator? And the answer is – I don’t know! But automation is always increasing, so full automation is within the realm of possibility…”
He went on to say that the Ponsse vision is to continuously develop product technology through radical innovation. Ponsse creates a wide range of specialized products that are suited to each customer’s needs, from small to large operations.
The business is growing rapidly with a record turnover of 577 mil € in 2017, with a major investment in R&D (16.9 mil €). The main markets are Finland, Sweden, Russia, Germany, France, North and Latin America. A total of 1600 people are employed globally, with 12 subsidiaries and over 30 dealers.
There are currently 15 Ponsse machines in South Africa, with York timbers being the biggest customer.
Ponsse factory – a grand opening
The press visit coincided with the grand opening of the Ponsse factory extension. The factory has been hailed as the most modern and automated forest machine factory in the world.
The latest factory investment is the largest in Ponsse’s history, expanding the production facilities from 2,700 m2 to 4,000 m2. This investment marks a leap forward in terms of production technology.
The opening was attended by Minister of Economic Affairs Mika Lintilä.
“We are witnessing the next major shift as robotics is gaining ground in the industrial sector,” he said. “A vast amount of new expertise is being introduced. Over one hectare of robotics, 3D modeling and remote programming all raise Ponsse’s competitiveness.”
The factory produces six machines per day and employs 600 people.
Into the forest
The international press was taken into a damp and ancient pine forest to see the exceptional harvesters and forwarders in action. A number of existing machines have been upgraded with new technology that has improved efficiency and durability, reduced environmental impact and revolutionized the operator’s experience in terms of comfort and control.
New Ponsse Cobra Harvester
A brand new machine showcased was the Ponsse Cobra (it’s an old name but a new machine), which has a very powerful six-cylinder, high-torque Mercedes-Benz engine, and a 210cc working pump for the crane and harvesting head. The crane options are a durable C44+ parallel crane or a C5 telescopic crane, which offer long reach, speed and power even with the big H6 harvesting head. It’s an excellent machine for general purpose operations, thinnings and clear-cuts. The crane has a max reach of 11m with the H6 head (compared with the bigger Scorpion which has a max reach of 10m). The fixed cabin is big and comfortable, with excellent visibility. It will go into serial production in spring next year.
New Ponsse Fox Harvester
The Fox has also been updated with a totally new front frame for better durability, and now fits the new stage 5 Mercedes-Benz engines for low emissions. The high-performance four-cylinder engine and high pulling power, along with the robust hydraulic frame lock make the Fox a stable machine capable of extremely high propulsion.
The eight-wheeled harvester is an agile thinning harvester for difficult terrain and soft conditions. The driving forces of the Fox are the accurate and powerful crane, good visibility, machine stability and low surface pressure.
The PONSSE C44+ parallel crane is powerful and easy to use, and is positioned close to the cabin to ensure excellent visibility of the working area. The crane has a reach of 10 m with the H6 head, and a reach of 11 m with the smaller H5 head.
The new technology and improved hydraulics offer longer service intervals – from the previous 1,200 hours to 1,800 hours.
Ponsse Bison Active Frame Forwarder
Much excitement surrounded the brand new Ponsse Bison Active Frame Forwarder, which represents a great leap in technology for forwarders.
It has a carrying capacity of 16 tonnes and a constantly variable drive transmission (CVT) – a first in forwarders, which provides immense power. The main talking point was SPEED. There’s no shifting of gears between 0-20 kms/hr (as it’s automatic) and it’s by far the fastest forwarder on the block. The Buffalo King and Elephant King are the biggest Ponsse forwarders with 18 tonne capacity, but they reach a max speed of approximately 4 kms/hr when fully loaded. Productivity is bound to improve with the new Bison.
The large load space combined with the powerful and easy-to-use loader ensure efficient load handling at all work sites. Loader options include the K90+ (7.8/10 m) or K100+ (7.8/9.5 m).
The Bison has a brand new hydraulic system (two hydraulic pumps), which feed power to the loader and grapple, resulting in good control and fuel economy.
The Bison is equipped with the Ponsse active frame levelling system (as in the Scorpion) for maximum driver comfort.
PONSSE K121 Loader
The Elephant King forwarder is now equipped with a new K121 loader – the strongest and most powerful loader on the market for the biggest forwarder model on the Ponsse range. All the pipes and hoses are now inside the structure as opposed to on the outside so they are well protected. The grapple is a huge 0.5m2 model.
The K121 has 8m or 10m reach and exceptional slewing torque and lifting moment.
The new loader combines high lifting power, increased reach, and a new type of loader geometry that is easy to control. It enables shorter loading and unloading times, and makes it easier to work on sites where large trees must be handled and on working on steep slopes.
Ponsse Scorpion King Harvester
Last but not least, the Ponsse Scorpion King Harvester is something of a crown jewel in the Ponsse fleet. The machine is hailed for its incredible visibility and steering, stability, and high performance.
The Scorpion King is now equipped with brand new stage five Mercedes-Benz engine – the future of low-level emission technology. The Scorpion King also has a new bigger capacity two-circuit hydraulic system, which saves fuel and gives more power to the machine.
The eight-wheeled harvester has a unique crane solution that offers excellent visibility in all directions, enabling smooth and flexible working whatever the conditions. Operators are able to see the trees to be felled, felling direction and position of pile.
The incredible stability of the PONSSE Scorpion King comes from its eight wheels and active stabilisation system. The patented stabilisation system is based on detecting the direction and position of the crane, and then pressing the rear frame in the direction of work. Pressing the rear wheels against the ground and the weight of the rear frame improve the machine’s stability significantly when working on one side – including when the machine is moving. In addition to cabin levelling, stability helps with providing ergonomic working conditions for the driver.
It’s available with a C50 crane and a large variety of harvesting heads including the H6, H7, H7euca and H77euca.
Ponsse Manager allows easy monitoring and control of daily operations. The comprehensive and user-friendly tool helps in maintaining harvester fleet and increases the efficiency of work planning and reporting. Ponsse Manager provides real-time, comprehensive data on your fleet – both performance and sites. Manager can be used conveniently on a smartphone, tablet or PC. Forest machines equipped with data transfer and GPS transmit the data automatically to an Internet-based reporting service.
A new programme, the OptiMap2, (which has been in production for several years) was unveiled at the field day. It is used to gather data from the harvester on tree species, assortment, and coordinates of trees, cubics and number of pieces that are cut. It also maps the routes of the harvesters and identifies where the harvesters are in-field. This software can be used to manage volumes, coordinate transport and loading, in-field navigation and mange orders.
Visit www.ponsse.com for more info.
*Historic images supplied