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.