Heidi Lehtonen

Citius, Altius, Fortius!

What sports and business have in common and how they’re applied at Fortaco.

By Heidi Lehtonen, Fortaco Quality Health Safety & Environment Manager

From sports to the factory floor

I’ve been involved in sports all my life. From the beginning, I have competed as an individual athlete and as a team member. Today I’m a group fitness instructor and part of a coaching team for swimmers ages 16 and older.

At Fortaco, I lead the QHSE-team in Kurikka, Finland. My team is responsible for maintenance, customer- and supplier claims, internal quality, safety management, and the operational excellence of quality assurance.

The principles of competitive sport are something I bring with me to work at Fortaco, as well. People who’ve taken sports seriously know all about target setting and strategy — it’s the very key to their success. They set long-term targets and train systematically according to a plan to get there.

But no matter how carefully you plan, life will surprise you from time to time. These are the times when we must react quickly and focus on containment to get back on the track. To be a champion, we must learn from failure and move on.

Consistency transforms average to excellence

Long-term development needs a solid base before details can be fine-tuned. It means daily rituals and common processes that every member of the work community is familiar with. Why? Because rituals coming from the spine free up space for the next step: for a new skill, for better performance, for thinking, and continuous improvement. They enable climbing to the next level, step by step.

It takes time to create rituals. Shortcuts are not permitted and will result in efforts that are quickly forgotten. Human beings are lazy by nature and always try to find the easiest and the most comfortable way of doing things. The possibility for human error is always present and must be eliminated by quality assurance and operational excellence throughout the whole chain.

In both sports and business, great results are never the accomplishment of one person alone. Doctors, trainers, massage therapists, family, and friends are all needed to take care of athlete’s overall well-being through coaching, administering tests, analyzing, motivating, and simply being present. Equally, collaboration between functions creating cross-functional competence is necessary to build the best possible quality culture and zero-defect mindset.

Team power and a successful attitude!

Quality is a process of teamwork, where every team member has their own important role to support the goal of the team. The most valuable player is the player who makes the most players valuable. By respecting that, and combining our strengths and different perspectives, we multiply success and bring more value to processes.

The equation “result = competence x motivation x attitude” holds a lot of wisdom. Most important, I think, is to understand that we are all responsible for our own attitude. What can I do today to make tomorrow better? How can I support and help my colleague? Because what could be more motivating than a team of co-workers you know will play toward a common goal?

There are many similarities between sports and quality management. Both aim for continuous improvement and finding the most effective method to achieve a desired result. As a QHSE Manager, I do my best to ensure our team is competent, motivated, and has a successful attitude.

Top Down Safety to Change Daily Habits

If the CEO doesn’t make safety a priority, nobody else will, either. If you don’t believe Lars Hellberg cares, ask him to show you his thumb.
Anyone who watches “The Simpsons” knows that Charles Montgomery "Monty" Burns, owner of the Springfield nuclear power plant, is famous for safety violations: rat infestations, cracked cooling towers (held together with chewing gum), and leaky pipes that spill radioactive waste.
But what Mr. Burns doesn’t know is that safety cannot be disconnected from quality, delivery accuracy, and productivity. This was proven dramatically in the 1980s by Paul O'Neill, the CEO of Alcoa. By making safety its primary focus, Alcoa reduced its accident rate to 10 percent of its previous level. And with record safety came record profits.
Safety is an easy topic to pay lip service to: everyone has seen a faded safety poster on a workplace wall. To bring about safety requires not only constant focus, but also a CEO who truly believes in it. So how does Fortaco CEO, Lars Hellberg, convince his employees that he truly cares, that safety isn’t just a passing fancy?
True believer
Hellberg places safety first – literally before quality. “For the last six years I've opened every group leadership meeting with safety,” he says, speaking of the meetings which connect Fortaco's 70 top leaders. “If there's been an accident then the site leader explains what happened, why it happened, and how it will be prevented."
Second, Hellberg is known to stop production if he sees anything unsafe. He was recently in Hungary where a third-party supplier was installing an overhead crane. “They were lifting the new crane’s boom with a mobile crane, and wooden blocks had been inserted inside the band around the boom. There was a guy at each end to steady it. I stepped in and stopped it. If the boom had teetered, it would have fallen and seriously hurt one of those guys. People probably saw that it wasn’t safe, but thought it wasn’t their problem since it was a third-party supplier.”
Finally, Hellberg has insisted on uniform, cross-company safety standards in Fortaco factories. “We used to have differing standards by site and country. Some required hard hats, some didn’t. Over the years we’ve created one consistent standard in how we look at safety. This is to remove all excuses.”
One of those standards is that site leaders must alert Hellberg personally when there’s been an accident, which is always a difficult call for a Business Site Head to make. “If it’s a call they don’t want to make,” Hellberg reasons, “they’ll enforce safety procedures so that the call isn’t needed.”
The missing digit
Much like a Head of State visiting a hurricane disaster area, Hellberg frequently travels to factories after accidents. He asks questions and takes photos with his smart phone. And then he often shows his thumb.
In 2008, he and his son were using the bucket of a tractor to drive fence posts into the ground for a corral at his farm. They'd placed a wooden block between the post and the tractor bucket, which Hellberg held in place. But the block split when struck by the tractor. "A few tons of pressure is like a guillotine," he says. The top of his thumb was gone and was too mangled to sew back on. "I was wearing gloves but it didn't matter. I thought I was smart. I was more worried about getting the pole straight than I was my personal safety. Stupid me!”
Whether on the farm or factory floor, he says, “we’ve got to be prepared to say 'stop’. I ask 'Would I feel safe doing that job?' People say, 'Yeah, but we’re in a hurry.' I think that’s a bad excuse. The supervisor, the leader, has to change the mindset and behavior – a stop is more honorable than pushing deliveries and causing injuries.”
Zero accidents
Lost time injury frequency, LTIF, is the industry measure for accidents, with an accident defined as an injury that causes an employee to miss more than one full day of work. Currently, Fortaco’s accident rate is below the Finnish industry average but still not on par with the best customer performance figures.
Since Hellberg joined the company at the end of 2013, the rate of accidents is in decline, but he’s still not satisfied. Like Alcoa’s Paul O’Neill, he’s shooting for zero accidents. "You can say the group should have zero accidents. But it’s better to say each function should have zero, because ‘the group’ isn’t as relevant on the factory floor. To talk about your own functions makes it a personal engagement and you get buy-in.”
After telling his thumb story to a visiting journalist, Hellberg opens his phone to show photos. One image shows a massive welded structure a meter above ground, with staircases present at both ends. “We had a guy jump off this because he thought it would be faster. He could have used the stairs, but instead he tried to save maybe five seconds. He strained his ankle and was out of work a few days. The stupidity here actually belongs to his superior, for not making sure the guy was trained enough.”
The not-so-secret safety formula
Hellberg knows that he can tell his thumb story until he’s blue in the face, but unless safety is truly ingrained in Fortaco’s culture, zero accidents will never be achieved. He believes the secret is using teams to get there by changing habits.
“At Komatsu, in Japan, they have inspectors that roam the floors noting safety violations. The inspectors report what happened, but they never pinpoint the individual. The supervisor is forced to call the entire team together, to get them thinking to identify and solve the problem. Komatsu knows how to use the team to change habits.”
“Think about sports,” says Hellberg. “The team is a powerful, self-motivating unit. They don’t need the coach to make them feel bad when they lose.” Fortaco is doing the same: Let teams pursue the issue from the bottom up, and Hellberg go at it from the top down.
Hellberg will likely never stop roaming the floors calling attention to risky behavior. “I recently saw a guy moving cut steel with a bare hand. I stopped him and insisted he wear a glove. The explanation I got was that ‘He’s been doing it 30 years and knows what he’s doing.’” Hellberg shakes his head. “We’ve still got work to do.”

Devil’s Advocate

Joanna Lesicka is Fortaco’s Group Controller. If she challenges you, it’s just part of her job.

Winter is coming. Well, eventually. Although an economic downturn hasn’t yet arrived, it’s Joanna Lesicka’s job to be ready for it.

As Fortaco’s Group Controller, Lesicka describes her job as “the bridge between all functions.” Reporting to the group CFO in Helsinki, she’s responsible for performance monitoring of five factories in the Steel Fabrication Business Unit, plus Group Sourcing and IT. She measures and controls financials and KPIs, and attempts to predict and steer future direction of development. Most succinctly, it’s her role to question the current state of things and push for improvements.

Culture clash?

In her role of Chief Questioner she's always pushing people to justify their current approach and consider new options. No one likes to entertain the notion that what they’re doing isn’t optimal, and Lesicka’s job is further complicated by challenging the status quo in cultures not her own.

Lesicka is responsible for five factories in four countries with employees from at least six different nations. “And add to that that I’m a woman in a male industry,” she says.

“I need to delicately make the point that just because I question something doesn’t mean I’m the enemy. I’m really there to offer support.” To do her job well, Lesicka has learned the nuances of communicating with the different cultures.

Speaking with nuance

“People in all cultures like to know what they’re doing well,” says Lesicka. “That’s just human nature.”

“If you’re talking to a Finn, it’s best not to propose a specific solution, but show your faith that they’ll come up with one.”

“Poles, on the other hand, like you to be direct and offer specific advice. They also expect you to follow up.”

“Russians are extremely hard workers. It pays to show pride in their work.”

“Hungarians, more than other cultures, appreciate great detail and regular follow-up.”

“It’s interesting that if I send the very same email to four countries I’ll get four different responses. But this can be a plus: these very same differences bring a variety of new ideas for a single situation.”

Universal challenges

If an economic downturn arrives, as many predict, it will impact all of the business. But even if winter doesn’t arrive, there are plenty of other universal challenges.

One of those is that many countries in New Europe are no longer low-cost countries. “Poland and Hungary, for example, have salary inflation of about 10 percent,” says Lesicka. “We have to offset that with productivity improvements and automation. There’s also very low unemployment, which means a small rise in pay elsewhere can mean welders disappear. And with white collar jobs, we’re finding we need to build flexibility in contracts to accommodate seasonal fluctuations.”

Having originally graduated from a technology university with a specialty in finance, Lesicka revels in the challenges of a controller. “I love controlling, because it’s not just about analyzing numbers. With finance, you’re mostly attempting to predict the future based on the past. But in my job to push for improvements I’ve got to connect the functions across the entire business, with the added complexity of cultural differences.”

The Disciple of Data

Change has been the one constant in the job of Veera Gordijevski, Fortaco Estonia’s production director. Over the last two years the factory has added 200 workers, several welding robots and CNC machines, and introduced tens of new products.

Coping with dramatic growth requires change, and in a modern production environment change isn’t most effective when it’s dictated. Shop floor personnel need to buy in to change and be convinced there is a better way. To make a convincing case, Gordijevski doesn’t consider herself a “person of words.” Data is her tool of choice.

Study the processes
Gordijevski's approach has been to study processes and understand deviations, employing data analysis to isolate the root cause of a problem.

When Fortaco’s Narva factory found itself in the situation of actual orders exceeding customer forecasts, Gordijevsky and her team froze forecasts for two months in order to analyze the lines and verify capacity. "We studied the workflow of every line, balanced resources, rotated people, and eventually optimized the processes. We built a dashboard tool which gave us a global view of production so we didn't lose information." It may sound simple when expressed in a few sentences, but implementing change in a period of heavy growth required a large amount of discipline.

"When I started as production director in 2017 I made the decision that I would take the time to investigate processes myself. I didn't want to take anyone's word for how something worked, and I learned that employees themselves don't always have an accurate view.”

‘Is it possible we’re not right?’
Middle management had worked with the processes for many years and were accustomed to doing things in a particular way. Gordijevski views it as her job to pose the tough question: Is there a possibility that you are not right?

“Sometimes a problem gets identified,” she says, “but that problem represents only a small part of the root cause. In order to convince middle management that change is needed, you’ve got to have the numbers.”

A good example was with pre-fabrication in small machining centers. "There was the belief that we had 400 hours of delays, and we needed to add labor and produce 24/7," says Gordijevski. "But when we carefully analyzed delays and associated hours, we saw that 300 of those hours were due to other mistakes in the process. There were only 100 hours of real delays. We used data to prove it wasn't a backlog and we did not add an additional shift."

"I'm not a person of words," says Gordijevski. "I am confident when what I say is based on figures. I dislike long meetings where lots of time is spent speculating about what might be the problem. Meetings can only give you a hint of where the problem might be and help you figure out ways to gather data."

Sowing doubt
Gordijevski is the first to admit that she can’t be an expert on everything. “I once thought that as production director I should understand all detailed technical elements. But I’ve realized it’s more important to lead.”

“I have great experts on my team. My role as a leader is to rely on these experts. I can use data to sow a bit of doubt, to make them question the way we’re doing things. Should it really work like this? How else might it work? If you can raise doubt in the mind of those doing the work, get them to consider that the way we’re currently doing it may not be the best, then they will find a way to improve it!”

‘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.”

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.”

The Welding Inspector - Bad Guy or Consultant?

How to make the grade as a Wärtsilä supplier – and how to remain one.

Approximately 100 days per year, Raimo Mäki-Reini is on the road visiting more than 40 different countries around the globe. He’s not a tourist: if you happen to find him at the Eiffel Tower, it’s probably because he’s curious about the quality of the welding.

Mäki-Reini works for Wärtsilä, and he’s mostly found on factory floors where he inspects, consults, advises, and trains. He’s there to decide which suppliers qualify to weld structures for Wärtsilä, the Finnish corporation which manufactures and services power sources and equipment for the energy- and marine markets.

A thousand suppliers?
Mäki-Reini works in Wärtsilä’s Energy Solutions division where they build engines for power plants to power cities and heavy industry. Although Wärtsilä has 18,000 employees in 70 countries, it concentrates on engines and buys in most non-moving and welded parts from suppliers. Mäki-Reini doesn’t know exactly how many suppliers Wärtsilä has but estimates there are likely more than a thousand. He shows a visiting journalist a map charting Wärtsilä suppliers. The world, reduced to the size of his laptop’s screen, looks as if it’s suffered a measles outbreak: there are dots everywhere, sometimes on top of each other.

The quest for quality
Over millions of cycles, Wärtsilä engines vibrate and turn on their base plates. The welding in the base plates must be near perfect: any defect will cause cracks. Yet since base plates weigh tens of tons, they are preferably welded locally in the faraway lands where the power plants are constructed. It’s to Wärtsilä’s advantage to use as many local contractors as possible, but not every supplier can meet Wärtsilä standards. It’s Mäki-Reini’s job to find those who can. He visits every current and potential supplier about once per year. “I have a quality capability checklist,” he says. “If a supplier meets a minimum 70 percent of the criteria then they can be accepted with some corrective actions. 80 percent is considered ‘good.’”

The news isn’t always positive. Mäki-Reini holds up a document far enough away that the journalist can only make out red and black text. The journalist leans in for a closer look but Mäki-Reini pulls it away. “Sorry, top secret,” he says. The journalist notes that there is a lot of red on the page. “Would it be fair to say that half of potential suppliers don’t make the cut?”

This year 70 percent of those inspected have been approved. “It’s a very good year,” Mäki-Reini says. “Last year it was only 55 percent.” He’s pleased the number is so high but notes that the relationships aren’t necessarily forever — suppliers can be cut. Quality sometimes falls when a company’s management changes. “In 2014 we had a supplier that was selling us steel structures. But when I visited in 2017 they had a new managing director who wanted to save money. They’d fired the welding coordinator, maintenance was poor, and they met only 56 percent of our requirements. I had to reject them.”

Welding is art
“Welding is an art,” says Mäki-Reini. In order to make money, the supplier needs quality at what Mäki-Reini terms “the correct level” — not too poor, but not too good. “We don’t waste money on perfection; just fulfill the requirements.”

Visual inspection results may be fine but a destructive test is conducted – a fillet weld test piece is broken to make sure the root has melted. “Welders have to follow the WPS [Welding Procedure Specification] and this is supported by a WPQR [Welding Procedure Qualification Record],” says Mäki-Reini. But he notes following the directions isn’t as simple as it might sound. “There are in total 164 standards in welding which amount to around 8,200 pages of text.”

Mäki-Reini will break apart a fillet weld and examine the heat affected zone, as well as the root. “Most cracks start at the root. If there’s a flaw in the weld, the product will crack in under a couple thousand running hours.”

Welding is communication
“Many companies only check visually,” Mäki-Reini says. “They don’t know any better. And it sometimes happens that management may not understand the requirements and push the welders to work faster and faster.”

“In manufacturing there’s sometimes a communications gap between the office and the factory floor. ‘Upstairs they didn’t tell us anything about that,’ I’ll hear. The gap is physical, too, because the office is literally upstairs.”

Mäki-Reini has a lot of respect for welders and he knows what they’re capable of. He’s qualified twice as a welder, though after 32 years in the business his eyes are no longer what they used to be. “Welders are good and they’ll solve the problem, but the result isn’t always satisfactory. Welders may not know what’s behind the drawings, and so they need support from the welding coordinator. To produce our products requires a team like an orchestra. If one musician is playing poorly then the result is poor.”

Bad guy or consultant?
In order for a factory orchestra to play to its full potential, Mäki-Reini occasionally finds himself in the role of consultant. “I organize three-day training sessions where we bring together management, the design department, and the workers. We do it in the local language so nothing gets lost in translation.”

Other times he simply offers a new perspective on an old problem. “I bring fresh eyes and I can see things that they cannot see.”

But is he welcomed as an inspector? Is he loved or hated? “Depending on how they view things, suppliers either see me as the bad guy or a free consultant,” he says. “The companies understand my job.”

But if a supplier is required to meet 70 percent of Mäki-Reini’s requirements, the journalist asks, how are welding inspectors judged? The answer seems to be results. Mäki-Reini has been with Wärtsilä for five-and-a-half years and so far there have been no cracks caused by poor welding. “Knock on wood,” he smiles.

Big Data and Million-cycle Machines

Big data is put to use more and more to offer customers a better service. But in the off-highway industry it will soon drive the way products are designed and manufactured.

by Dr. Rafal Sornek, Senior Vice President, Fortaco Technology

In 1998, the American car insurance company Progressive launched its Snapshot program. Drivers could opt to place a self-contained autonomous electromechanical sensor (telematics) in their car which would send Progressive a picture of the driver’s habits. In the beginning, the program was used to reward safe drivers with discounts.

In 2013, the company went a step further and used collected data to penalize bad drivers. They measured speed, time spent driving, and recorded incidents of hard braking. The data could tell Progressive whether a driver took risks and whether he (or she, though data shows women are safer drivers) paid attention.

The Progressive case is perhaps the most famous example of how a service company utilized big data to dramatically improve its consumer offering. It’s not often that big data is used to improve manufacturing – but that day is coming soon. I should know: it’s my company that’s pioneering it.

Your million-cycle forklift
In today’s off-highway vehicle manufacturing business, vehicles are manufactured for the most demanding use case. The forklift in your warehouse, for example, likely contains steel components which enable it to run millions of cycles, operating 24/7 to offload thousands of pallets.

But it’s also quite possible that your business doesn’t require that. Perhaps you use your forklift once a day when the truck comes with your delivery. You start it up, offload one pallet, and park it for the rest of the day. Do you really need a forklift with a fatigue life made for the million-cycle customer? What did you pay for that forklift? And how enthusiastic are you about paying to offset the design costs that are not really applicable to your needs?

Today, the steel components in your forklift are made for the most demanding use case. But they won’t be for long. Because big data is changing the way we manufacture.

The digital toolchain
Much like the Progressive Corporation gathers information about its drivers, big data and the digital toolchain enables us to gather information about forklift users.

The fleet management system provides our OEM customers with data about how their customers are using equipment. Is it once per day? Or is it thousands of times per day? Is the end customer utilizing the product’s full lifting capacity? Or only 10 percent of it? Are they utilizing the forklift’s extension boom, or simply taking something off a truck and putting it on the ground?

Next we quantify the data. What portion of our OEM’s customers are light users and how many are heavy? Is it a normal distribution, or are there peaks? If we find that 90 percent of customers are light users, how do we translate that into product architecture? How many product versions do we now need knowing what we know?

The era of data-driven product design and production is not far off. In fact, at Fortaco we have already begun the process. This year we were the recipients of a research grant for a project we call RapidSteel. It's a 1.6 million-euro research project, half financed by us, half by the Polish government, which will be used to pioneer data-driven product design for one of Fortaco's top OEM customers.

It's a three-year project. This year we’re using data analytics to simulate production options. Next year we'll build the pilot line which can handle multiple product versions. In year three, we will validate those prototypes in the field.

Customization is coming
I believe that this type of manufacturing in the off-highway industry is inevitable. Whether we like it or not, the reality is that we’ve got to learn how to manage it.

Even in the automotive industry the legacy of Henry Ford is coming to an end: No longer are customers satisfied with any color they want as long as it’s black. Sure, mass production makes sense for cars that carry you from point A to point B –car sharing fleets, for example. But premium cars will have highly-customized “car content,” from the engine to the entertainment system.

Last year, Porsche said that electric vehicles are among the reasons its suppliers will have to work with a modular approach. Electric off-highway equipment will present particular opportunities for the use of big data. Since electric vehicles are powered by expensive nickel batteries, every kilo reduction in the weight of the steel structure results in huge long-term savings for the customer.

No one knows how fast the development of electric equipment will proceed, but we do know manufacturers will be required to provide both diesel and electric offerings in the near- and medium term. This doubling of product offerings can only be made efficient through the use of big data.

Communication is key
The Progressive Corporation’s use of data was so innovative that it changed an entire industry. Competitors eventually discovered that if they weren’t able to offer a similar product, they’d become a niche player serving mainly reckless drivers.

What has already happened in the insurance industry is happening now in the off-highway industry. The modular factory is coming, and big data is its driver.

In the past, OEMs sent us a drawing. This was the communication of a solution, not a need. In this new era, big data is communication – a seamless flow of information which removes opinion or conjecture from product design and manufacturing. It’s communication that cannot be ignored, and communication that allows Fortaco to deliver solutions that serve both your customers and your bottom line.

Still Waiting for the Robot Rapture

The popular press may lead you to believe that the Singularity is right around the corner. But a Fortaco welding engineer explains why robots used on big structures must dramatically improve before they’ll completely replace human welders.

by Jari Hakalahti, QHSE Manager & Welding Engineer

Manufacturing professionals who are not welding engineers — often those who have been justifiably amazed by functioning robot lines –sometimes talk about robotic welding as if it's incredibly simple. Just throw the parts in the air, press a button, and voilà, your finished product is ready to ship!

At Fortaco, we enthusiastically use robots whenever they make real sense for our business, yet our behind-the-scenes vantage point forces us to think in sober terms. The robot revolution may one day arrive: robot welders which (who?) understand, learn, and adapt to changing conditions while they weld. But before this day comes, there are a host of issues which need to be sorted out.

Can you match this, bots?
At our factory in Kalajoki, Finland, our 40 welders produce around 7,000 tons of welded structures every year, among them 32-ton steel base plates on to which ship engines and generators weighing over 70 tons will be fastened. Given the millions of loading cycles and vibrations our welds will endure over the ship engine's lifetime, there is not much room for error.

For a robot to match human quality, it will need to see air gaps and immediately adapt. It will have to be sensitive to environmental conditions and immediately compensate. And of course it will have to figure out how to get to those hard-to-reach places and corners where a bot isn’t currently up to the job, or can’t be repositioned without major human effort.
Another challenge is tack welding. Since robots can drive over tack welds and may cause defects underneath, humans are necessary to ensure even quality. Assuming a robot could tack weld, you'd also need another robot who could position the parts perfectly. Yes, this can be (and is) done for simple products and huge volumes, but it doesn't make sense for Fortaco’s biggest structures over 15 meters long and weighing 32 tons.

A challenge to suppliers
The size of the structure presents other problems. If you want robots to weld them, you need perfectly-cut and pre-bent parts to avoid gaps and weld stress deformation in big structures.
Also, as any hobby welder knows, a large part of good welding is positioning the parts before you begin to weld. And even beyond the realm of robotization, we see that most new welding technologies demand very accurate parts and plate fitting. Parts manufacturers may wish to take this as a challenge, as the success of robots is partly in their hands.

It’s payback time
For robots to match human performance is not impossible, but it is expensive. Optical sensors, temperature sensors, cameras, sound sensors – all these are required to approximate the human welder. Not only are these items expensive, but they take up massive amounts of space.
Please don’t view me as a Luddite – I’m very much in favor of robotization. I love that robots don’t take coffee breaks and that they can turn a part in a second without the use of a crane. It’s just that I work with big structures and robots every day. I know their limitations.
In many Fortaco factories we have products that suit well to robot use, and we will no doubt continue to invest in robot welding in the future. [SD1] But since we’re also running a business, we have to be very careful about which robots we invite into our lives.
From an investment point of view, we cannot wait an eternity for a return on the investment. With robots, the investment is huge and the payback time is long. There’s always the risk of investing today in yesterday’s technology, and recouping only a fraction of your original investment. So before we invest, we need to be convinced the robot will make a meaningful contribution.

Sympathy for the bots
Perhaps it’s time we humans show some sympathy for robots. After all, sometimes it’s we humans who are holding them back. Robot manufacturers, interested in sales, often provide numbers that are too optimistic. For us, the best measure of efficiency is how much welding wire is used in one hour. A human welder uses approximately one-half to two kilograms per hour, depending on the welding process used. For the jobs robots can do, they use four to ten kilos per hour, depending on the set-up. It’s great efficiency, but the main issue (which is usually forgotten in comparisons) is that it’s the only part of the welding phase that can be automated — welding set-up and finalization must still be done manually. Therefore, the over-the-moon numbers some robot makers give you for the overall performance boost are not always accurate.

Also, robots can literally suffer from prejudice. Take welding around notches, for example. In some conditions, robots can do this work well, but some humans still oppose their use. Even when robots achieve the required state of development, humans may still make decisions about their use using outdated information. It takes a while for information about their proven track record to circulate. Poor robots. We’re lucky they don’t yet have emotions.

As professionals, the best thing we can do is to attempt to understand the real applications of robots, accept that they are not the universal fix-all in manufacturing, and not demand too much of them. From time to time, we might even offer a little bit of robot love.