Under the Hood at Kurikka

With both cars and factories, there’s often more under the hood than you’d imagine. Fortaco Kurikka Sales Manager Tomi Metsä-Ketelä demonstrates why.

Fortaco Kurikka Sales Manager Tomi Metsä-Ketelä has spent his entire life around vehicles.

It started with a moped at age 14. “My dad was too busy to fix it, so I learned to do it myself,” he says. He got his first car – a 1973 VW Beetle – at age 17, a full year before he could legally drive in Finland. In high school he worked as a tractor mechanic during summer holidays.

It was only natural that he’d study engineering at the university of applied sciences, graduating in 2002 and joining Velsa in Kurikka as an electrical engineer for Kalmar Cabins. By 2011, he was working as Sales Manager where his main focus was new customer acquisition. (The organization became Fortaco in 2013.) „We work with companies all over Europe to find new customers, and it helps when you understand mechanics. In the cabin business, it starts with design and development, and usually the tech team steps in early in the discussion. It’s quite common that our customers and visitors are also building things in their free time, so there’s a lot of common interest at the lunch table.“

A Mercedes inside a Chevy

„One of those visitors was a German gentleman I was hosting,“ says Metsä-Ketelä. „He’d worked for Mercedes practically his entire life and late in his career joined one of our suppliers. We finished our meetings late in the evening and I offered him a ride to his hotel. Walking into the parking lot, my car was the only one left on the lot and he was already laughing. I had a 1980s Chevy station wagon with a sticker on the rusty bumper reading Made in Detroit by Idiots.”

“When I started the car he knew immediately it wasn’t a stock V8 gasoline engine. He insisted we pop the hood, and he saw a Mercedes two-liter diesel with a tractor turbo on it. I’ll never forget the look on his face and him laughing until he cried. But the car gave me what I needed: enough horsepower from the rear wheels, reliability, cheap to own and drive. I drove it three years and it ran like a charm.“

Kurikka surprises

Fortaco’s Kurikka factory also holds surprises. Before Fortaco acquired the Kurikka plant in 2013, it had a long history. Since its inception in 1936, it has carried the names of Velsa, Valmet, Sisu, Partek, Kone, and Ruukki. It once even produced snowmobiles.

„What surprises our customers,“ says Metsä-Ketelä, „is how modern and good looking our production facilities are. Part of the exterior was built in the 1930s as a sawmill and other parts were constructed later when production expanded. And there’s a new factory extension being constructed today.“ From the outside, the 14,800-square-meter facility that employs 240 can appear old fashioned. But, similar to Metsä-Ketelä’s automobiles, open the hood and you’ll see something amazing.

„We’ve spent a lot of time and money to rebuild the factory. When we moved the production of forest machine frames to the Fortaco Wroclaw unit in Poland, the production areas in Kurikka were completely renovated with new floors, new LED lights, improved ventilation, the walls and ceilings were painted, and a new automated welding line was installed. It doesn’t look like an old conventional welding factory anymore. It looks like a modern cabin factory.”

Serious investments have also been made in Fortaco Technology services. In addition to engineering services, customers are offered specification support, user experience studies, design and solution concepting, FEM and CFD analysis, plus virtual and physical prototyping. The factory’s new cabin tech hub with brand new prototype facilities have been running for three years now. There are isolated welding- and assembly areas to enable a safe working environment, the right quality starting from the prototype, and to ensure secret projects stay that way.

There’s also a modern conference room with a built-in prototype cabin showroom. „Prototype reviews often mean sparks are flying,“ says Metsä-Ketelä. „But in our showroom you can sit down, have a coffee, and take all the time you need to examine and review your new cabin in a safe, clean and peaceful environment. This will be the cabin on your vehicles for years to come — so don’t rush.“

Never give up

Another surprise to many is what a long-term business proposition cabin production is. From the time Metsä-Ketelä has coffee with a potential customer, it can take two years before a deal is done. „Add another couple of years for product development and starting production, and it can be years before you see results on your P&L,” he says. “People change jobs during the time it takes me to win a new client. But that’s how the cabin business is.”

With product lifetimes of 10 to 20 years, cabin business partnerships are long term. And so are the Kurikka employees. “Our teams are dedicated and employee turnover is very low. People stay 20 years or longer,” he says. “This long-term approach allows us to have the motto, ‚Never give up.'“

Metsä-Ketelä isn’t about to give up, because he’ll never run out of curiosity about mechanical objects. Three years ago he rented fatbikes for a wintertime customer event and was thrilled by this new experience. „Right after that I bought a normal fatbike, and then I built it out with an electric kit. Since then I have built several electric fatbikes and bought several factory-built bikes since my family and friends are now into this hobby, as well. Of course the idea is to keep upgrading the bikes we ride. My latest project is a carbon fiber full-suspension fatbike which I assembled from the frame, carefully selecting all the right components. Currently, I’m exploring 3D printing to build a battery of my own design.“