A Robot’s Grind

Fortaco Kurikka’s grinding robot keeps people happy: it lets welders weld, keeps costs under control, and ensures uniform quality.

Ossi Antila and Tomi Metsä-Ketelä pose with Janne, the grinding robot

There’s a reason it’s called “grinding.” Because it’s awful work. For welders, grinding is dirty, noisy, can cause upper limb injury, eye injuries, not to even mention the hazards associated with the tens of kilos of steel dust it generates. And it’s a lot of work: there are close to 200 seams in each of the roughly 3,000 Fortaco cabins produced in Kurikka each year for top OEMs in mining, forestry, defense, and the material handling industries.

Grinding is dirty, thankless work. Better a robot do it.

But you can’t get around grinding. Grinding removes welding sparkle, oxide, and scratches. Cabin surfaces must be protected against corrosion, with the surface sealed flat for painting. A robot can reduce the takt time of the welding line by 30-40 percent, meaning significant gains in efficiency and capacity.

Tech talk for engineers

It’s not every robot that can give you those results. Fortaco’s grinding robot station is from Flexmill and uses MillControl- and Tool Time Manager software. The robot itself is an ABB Irb 6700-150/3.20 series.

Flexmill and ABB technology.

RFID tags are used to enable the robot to recognize cabin models, essential for highly-complex manufacturing operations like Fortaco’s, where customers require much customization. When operating, the robot can choose from up to 10 tools needed to do the job, and it operates unmanned, holding three cabins on the line. For cabins not welded on the line, there is a side-feeding feature to enable their grinding. At the end of the line is a two-axis manual control manipulator for use in inspection, with the outfeed done by forklift.

Fortaco’s grinding robot at work on the cabin of a Komatsu forwarder.

But beyond the tech, it’s important to note that the robot’s benefits extend to the HR department. “The grinding robot speeds up some processes and frees workers' hands for other tasks. This, in turn, reduces the need for recruitment in this sector and makes work easier for us in the HR department,” says Sonja Koskela, People & HR and Employer Branding Specialist at Fortaco.

So why doesn’t everyone have one?

If a robot can offer such impressive results, even in a fairly customized production environment, why doesn’t every manufacturer have one? Well, because they’re expensive.

Ossi Antila, formerly Team Leader for Product Development, and now Chief Engineer for Product Development, concedes the robot required major investment, but was simply the next step in production development. “For us, with the quality requirements of world-class cabins, this robot was the next logical investment after a takt-based welding line.” 

Robots of this caliber are “quite rare in the business,” says Tomi Metsä-Ketelä, Sales Manager for Kurikka. “But they’re also a requirement to for us to both continue to grow and to maintain the consistency and quality that our customers expect.”

I christen thee, Janne’

“If this robot makes such a significant contribution,” a visiting journalist asks, “does it have a name?”

A roomful of engineers and technical experts are at a loss for an answer, but rally driver Ari Vatanen, a Fortaco ambassador present to examine the robot, takes matters into his own hands. “I christen thee, Janne,” he says. “And I’m happy to be your godfather.”

But Janne pays no attention. He continues to grind.

Fortaco Group invests in Steel Fabrication capacity

Cornerstone Ceremony in Gliwice, Poland 🧱

The cornerstone ceremony of our greenfield investment took place today in Knurow, Poland.

With the state-of-the-art technologies for steel plate processing, product specialization, and process know-how, we meet the current and future customers’ requirements.

"I am happy to announce that after comprehensive preparations, we have started construction of the new plant. The production facility located in Knurów will be of strategic importance to further support our customers by offering additional production capacity and unprecedent productivity based on a high degree of automation and operational efficiency", says Lars Hellberg, President & CEO of Fortaco Group. 💭

The ceremony was attended by the key representatives of Knurów city authorities headed by President Adam Rams, Katowice Special Economic Zone authorities with President, Dr. Janusz Michalek, and representatives of key suppliers. Fortaco Group was represented by Lars Hellberg, President & CEO and Jaroslaw Szytow, Managing Director for the new business site.

New factory in India

Fortaco and TATA AutoComp unveils cutting-edge cabin facility.

Together we will provide safe and ergonomic vehicle cabins to the Indian and Asia markets. Safety cabin manufacturing is made by TATA AutoComp and it is based on Fortaco’s cabin design and manufacturing technology.

The new factory is located in Pune, and the inauguration ceremony took place on 7 November 2023 at TATA AutoComp’s Composite Division Manufacturing Facility. The representatives from key customers, TATA AutoComp, and Fortaco attended the event.

The product offering includes low- to high-volume operator cabins for Indian agriculture, construction equipment, and other off-highway applications and also for exports.

”Our collaboration with TATA AutoComp has allowed us to leverage our technical capabilities to create the cabin facility that sets new standards in the industry. We are proud of this milestone, which emphasizes innovation, customer satisfaction, and quality. The collaboration between our teams has been fruitful, and we are confident that tractors equipped with these cabins will make a positive impact on e.g., the farming community”, says Lars Hellberg, President & CEO for Fortaco Group.

Read the press release, click here.

An Analog Guy with Digital Skills

Jaroslav Kocik can’t stop being lean – whether at work or at home.

Jaroslav Kocik has been lean all his life, organizing, reorganizing, and doing things a little bit more efficiently each time. But it wasn’t until he became an engineer that he understood that lean was a concept with a name. He loved it so much he became a Six Sigma Green Belt.

In 2015, he joined Fortaco in Holíč, Slovakia, as a Project Coordinator, became a Quality Leader, and joined Fortaco’s Operations Development team in 2019. His current role calls for total dedication to production flow and optimization both in Holíč and beyond.

“There are digital guys, and there are analog guys,” says Kocik about Fortaco’s Operations Development team. “I mostly focus on analog, but I possess digital skills, making me kind of a hybrid.” Being a hybrid has advantages. It means he can transition easily between the two worlds, taking tools from one to apply in the other. “I use Power BI to collect and make sense of production data. I design 3D production models and then use a virtual reality plug-in that allows me to climb inside them.” These cutting-edge tools aren’t just for the Operations Development team, either. “We want to use VR for training machine operators, in particular painters,” he says. “Before they work on a real product, we can check their hand movements, teach the right sequences, and ensure we get the right thickness of paint.” 

Jaroslav makes both decorative and functional items. This is a picture for the family’s wall made using a milling machine.*

Ideas like these have already paid off significantly in the Holíč factory. Before 2019, cabin production was done in cells. A cabin was started and finished in a single cell. The most complicated cabin took about 20 hours to make, an average one 10. “Such a long, stationary process allowed waste to be hidden,” he says. “Our team decided to divide the process into a takt time baseline system using small units, where we could more easily identify any problems.” Currently, cabins move through a sequence of six cells. “When we started, the first cell’s takt time was 45 minutes. Today, it is 38 minutes.” Kocik recognizes that slashing production time at a single work station by around 20 percent using the same number of operators is a remarkable achievement, and it’s bolstered his confidence to look for more opportunities.

A pencil holder Jaroslav made for his daughter using his CNC milling machine. It's 2mm plywood glued and painted.

After four years of changes, factory turnover increased dramatically. “We have two welding robots now, we added a second assembly line, we’re adding more takt-time-based lines, and building a new production hall,” says Kocik. “Everyone now can see that efficient production means that we can grow and expand. Holíč is a very exciting place to work.”

When you’re a true lean practitioner, you never leave your job at the office. At home, Kocik is a DIY enthusiast who owns a small milling machine, laser cutting machine, and a 3D printer. But his tendency to make everything efficient doesn’t seem to annoy his wife. To the contrary, his family encourages his vice.

Jaroslav wasn't satisfied with the sharpness of his kitchen knives (he was sharpening by hand), so he made this knife sharpener using a 3D printer. The design (available on the web) uses magnets to keep the knife at the proper angle.*

He has made a variety of decorative objects and toys, but also produces objects that help organize the house and make everyday life better—see the photos in this article! “I get a lot of ideas from my family,” he says. But he also seems like a guy who gets a lot of ideas no matter where you find him.

On the Road with Ari Vatanen

Three days on the road (and factory floors) with Fortaco’s co-driver, Ari Vatanen.

Ari wants to drive. Can you really say no when a World Rally Champion and four-time Paris-Dakar winner wants to sit behind the wheel of the rental car? After all, he’s not only a better driver, but we might learn something, as well. Besides, it’s an Opel Insignia. How fast can it go?

We’re in Finland, on an 800-kilometer road trip from the Tampere Subcontracting Trade Fair to spend a day in the Fortaco factory in Kurikka, before moving on to Kalajoki, and then back home. Although he’s behind the wheel, Ari is a co-driver for Fortaco, an expert on safety and teamwork, something he picked up not only as a champion rally driver, but with ten years spent in the European Parliament.

Safety at 90 percent

Just north of Tampere, Ari is already making safety observations. What started as an four-lane motorway has shrunk into a two-lane road with lamp posts that are close to the highway. “I regret that my country is doing safety at only 90 percent,” he says. “If a motorcyclist spills here he can easily lose his life against those posts. It doesn’t cost that much extra to add a guard rail.”

In 1985, Ari’s Peugeot hit a mudhole going flat out in the Rally of Argentina, his seat broke, and the car rolled multiple times, leaving him with fractured lumbar vertebrae, a broken tibia, and life-threatening internal bleeding. Both he and his co-driver were medevacked, and he spent 18 months in recovery. As the rally drivers say, “To finish first, you first have to finish,” and Ari takes safety seriously. “You often don’t need more rules,” he says. “But you need to take seriously the ones you have.”


It’s only a two-hour drive, but Ari wants his pulla, the sweet roll that is an integral part of the Finnish kahvitauko, or coffee break. “A road trip just isn’t complete without one,” he says. Ari likes his coffee. He drinks about seven cups per day, and he is a connoisseur of Finnish roadside coffee—“let’s avoid ABC truck stops,” he says. To this visiting journalist, all Finnish roadside coffee tastes the same—watered down and nearly diabolical. But Ari can taste the difference.

He’s recognized in the coffee shop just as he was at the Tampere trade fair. The journalist asks him if it’s not tiring to be mobbed like a rock star, fans wanting to relive an old memory or be photographed with him. “It’s quite the opposite,” he says. “When I was driving, I was just chasing my own dreams. But somehow it inspired others, too. All these people are so sincere that talking with them actually gives me energy.” 

Ari may know automobiles, but he perhaps understands people even better, which is one reason he’s visiting Fortaco factories. The company is growing, but its management knows a factory is nothing without a motivated team.


When we arrive at the Kurikka plant, a man in a welding cap is waiting at the gate. His name is Ari Siirtola. “My son saw on the internet that you’d be here today,” he says. He presents Ari with a white pen. “I rode my son’s moped to work today for you to sign. He has no idea I’m doing this. He’ll be surprised enough that he won’t be able to concentrate in school.” Ari loves the idea. He pens a message to 14-year-old Elmeri on the Suzuki’s gas tank.

Welder Ari Siirtola, driver Ari Vatanen, and Elmeri’s moped.

Inside the factory he meets Hanna Voutilainen who is in her fourth career. She worked as a cleaner, a caterer, switched to nursing, and now she’s a welder. Under the guidance of Fortaco’s welders, Ari welds his name on a cabin part. He meets Teemu Lamminmäki, a forklift driver who has owned 57 Fords. Why so many? Did he wreck them? “I only crashed two,” he laughs. He just loves Fords, something Ari can understand, since his first professional drive was a Ford Escort RS1800. Ari also meets Jarmo Kasari, who has competed in over 30 rallies as a co-driver.

With Hanna Voutilainen and the cabin part he signed. (Don’t worry. It goes on the wall, not in a customer’s cabin.)

Everyone seems to have a personal connection to Ari, and it’s time to move on to the next factory. But as someone who’s risked his life inside of vehicles, Ari has some appreciation for well-built steel structures. He’s got plenty of questions himself, and we’re not going anywhere quickly.


The next morning, after stopping at a Shell station for a coffee and pulla, we arrive at the Kalajoki factory. General Manager Jyri Paavola greets us at the door. Inside, his management team gives us a safety briefing, politely explaining that Kalajoki is now 1,500 days without an accident, and they don’t want us to ruin it.

Kalajoki is known for its welders who assemble 35-ton trays that carry Wärtsilä engines. On the shop floor he meets a welder, Kai Saukko, and in conversation they discover they have a mutual friend in nearby Merijärvi. Right then and there Ari tries to call their friend, Johannes, but he doesn’t pick up. “The world is not small, but Tuupovaara is very big,” says Ari, naming his hometown. We are almost 500 kilometers from Tuupovaara.

Kai and Ari, trying to reach mutual friend Johannes on the phone.

Another welder, Aaro Heikkilä, drives a BMW and wins Ari’s approval—Ari is a BMW ambassador. Ari strikes up a conversation with Gabor Toth, originally from Hungary, who plans to attend the Kokkola rally that evening to watch a friend race. “He drives a Lada,” says Gabor, “but it’s got a Toyota engine.”


Before leaving, Ari films a welder recruitment video for Fortaco. “I’m Ari from Tuupovaara,” he says, removing a welding helmet, “and I just joined Fortaco as an apprentice welder.” Ari likes to joke around. “If it’s too serious,” he says, “it won’t connect with people.” His sense of humor is self-effacing. He has described himself as a “clown” or a “chauffeur.” But this clown chauffeur is a consummate professional. Whatever he’s doing, he is fully engaged.

He’s behind the wheel again, this time moving toward Tampere. He talks about all those he met who made an impression. “I’d like to see Elmeri’s face when he sees that moped.”

There are dozens of speed cameras on the road. He’s a safe, courteous driver who follows the law, though he thinks the government should more clearly post speed limits if they’re going to put speed cameras so close together. He tells a story about a ticket his friend recently received, the Finnish policeman dressed as a mushroomer, holding a plastic bucket in one hand and a speed gun in the other.

But at some point he can’t resist showing us what the Opel Insignia can do. “Say you’re on a two-lane road and a driver in the opposite lane overtakes and occupies your lane. Moving to the right is always better than a head-on collision, and you can almost always find a place.” He wants to show us what the car’s electronic stability control can do, how it allows you to turn the wheel while braking heavily, pulling into a bus stop in just a few meters when you’re going 100 kilometers per hour. “You don’t need any special rally skills,” he says, standing on the brake and turning right into a bus stop without burning any rubber. “You just have to be mentally prepared for it and know the car can do it. Modern cars are amazing.”

Ari is ready for more. But our stomachs aren’t quite sure. So he drives onward. It’s just a few kilometers until our next pulla.