Going forward, with some steps backwards every now and then

Finland, Vieremä

Engineer Jouko Kelppe and welder Osmo Saastamoinen manufacturing a forwarder on 30 March 1977. (The Savon Sanomat archive)

Engineer Jouko Kelppe and welder Osmo Saastamoinen manufacturing a forwarder on 30 March 1977. (The Savon Sanomat archive)

“Ponsse accomplished a small miracle”, was the headline on the Iisalmen Sanomat paper in October 1986. The Ponsse company had started serial production in a new product area of harvesters, whereas they had previously concentrated on forwarders. It was reported that the company’s philosophy of light weight being an asset would continue with harvesters as well. The weight of the Ponsse 520H harvester head had been brought down to 450 kilograms.

A few years earlier, the paper had reported that Ponsse was a pioneer in ‘soft technology’. A new type of machines had been introduced to the market that enabled harvesting timber during all seasons, even on soil with poor load-bearing capacity. Thanks to the light alloys used in the frame structures, the weight of the forwarder had dropped below 10,000 kilograms, without compromising the tractive power.

Jaakko Piiroinen, the head of the national forest administration authority at the time, found this small powerhouse to be an important forerunner for new terrain-friendly forwarders. The Ponsse S15 was the first forwarder with a light alloy frame in the world.

Engineer Jouko Kelppe–who came from Turku, Finland, to Vieremä to assist in forest machine engineering–participated in designing these accomplishments of the time. He was Ponsse’s first product development engineer, who started working at Ponsse in 1973.

Kelppe remembers well the awakening of the environmental movements of the 1980s and their impact on forest machine design. “The S20 model, which was developed around the time of the tenth anniversary, was a heavy and large machine from the start. At the time, environmental concerns had just emerged, and the model was only used for a short time. The next model had aluminium and other lighter components.

“That was precisely our goal, getting the weight below 10,000 kg. The machine was great, and it reached fine results in tests carried out in swamps and on snow. The manufacturing volumes increased, and ten units were produced per year”, Kelppe says. Aluminium was later abandoned and replaced with high-strength steel. Environmental friendliness became one of the cornerstones of design work.

“I can remember being once asked by a green-thinking man at Restaurant Petteri in Vieremä, how can I participate in designing machines that destroy the forests. My answer was, exactly because of that: our goal is to design machines that will cause less damage.”

“During the design work, we were always thinking about how to make the machines more environmentally friendly, using wide tyres and low surface pressure, and so on.”
According to Jouko Kelppe, Ponsse’s history is full of steps forward–even if some steps have occasionally been taken backwards as well. The history includes quite concrete examples of this. When the Paz forwarder, the first machine to be brought into serial manufacturing early in Kelppe’s career, was started for the first test drive, it only moved backwards.

The same situation repeated 26 years later, when the S15 Bison forwarder, completed in 1997, was tested. Throughout the Ponsse history, steps forward and product development have always entailed that practical work provides the best advice, and mistakes lead to new ideas.

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