Lean Machine

How automobiles and a highly-organized personality turned Matti Kärkölä into an advocate for lean manufacturing.

Fortaco's Operational Development team is all about cultivating a zero-defects manufacturing culture where improvement is the norm. And they know that the most important variable in the manufacturing equation is people. So if you want to improve, you'd better have the right team.

The newest member of the OD team is Matti Kärkölä. Joining Andrzej Wrona, Mateusz Kożuch, Jaroslav Kocik, Dominik Stępień, and Kamil Zdeb, Matti is the sixth team member, but the first from Finland.

Suomen kieli

With several thousand employees operating across a dozen business sites, "English is of course Fortaco's main language of communication," says Kärkölä, "but it's always easier for people to be involved in making change if they can do it in their native language.” As a native Finnish speaker, part of Kärkölä’s role is to serve as OD’s chief evangelist in Finland.

He brings much more to the team than language, of course, and OD team leader Andrzej Wrona has referred to him as a natural leader. “That’s very nice to hear,” says Kärkölä, “though it’s very difficult to praise oneself.” Beginning in his student days, he’s often found himself in leadership roles. “When necessary, and when I can bring added value, I’m willing to help with things that haven’t been formally assigned to me.”

From automotive to off-highway

Once upon a time Kärkölä worked as an auto mechanic. An interest in cars led him to the automotive engineering program at Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences. "I was interested in car tech, but the work opportunities in that area seemed to be as a car inspector, a supervisor in a car repair shop, or selling spare parts. These didn't appeal to me, but I learned that I loved manufacturing."

Kärkölä did an internship with Fortaco in 2018. He later authored a Bachelor’s thesis for Škoda Auto on production and logistics, after spending several months at a Škoda factory in the Czech Republic. “I worked with a team whose job was to track parts for production, figuring out where they are when they'll arrive. Škoda has amazing processes to solve these problems so that production is never stopped."

Since joining Fortaco full time, he's spent time at a Toyota factory in Derby, England, and has received internal training to work with steel fabrication and lean production management. Since Fortaco benchmarks itself to the automotive industry, this experience is critical. "It’s all in the name of working more like the automotive industry and less like a smithy," says Kärkölä.

Operations Expansion in Narva

Great news to our old and new customers - Fortaco Estonia expands its capacity again.

Fortaco Estonia OÜ and Systemair AS the owner of the real estate housing Well Technology OÜ have signed an agreement where Fortaco Estonia OÜ expands its operations into the Well Technology building.

The extension creates additional 8.000 m2 floor space for Narva Business Site operations, allowing us to serve the old and new customers and also create a workplace for approx. 40-50 new employees in the beginning.

The plan is also to invest approximately 7 MEUR in an advanced production specialization line with prefabrication equipment, welding robots, and CNC-machinery centres, including painting.

Fortaco is a flexible and reliable strategic partner for steel fabricated components in Europe and this extension is a great confirmation on it.

Read the whole press release here.

Szilvia Sándor’s Homecoming

When Fortaco’s Szilvia Sándor joined the Jászberény team it was a bit like coming home.

“Life is sometimes strange,” says Szilvia Sándor, Finance Manager for Fortaco Group’s Jászberény business site. Strange, because joining the company in 2020 was something of a homecoming for her: Szilvia's father worked in the same plant for almost 40 years.

“The Jászberény plant has been around since 1951,” she says, “and before the multinational era my father was a turner and machine operator in the plant. I vividly recall spending summers at the factory’s holiday house at Lake Balaton. I remember lots of happy people together, warm water, and the weather was always perfect. It isn’t true, of course, but that’s how memory works. I also spent my last semester from university in the factory and wrote my thesis about Aprítógépgyár, the name of the Jászberény business site before Fortaco.”

2020: Not quite utopia

After supervising the move of an Electrolux factory from Hungary to China – and the elimination of her own job – Szilvia landed at Fortaco, as head of the finance department, in September of 2020. The factory was familiar, but the pandemic had made it less of the utopia she remembered as a student.

2020 had been a rough year. “Orders had dropped and production was at a low level,” she says. “We were working four days per week, instead of five, during that summer. We were experiencing losses and operating in a mode to build for the future.

But 2021 was different. “2021 was a recovery period for us. Production is still increasing, we won lots of new business with both existing- and new customers. The good news was that the value of orders was already higher than we could meet.”

Growing fast

In the second half of 2021, and in 2022, everything was looking up. “We’re staffing up, increasing machine capacity, which is challenging for us,” Szilvia says. “It was very exciting, but it was also a time to be cautious: growing fast needs extra attention.”

Szilvia says growth can be complicated. “Growth is easy if you just keep your prices, but you have to make sure growth is profitable. We’re seeing increased raw material prices, high energy prices and customers queueing for products. To be profitable we have to monitor ourselves carefully, choosing customers and products prudently.” Fortunately, she says, Fortaco customers understand that the post-Corona manufacturing environment is different and complex.

Getting the ‘right price’

Since Szilvia joined Fortaco she’s been able to build her team, as well, adding a chief accountant, finance assistant, and controller. Her team’s work is critical in this quick-changing environment, and they check financial results and do cost forecasts on a monthly basis. “There’s a plan,” she says, “and then there’s reality. The nature of business is that unexpected things happen – a machine will break down, or Corona will cause fewer workers on the CNC machine.” 

In 2022, her team implemented Fortaco’s Right Price Project. The project, already used in Fortaco factories, is an SAP development program which enables very clear margins both per project and per customer. “This program allows much more information to be collected at the product- and customer levels. It will ensure that we’re always offering the right price to our customers.”

The lake community

The house at Lake Balaton is still owned by Fortaco and, aside from some basic improvements, it looks very much the same as it did during Szilvia's youth. While she hasn’t visited the house, she still is very much looking forward to rebuilding what the house symbolizes to her: the Fortaco community.

“Corona and the year 2020 have done a lot to separate us physically,” she says. “People split up in order to not meet each other. We worked different days at the office so we wouldn’t interact. There was no Christmas dinner.” But the normal life was returning. “Corona was not easy from the point of view of team spirit. And I knew, we’re coming back.”