Elmia is a display window driving the export of Swedish forestry technology

Nordic forestry technology has been developed to a considerable extent by small companies, which then rapidly entered a global market.

“Elmia’s forestry fairs were and are the international display window,” says Hans-Åke Elofson, who during his pioneer years worked in key positions with influential machinery manufacturers.

The 2015 edition of SkogsElmia had 14 non-Swedish exhibitors. This year’s exhibitors came from no fewer than 21 countries. This confirms that SkogsElmia continues to be a significant display window and quality business arena for the forest industry.

Development of today’s machinery system

To older Elmia visitors, Hans-Åke Elofson is the voice that was heard throughout the fairgrounds as he presented the latest machinery products. His career began with the legendary forwarder, the BM Volvo SM 868. Through acquisitions and mergers, the company became ÖSA, FMG, Timberjack and finally John Deere. Elofson was active on the marketing side throughout the development of today’s cut-to-length machinery system of harvesters and forwarders. Today the result may seem obvious but in the 1960s and ’70s, the American whole-stem method was taking over with its larger-scale, industrial approach to forestry, in a development driven by researchers and the forest industry. Despite major efforts, though, the whole-stem method never gained more than 10 percent of the volumes felled in Sweden.

“That was due partly to the Swedish timber flow, which required bucking out in the forest to separate saw logs and pulpwood,” Elofson explains.

Another reason was the resulting huge clear-cut areas – the largest of which was said to have been 150 kilometres long and over 20 kilometres wide – plus aerial pesticide spraying. These measures led to protests, not only from nature lovers but also from private owners of forest land with a different view of how the forest should be managed. The latter group’s criticism was so intense that in 1977 a bill prohibiting aerial spraying was proposed to Sweden’s parliament, the Riksdag. At the same time, the forest owners began to place demands on the forestry contractors, who then turned to local engineering firms, which in their turn manufactured machines with the desired functions. A range of new products was developed alongside the forestry methods of the Swedish state and the major companies.

Innovations presented at Elmia

One of the pioneering innovations was the single-grip harvester head, which was presented at Elmia in 1981. It was called the SP21 and had previously been rejected by researchers focused on industrial forestry. The small engineering firms saw a chance to sell more of their successful designs, and presented their creations at SkogsElmia and its global counterpart, Elmia Wood. There the companies and their innovations met the market, and others were inspired to be even more innovative.

“Elmia has played an important role in many ways,” Elofson says. “Even international business deals and corporate mergers have begun with discussions around a stump in the fairgrounds.”

An increasingly important meeting place

In some ways, today’s situation resembles what happened 40 to 50 years ago. The machines are becoming larger and increasingly efficient methods are being applied. At the same time, criticism from nature conservation organisations is growing and forest owners are unhappy. Even though today’s forestry methods are far less intrusive, there is a body of opinion that can be compared to that of the 1970s. At the same time, new possibilities are opening up thanks to digitalisation, Big Data and artificial intelligence. The combination of opinion, new technology and new applications for cellulose fibre is heralding a paradigm shift in Swedish and Nordic forestry. SkogsElmia and Elmia Wood are once again growing in importance as the international display window for new and innovative forestry technology from Sweden and the Nordic countries.