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Karate kicks Kone-Ketonen’s forestry business into high gear

Kone-Ketonen’s new hydraulic hybrid harvester head was developed with the challenging forestry conditions of Japan in mind. Kone-Ketonen

Innovation may have disrupted the forest industry, but it is also how Kone-Ketonen has remained successful through its ups and downs over three decades in operation. Now the Finnish family-run business is expanding internationally with the world’s first hydraulic hybrid harvester head.

Kone-Ketonen is promoting a video on its Facebook page. Deep inside a Japanese forest, an excavator is cutting, delimbing and moving trees with impressive accuracy. The excavator is equipped with a Keto 100 Karate harvester head, and for Kone-Ketonen it represents a significant breakthrough.

“We have developed a hydraulic hybrid system for the Karate which allows big harvester heads to be used with smaller, less powerful base machines,” explains Jari Hakala, sales manager at Kone-Ketonen. “This is especially suitable for areas with steep hills and narrow passageways, where forest workers can now use larger harvester heads than before.”

This is particularly good news for small logging companies. Attaching a large harvester head to a tractor or excavator means they can do the work of a heavy-duty forest machine without investing in one. Karate products are currently being tested by a handful of Kone-Ketonen’s customers in Estonia, Finland and Japan, and full production is expected to start later this year.

Drive to succeed

Karate’s hydraulic system is just the latest in a succession of industry firsts for Kone-Ketonen. In fact, the company was founded on one over 30 years ago. As an engineering student in the late 1970s, company founder and CEO Lauri Ketonen developed a track feed system to gently move trees through a harvester head. He founded Kone-Ketonen in 1984 to commercialise this innovation.

“Our track feed drive handles trees gently and doesn’t cause superficial damage. In addition, its measuring accuracy and feeding force are in a class of their own,” says Hakala. “Many others tried to use a track feed drive in the 1980s, but our patented mechanical structure makes it more durable than others.”

“Our track feed system is what makes our harvesters heads unique. It provides high measuring accuracy and feeding force but doesn’t cause surficial damage to tree trunks,” says Jari Hakala (right). Image: Kone-Ketonen

The drive system became a vital selling point. In its early days, Kone-Ketonen employed only two people (and its founder’s wife), but its products quickly gained international interest. First came sales to neighbouring Sweden, then the UK, with Central Europe, Japan and North America following in the early 1990s. At this time, Kone-Ketonen expanded its product portfolio by introducing one of the world’s largest harvester heads in 1993.

Today Kone-Ketonen’s patented track feed system is used in all of the company’s harvester heads, which weigh between 300 and 3 300 kilos. Around 90 per cent are sold abroad, most notably to Japan.

“Japan is our biggest market today. Our track feed drive is very powerful and works well with excavators which are common in forestry use in Japan,” Hakala explains. “We have also designed a few specific products for that market.”

Back to the glory days

Despite its expansion, Kone-Ketonen remains loyal to its origins. Still located in Kristiinankaupunki, a small city in Western Finland, the company now employs 30 people and brings in subcontractors when production boosts are needed.

And they will be needed soon. In addition to its new Karate products, Kone-Ketonen has introduced its largest ever harvester heads in North America and secured its first deals in South America. The company is also investing in Russia and Eastern Europe.

But Hakala has further reasons for enthusiasm. Having experienced the highs and lows of the forestry industry, the future currently seems bright.

“At one point the forestry machinery industry meant almost nothing to people. But now that forests and forestry are on the rise again in Finland, they have rekindled interest in young people. And that feels good,” he concludes.

The company has also been making an impact in Brazil. Image: Kone-Ketonen
By: Eeva Haaramo