A return ticket to the Finnish forests

A return ticket to the Finnish forests

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In February began for Henning Reck his first trip to the forests of Finland. After he had completed his studies in the wood science a few months earlier and started working for Jacob Jürgensen, it was time for him to prove his skills in practice.

Henning Reck, February 2020

Despite hurricane Sabine the Finnish airline was the only to brave the flight from Hamburg to Helsinki. Johanna Kaitaranta, a native Finn and team leader of Team Nordic, had organised a typical Finnish forest cottage for my stay. As a city slicker, I was able to enjoy the wide open spaces and solitude of the Finnish forests and, in addition to my work, I could also experience a touch of Finnish flair.

On the agenda for my two-week round trip were visits to our partner sawmills and getting to know a large number of colleagues who I had previously only spoken to on the telephone, a one-week internship at the JPJ Wood Oy sawmill and participation in the “Wood from Finland Conference” in Helsinki.

The reason for my journey can be summarized in three keywords: expertise, friendship and trust.

I was successfully able to expand my expertise thanks to the interesting lectures at the “Wood from Finland Conference”. Every year, the “Wood from Finland Conference” brings together the operators of Finnish sawmills, traders and important branch representatives. International lecturers of politicians and economic representatives presented the current economic statistics, future perspectives and plans and reviewed the past year. Climate change and its effects on the timber industry are also a central topic.

In the field of forestry, Finland is a pioneering nation in terms of sustainability and technology. Early on, they recognised the wealth of their country with its vast forests of spruce, pine and birch. During my trip, I was able to observe again and again the conscious use of the natural product wood. The conference is a day of gathering like-minded people.

After the presentations, dinner was served and one could feel how much the people had been looking forward to this day. The exchange – especially with colleagues from abroad – was a special enrichment. The comparison with the work of colleagues encourages one to question one’s own work processes, and serves to confirm typical problem situations and how to deal with them or inspire modernisation concepts.

Of course, the internship at JPJ Wood Oy, a family-run sawmill located 200 kilometres north of Helsinki and an important and long-standing partner, also served to expand my knowledge. Although I am familiar with the various cutting techniques, the function of the large saws e.g. from my studies, and through my work with Jacob Jürgensen I experienced them in practice as well.

But everyone who knows about wood, no two woods are alike and that goes for sawmills as well. Each sawn product has its own diversity. JPJ Wood Oy produces sawn timber from spruce and pine and exports it worldwide.

The family has invested heavily in new production techniques in recent years. The employees gave me a warm welcome and proudly guided me through their modernised plant. They led me from the log yard with the log sorting system, which uses 3D laser technology and X-rays to inspect and sort the incoming log, and then temporarily store them. Afterwards they guided me to the sawing hall where the logs are cut. I was able to gain insight into the drying chambers and the basics of production planning were explained to me using modern computer software.

I also accompanied a colleague on a harvester, a high-tech harvesting machine for trees. This machine, a combination of off-road vehicle, grab arm and chain saw, can fell trees with high precision and effectiveness. In Finland this type of logging is very common. When hurricane Lothar devastated entire forests in the late 1990s, the Finns sent numerous harvesters to Germany to help German forest owners. Since then, these machines have also been used in this country.

However, understanding the product and technology of sawmills is not an end in itself for private knowledge enhancement, but a necessary basis for high level individual advice to our customers. In addition to knowledge about the type and dimensions of the timber, such as the dimensions, length, moisture content and individual qualities according to customer requirements, it is essential for comprehensive advice to have a good knowledge of the raw material – the tree. Terms such as “healthy knots”, “black knots”, “2/4 ex log”, “halfrift/rift” must be understood. The profession requires that the selection of the right timber be linked to the sawmill’s range of products. It is therefore one of our tasks to know the sawmills we represent in detail. What are the particularities or specialities of the sawmill? What growing area does the log for cutting come from? What dimensions can the sawmill provide? Which pre-processing steps are required and which can be carried out by the sawmill?

In addition to broadening professional horizons, the trip also focused on maintaining contacts. In 1892 the first contract was concluded between Jacob Jürgensen and a Scandinavian sawmill. For almost 130 years Jacob Jürgensen has successfully cultivated its traditional friendships with the Scandinavians. To cultivate personal contacts is a decisive factor for effective cross-border cooperation.

I had many interesting discussions with timber experts. By listening to their success stories, but also to the problems of sawmill owners and employees, I was able to empathize with them. I can use these individual strengths and needs in contract negotiations or in the acquisition of new customers. On the one hand, I can promote the strengths, on the other hand I can prevent problems if I am aware of the reasons. Ultimately, this leads to a win-win situation: if I can refer our partner sawmill with its individual strengths to a customer, both the sawmill and Jacob Jürgensen gain a customer. If the customer is ultimately also happy because of the individual mediation, we even have a “win-win-win situation”.

Overall, my trip to Finland has increased my awareness of the needs of sawmill operators and employees. My horizon was enriched by new expertise and the exchange with my international colleagues. Furthermore, I can recommend our customers to our partner sawmills with a clear conscience, because I can rely on the high quality of the products. So after two weeks I returned home exhausted but rich in new knowledge and new acquaintances. I am motivated to take these experiences into my daily work and I am very much looking forward to my next stay in Finland.