Fortaco invests in increased steel fabrication capacity at Fortaco Estonia OU

Fortaco has started a capacity extension project of over 10 million EUR in Narva, Ida-Virumaa. The investment will consist of a 10.000 m2 factory extension and new equipment. The construction work begun in July 2019 and it is scheduled to be finalised within one year. The investment is supported by the Estonian government.

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First half of 2019 - Summer Greetings

The first half of 2019 has been exciting, as usual. The world offers higher focus on the environmental care, higher degree of digitalization and intensive geopolitical discussions like Brexit, global versus regional, trading tariffs etc.

When entering year 2019 Fortaco was cautious in respect of market development. We have experienced a mix of strong growth, stabilization and some decline among our customers. The outlook for the second half of 2019 looks promising, we are expecting to continue delivering a profitable growth. Fortaco offers services from concept to manufacturing, in addition we see the value add for our customers of being a strong technology and R&D provider. Fortaco has launched an EU financed steel fabrication project to develop future production materials, manufacturing processes and product features.

Fortaco participated Bauma exhibition in Munich mid-April, world’s largest off-highway exhibition with more than 620.000 visitors during five days. At the exhibition Fortaco launched the redefined branding concept to further enhance Fortaco’s core values of excellence and reliability. Our stand was visited by the current but also new customers and suppliers. We discussed about Technology, Vehicle Cabins, Steel Fabrications and Vehicle Assemblies.

Fortaco has reached an important momentum, we have announced a collaboration with Tata AutoComp Systems with the aim to offer safety cabins for off-highway vehicles in India, based on technology, design and specifications developed by Fortaco. Our joint strengths will build a strong foundation for the future.

I am proud to be a member of the highly experienced people team across all operations at Fortaco. To meet with customers and suppliers gives continuously energy to explore how we can together re-shape the industry and make it more innovative and a safer workplace. Fortaco has Trust in Tomorrow.

Enjoy the summer with your families, nearest and friends to charge batteries for the exciting second half of 2019.

With best regards,

Lars Hellberg
President & CEO

‘How strong you are inside’

Larissa Shabunova, Managing Director of Fortaco Estonia, talks frankly about industry- and personal challenges.

"Fantastic growth" is how Larissa Shabunova characterizes today's business situation in the off-highway industry. It’s not only overall market growth, she says, but growth due to the success of Fortaco's most important customers winning more market share over the last five years.”

According to Shabunova, Fortaco Estonia's most difficult challenge is balancing customers’ rapidly changing demands vis-à-vis capacity limitations, ensuring delivering on required lead times, right quality, and right price.

Fortaco challenges
To handle a 40-percent growth in net sales over the past two years, Fortaco Estonia has purchased and put into use several large CNC machines and welding robot stations. At the same time, it has added 200 new employees to its Narva factory team. In Ida-Virumaa, a county with a total population of only 140,000, this has not proven easy.

"We've been proactive, always looking a few years ahead," says Shabunova. Her team works closely with vocational technical schools, training the best students at Fortaco while they're still in school and hiring them when they graduate. Fortaco Estonia also works closely with the county's unemployment agency to train and hire new workers. And, of course, Fortaco hires from the open market.

"Our salaries are competitive on the local market," she says, "but this is not the main driver. We're working hard to be an attractive employer thanks to the way we treat people, plus how we establish social- and development programs, support and train workers, fund worker education, and even support their children's sports initiatives."

Fortaco Estonia also has an impressive track record for promoting from inside its organization, and there is no better reference case than Shabunova herself.

First female plant director
Shabunova started her career in an assistant position and constantly worked on self-development. Holding a pedagogical education from Narva, she added an MBA from the Estonian Business School in Tallinn, and found herself in HR- and finance roles.

Working with Nordic companies she found the European work culture motivating. In 2014 Shabunova was named Managing Director of the Fortaco Estonia plant. It was not easy being the first female plant director in the history of the factory. "The factory had 70 years of history with men with strong personalities in the top position," she says. "And these men always had a technical background." She says it was a psychological challenge to be the first woman leading a heavy industry company, but any doubts about her ability dissolved when she showed year-on-year positive results in the factory.

Abilities tested
Shabunova’s leadership abilities were critically tested in crisis situations. Recently, the core problem haunting Fortaco Estonia was related to capacity planning and machinery availability challenges. "We took a holistic view on the customers’ forecasts, putting all forecasted and non-forecasted demands into one software. We were amazed how many non-forecasted requests we got in the end – for example product modifications, new products implementation, new product development, engineering change requests. It meant overall demand was much bigger than original forecasts and, at the same time, problems with machinery from time to time reduced capacity.”

Shabunova buckled down and focused on leadership and execution. "You must find the root cause of a problem and attack it. You plan and then you make sure the planned actions are properly executed.” After a few months, her team started to see positive results. After six months, she says results were excellent. “Results were good enough that nobody asked any more questions!”

Don’t fear a challenge
Shabunova is a non-technical person in a highly-technical job. Yet she says that can play to her advantage. "There is benefit if the leader has a technical background, but there are also disadvantages. You might be tempted to dictate what should be done. For me, however, I rely on my people and give them the opportunity to use their skills. I empower them. And we are very successful technically speaking."

Shabunova realizes that as factory director she not only occupies a high-profile position at the plant, but in the entire community, as well. She frequently finds herself in front of young women who are faced with making decisions about their own futures. Her advice: Don’t run from a challenge. "Men are used to challenges. But women’s first reaction may be 'Oh, I won't cope.' My advice to them is to be braver."

Take the chances life offers you, she says. "My credo is that it's better to take the opportunity. If you don't try it, you'll regret it your whole life. Take it. Give your maximum. You don't yet understand how strong you are inside."

The Economics of Safety

India has always been a source of vast wealth. In the 18th century, before India's deindustrialization at the hands of the British Raj, it held over 24 percent of the world's wealth. Today, India ranks second worldwide in farm outputs. Agriculture employs 50 % of the Indian work force and contributes roughly 18 % to country's GDP. India is a market to be reckoned with, and a great opportunity for companies with meaningful experience to contribute.

Your grandfather’s tractor
If you want to get a sense of tractors in India, do a Google image search using the term “tractors India.” The cabinless machines may make you nostalgic for your grandfather’s farm, the open air and the smell of the harvest.

“Some companies are still producing tractors introduced in the 1960s,” says Aki Komulainen, Fortaco's Director of Cabin Technology, “and that’s because they’re very good machines for their purpose: simple, robust, easy to service, and proven in the field.” Small tractors make sense in India, where the average farm size is estimated to be 1.15 hectares, and there is not a culture of farming collectives where equipment is shared across multiple farms. Government policy also serves to keep farm size small and encourage family farming.

New regs, new cabins
But as India reasserts itself on the world stage, a culture of safety is on the rise. In the next few years, new safety regulations are coming into force for newly manufactured tractors. “No one yet knows exactly what the new regulations will call for, but we can be sure they’ll include European-style ROPS and FOPS,” says Fortaco’s Komulainen, referencing roll-over protection and falling-object protection. “And because of the recent rise in family car comfort in India, farmers are also demanding air conditioning in tractor cabins.” The new cabins will minimize vibrations and noise, include air filtration systems for pesticide handling, and be delivered at a cost significantly lower than in Europe.

Typically, a cabin for the Indian market must be delivered for around 1,500 euros, versus a European cabin which could easily cost ten times more. “But a one-to-one comparison here is not appropriate,” clarifies Komulainen, who notes that a typical Indian cabin is a drop-on cabin with no floor structure, pedals, or heating unit. “However, cabins for the Indian market cannot be stripped-down European cabins. They must be specifically designed and manufactured for the purpose to meet all needed requirements.”

Local partnership
In September 2018, Fortaco and Tata AutoComp Systems Limited signed a memorandum of understanding. Fortaco will provide technical expertise, cabin know-how, and design competence. Tata will provide the manufacturing facilities near the city of Pune in western India, home to many global OEMs.

“The tractor market in India is estimated to be 700,000 units per year,” says Komulainen, “and a good partnership like this is the key to growth in the market.”

Beyond agriculture, other off-highway businesses in India are also experiencing growth. According to Construction Week, manufacturers in the construction and mining equipment market have enjoyed double-digit growth. Aki Komulainen says Fortaco is also looking at the construction market, participating in the last Bauma expo to develop construction contacts in India. There are plenty of Indian OEMs, plus European manufacturers are showing clear interest in the Indian market.”

Bringing flexibility
India continues to compete neck and neck with China for the title of world's fastest-growing large economy. In 2018, India’s economy improved 23 spots in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking.

It’s a dynamic market waiting to be served. “Local manufacturers often make cabins for only one specific customer, or they are limited by geography,” says Komulainen. “Fortaco’s 30 years of experience mean we can bring real flexibility to the market.”

Fortaco signs Agreement with Tata AutoComp India

Tata AutoComp signs an agreement with Fortaco Group - aims to manufacture safety cabins for off-highway vehicles in India.

Tata AutoComp Systems Limited, India’s leading auto-component conglomerate and Fortaco Group, the leading European strategic partner to the heavy off-highway equipment have signed an agreement, where in Tata AutoComp will manufacture Safety Cabins for off-highway vehicles in India.

Read the Press Release

Fortaco teams took part in charity run in Wrocław

For the fourth time Fortaco teams have participated Company Run, which took place 13th time in Wrocław. This is the charity run, organized for employees of all size of companies in Poland. In addition to improve physical activity, the charity run is arranged for helping handicapped kids.

Over 400 companies and 10 000 runners took part in this event. Four teams from Fortaco took the challenge. Link to an official web page: (in Polish).

Fortaco factory in Kurikka is non-smoking

Fortaco’s factory in Kurikka is a non-smoking area since 1 January 2019. Smoking is forbidden in all factory area. This applies to all Fortaco employees, our customers and other stakeholders visiting our facilities. There is one dedicated place outside of factory area where smoking is only allowed.

Fortaco is encouraging employees to stop smoking. Occupational health care professionals are providing support, and Fortaco gives financial compensation to nicotine replacement products.

Health and safety are the top priorities at Fortaco!

4th International VDI Conference - Connected Off-Highway Machines

The 4th international VDI Conference “Connected Off-Highway Machines” will take place on 14 – 15 May 2019 in Dusseldorf. Fortaco will also be there, you are welcome to visit our stand No. 6 and meet with Aki Komulainen, Director Cabin Technology, Raphael Dubiel, Sales Director Central Europe & Benelux and Frank Elert, Sales Director Central Europe.

Conference is aimed at engineers, designers and specialists from mobile machine manufacturers and suppliers in the off-highway industry. Conference provides a professional forum for all experts working in the field of connected off-highway machines, automation and IT for mobile machines to exchange experiences and ideas.

See you in Dusseldorf 14-15 May!

Thank you for visiting us at Bauma 2019

We would like to thank you for visiting us at Bauma 2019. Bauma is really the heart of the industry. The show was a success again, the best place to meet with customers, partners and colleagues within the industry.

Once more - thank you and see you again in Munich in 2022!

Not Ready for Robots (in High-Stress Structures)

Robots may soon dominate the service industry. But heavy industry still requires welding skills only humans possess.

“Robots weld. They don’t think.” Wärtsilä Inspection Manager Raimo Mäki-Reini succinctly delivers his verdict when asked how quickly the robots will begin welding structures for his company.

How soon robot overlords will put humans out of jobs has never been a more popular topic in the mainstream media. In the service industry, it’s predicted that by year 2030 between thirty and forty-seven percent of humans will be replaced by robots. But welding is a different story.

Robot flaws
Steel base plates which house Wärtsilä ship engines and generators can weigh 32 tons. Add an engine and they weigh over hundreds of tons. This is not yet a job to entrust to robots. “I was amazed in the visual inspection,” says Mäki-Reini of the times he’s inspected robot work. “What beautiful welds! But when I broke them open they were terrible. Robots don’t notice air gaps.”

Tolerances are tight in Wärtsilä’s business. Material tolerances for welded plates are +/- 0.5 millimeters; cutting tolerances +/- 2.0mm; assembly +/- 2.0mm; and expansion tolerance +/- 5 mm. “A robot can’t handle all of these,” says Mäki-Reini. “I’ve inspected nine suppliers who use robots and I’ve rejected all but one. The one I accepted made assembly planning, and they welded only the clear areas with a robot — only about half of the total welding job.”

“Manual welding, like Fortaco does it, is the only possible way of working to get the quality level Wärtsilä requires with the highest stress structures,” says Mäki-Reini. “However, Fortaco does use robots to do small parts of the larger job in areas where a robot can excel.”

A robot future?
Mäki-Reini does not totally dismiss robots but believes if they’re to have a future working for Wärtsilä, then good communication will be part of that solution.

“If you want to use robots, then step one is better defining where a robot can weld and where it can’t,” says Mäki-Reini. “Step two: program it so well that the robot can weld tough parts like the corners. Step three is better cutting control.

Perhaps the tolerance should be +/- 0.5mm and not 2 mm.” But tightening tolerances is not only tough — it also causes increased costs.

Whether robot welders will ever replace humans in large part depends on the development of a machine eye. “If we can give it clear requirements for what it must see, then it can determine what’s okay and what’s not okay. After that, however, you need an adaptive system. And then after that you need control, checking the work. You need a robot to do the control if possible. There is no equipment for that today.”

Wärtsilä is currently working with a company in Germany which makes machine eyes for automotive manufacturing. “But our situation is more complicated,” Mäki-Reini says. “Automotive robot welding tolerances are in centimeters. Ours are in fractions of millimeters.”

Humans rule (for now)
For the foreseeable future humans will rule the shop floor. “We have great manual welders and Fortaco is one of them,” says Mäki-Reini. “The secret to great welding is good routines to control process and clear requirements to the floor. When that’s done right the result is satisfactory. The result is the most important part.”

Mäki-Reini says if there’s one human challenge to address it’s creating welders themselves. “Young people don’t want to weld anymore” – he makes a gesture of typing on a keyboard to show the type of jobs the young prefer. “We could lose all our welders in 20 years, so our challenge is to improve robots to the point they can weld high-stress structures.”