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Ponsse batting 9,000
Logging equipment manufacturer Ponsse recently marked an impressive milestone, producing its 9,000th production machine, and the company continues to be known for its innovation. Just ask Quebec logging contractor Rejean Girard, who bought #9,000, an ElephantKing forwarder.
By George Fullerton
Jean Trottier, sales director with Quebec-based equipment dealer Hydromec Inc., likes to tell people it only took him eight minutes to sell Ponsse’s 9,000th production machine.
“I got a call on my phone at 7:39 am on August 14 while I was driving to a meeting in Quebec City, and it was Ponsse’s North America rep, Marko Mattila,” says Trottier. “Marko explained he was in a meeting and they were discussing the ElephantKing forwarder that I had on order. It was going to be the 9,000th Ponsse machine, and Ponsse wanted to have a celebration around that machine.”
Trottier explained that there were several prospective customers for #9,000, but he had no confirmed buyer to give to Mattila at that moment. Then Trottier realized he was driving through the community of one of his prospective customers, Rejean Girard, and he asked Mattila if he could call him back in a few minutes.
As it turned out, Girard was driving toward Trottier on the same stretch of road, and they stopped for an impromptu meeting in a gas station parking lot.
“I told Rejean that the ElephantKing I ordered is going to be the 9,000th machine that Ponsse has built, and they are looking for a special customer to put his name on it. We cannot find a better customer than you!’’ explained Trottier.
“Rejean has a very good reputation as a high producing contractor, and along with his wife Kathy Lemieux, and their sons, they operate a very successful business. After we talked for only a few minutes, Rejean agreed he would purchase the machine. We shook hands and then I took our photo with my phone.”
Trottier immediately sent the photo to Mattila, with a note saying this is the customer for the ElephantKing. “Eight minutes had passed since Marko had first called. When he told the people attending the meeting that I had found a customer for the machine, they could not believe it; a machine could not be sold in such a short period of time. Mattila said his reply was, ‘When Jean says he has a deal, you can believe he has a deal. We now have a customer name to put on the machine.’
Trottier said it was a pleasure to accompany Rejean and his sons Christopher and Andy to the Ponsse factory in Vierema, Finland, to help celebrate the production of the 9,000th machine, to see the Ponsse factory and all people who work to produce such great machines.
The history of the Ponsse brand of forestry machines extends back to Einari Vidgren, who was born to a farm family near the village of Vierema in eastern Finland in 1943. Einari’s son, Juha Vidgren, the current chairman of the board of Ponsse, explained that growing up on a small farm taught his father the value of hard work, incremental expansion and changes to improve the family enterprise.
As a young adult, Einari obtained his own farm and when winter came and farming activities were reduced, he hitched the horse to sleds and headed to the woods to supply fibre to expanding wood processing industries.
Juha related that while farming offered little better than a marginal living, wood production generated cash to invest in farm improvements. One of those improvements was the purchase of a farm tractor in 1962, which not only improved productivity on the farm; it also served as a more productive forestry machine.
As industrial demand for wood increased, Einari realized the broader business potential in the forest industry, and became a harvesting contractor and built his crew to more than two dozen chainsaw operators. While the demand for wood expanded, Einari was frustrated by the poor reliability of farm tractors and early production skidders for wood forwarding.
That frustration developed into a personal challenge, and in 1969 Einari hired a local mechanic to help him design and build a purpose built forestry forwarder that would be productive and reliable.
There was a good deal of local speculation about Einari’s machine, and on launch day, a crowd had assembled to see his creation.
Finland has a long tradition of using dogs to track and locate game for hunters. At the time, there was a legendary dog in the Vierema region. This dog, while being a mixed breed with a low stature and notably unattractive, enjoyed an enviable reputation for strength, endurance and results. The dog was known affectionately as Ponsse.
When Einari’s creation emerged from the shop, a friendly voice deep in the crowd blurted out, “Well Einari, you have built a real Ponsse, haven’t you?”, commenting on the unconventional design.
With the name of the machine now coined, Einari put it to work and soon built a reputation for reliability and production: the Ponsse brand was established.
The Finnish government realized the need for productive forestry machines to support the growing processing industries. They approached Einari to see if he would build a new prototype forestry machine, which could be considered for mass production.
In 1970, with encouragement and financial support, Einari rented a building and hired technical staff, including a quality control manager. Among the first hires was a young engineer who was tasked to make detailed drawings of the various components of the machine. Ponsse’s early production was five machines per year.
In those early years, Einari made a point of directing his engineers to go to harvesting operations, to talk with loggers and machine operators to gain a clear understanding of the problems and challenges they were facing with their equipment. He wanted them to bring that information back to the factory, and develop technology to address the machine problems. That tradition of customer feedback continues to this day at Ponsse, and it continues to drive innovation.
By the early 1980s, production expanded and the S15 forwarder had established a reputation for productivity. By 1990, Ponsse was producing the S15 and an early model of the Ergo harvester. In the 2000s, equipment offerings were further expanded, and Ponsse was selling machines and harvesting heads across Europe, and in North and South America.
While Ponsse continues to expand their marketing globally, their headquarters and manufacturing base remains firmly rooted in the village of Vierema (pop. 4,000) in eastern Finland. Between 3,000 and 5,000 people visit the factory annually and in the main lobby they have the opportunity to look at the first production Ponsse forwarder, fully loaded with birch logs.
Ponsse President and CEO Juho Nummela says that Finland and Sweden continue to represent the major portion of the Ponsse customer base. While the European market for forestry equipment is currently slow, Russian demand for Ponsse gear is up, and they are seeing the North America forest industry recovering, increasing the demand for new machines in Canada and the U.S. Ponsse is also developing marketing opportunities in South America, China and Japan.
Ponsse’s marketing and product support systems vary, depending on the technological capacity and cultural influences in the country. In certain South American markets, for example, Ponsse offers a full service program to their clients, even to the point of fueling machines. In Europe and North America, Ponsse has centralized parts distribution centres and an ever-expanding dealer network.
The tour reveals that the Ponsse factory is remarkably clean and well lit, with very good air quality. The high level of order and cleanliness of the factory floor is taken to another level in the hydraulic assembly unit, where positive air pressure eliminates the possibility of dust contamination entering from the factory floor.
While Ponsse celebrates their highly trained and productive workforce, they also rely on advanced technology, including robotic machining and welding on certain components. And before a completed machine is shipped out to a dealer, it spends six to ten hours on a local harvest operation to ensure it is woods ready. Such was the case with every Ponsse machine that Rejean Girard has ever purchased for his harvesting operation in Quebec.
Rejean Girard and Kathy Lemieux purchased their first Ponsse machines, a Buffalo and a Buffalo King, in 2007. Their current harvesting gear includes a 1998 730 Prentice carrier and a Landrich carrier purchased in 2011, each equipped with a H7 Ponsse head. Girard operates in steep terrain and has historically operated with tracked machines. The Landrich was his introduction to Ponsse heads which he thought—up to that time—were too small to handle the mixed species wood he was harvesting.
“Rejean was so impressed with the H7 on the Landrich, he bought one for his Prentice,” says Jean Trottier. “He’s impressed by the speed and measuring accuracy of the head.
“In 2009, Rejean traded his Buffalo forwarder in on an Elephant,” added Trottier. “Their operation has exceptionally high production—they sort a lot of different products and they haul very heavy loads, so the bigger machine fits his operation well.
“The new ElephantKing (machine #9,000) will give them even greater load capacity and with big 750/50 x 26.5 tires, they can travel over rough ground a lot faster and easier. Where a Buffalo King travels at 2.5 km/hour, the ElephantKing can travel at 4 km/hour, and the ride is much more comfortable for the operator. The bigger machine costs more, but on rough ground it is much more productive and much more profitable for the contractor.”
The presentation of machine #9,000 had its own share of drama.
The North America forest media were enjoying a Ponsse factory tour which was scheduled to end at 1:30 pm, when they would join the factory shift change. All 400 Ponsse employees, including administrative staff, were to assemble in the yard with the 9,000th machine, along with the customer and the dealer. Around mid-morning, Trottier contacted Ponsse staff to confirm he had landed with the Girards at the regional airport, and they were on the highway for the one hour trip to Vierema.
At 1:30 pm, as the factory workers began filing into the backyard and assembling around the celebratory ElephantKing, Trottier, with a flair for the dramatic, placed a call to Ponsse staff to inform them he was lost in the Finnish countryside. Ponsse staff met the news with a roll of their eyes and an understanding nod.
As the last of the workers were moved into position for the celebratory photos, Trottier and the Girards burst on the scene and took their positions standing on the front bogie, accompanied by Ponsse’s Marko Mattila, for the grip and grin photo session.
As the camera flashes slowed and the grins were fading, Rejean rekindled the celebratory mood—and smiles all around—when he extracted a check from his shirt pocket, and handed it to Trottier, who, in turn, passed it on to Mattila. A class act, all the way!!
The history of Ponsse makes for a remarkable story, considering the current business managers and engineers are only the first generation following Einari Vidgren, who started the whole thing with a hand saw and horse, graduated to a chain saw and tractor—and through necessity produced his own purpose built forestry forwarder. That pioneering and entrepreneurial ingenuity remains at the heart of this truly global enterprise. Ponsse remains dedicated to their brand, their customers and innovating new technology. Like the equipment’s namesake dog, they continue to be renowned for their strength, endurance and results.
Ponsse harvesters on the production line at the manufacturing plant in Vierema, Finland. The Ponsse factory is meticulously clean, and well-lit and ventilated. True to the forest industry, it’s heated by a biomass plant located in the industrial park.
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