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“When our customers use our machines, they want to have real-time information on how those machines are functioning, how efficient they are. But they don’t want to be overwhelmed with raw data – they just want the intelligence, to know the best way to run their operations.”
Miika Soininen, is Director of Digital Services and IT at Ponsse, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of forestry machines. He’s talking about how his company is innovating with data to optimize its operations and offer transformative new services to their global customer base.
“Everything we do at Ponsse starts with our customers’ needs,” says Soininen. “And right now, in the world of forestry we’re seeing two big macrotrends.
“Firstly, our customers want to know how to run their operations in the most efficient and sustainable way. Secondly, they want to know more about the machines themselves – to avoid downtime and any unnecessary costs,” he explains.
In order to help their customers meet these needs, Ponsse first needed to better understand their own operation.
“We needed to build our own data capabilities and create a bigger picture of our own operation, Soininen says. “One that showed how industry demand could link to forestry resource data and our own machine insights – enabling us to pinpoint better ways to help our customers meet their needs.”
With 80% of its forest-machine fleet exported across the world, Ponsse needed to implement an IoT solution that allowed any customer’s connected machines to feed into this new data platform and help create a bigger picture of its entire operation.
A major digitalization that has taken the manufacturer a step closer to the end-to-end service business it one-day hopes to be.
Headquartered in the Finnish countryside, Ponsse is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of cut-to-length forest machines, serving key markets across the Nordics, mainland Europe, Russia, Asia-Pacific and America.
With over 40 dealers and 1,900 employees worldwide, the company’s business model focuses heavily on the sales, servicing and manufacturing of its fleet of forest machines. This is a significant investment for customers and one they expect a strong ROI in return during the machine’s life cycle – making Ponsse’s own investment in technology a key aspect in its operation.
“Every forestry company is now heavily moving towards data utilization and finding ways to offer more sustainable forestry solutions,” says Soininen.
“Many of our customers know refining data isn’t their core business, so building a platform to gather this information is just the first step. We also needed a way to add value to that data and present it in a way that’s usable to each customer – which is an additional service that customers are expecting more and more from us.”
Although Ponsse’s ambitions were high, the company was being held back by an outdated IT landscape, with data spread out across multiple on-premises systems that didn’t fully communicate or provide the required insights into customers or fleet performance.
Ponsse needed a way to integrate these disparate data sources. So, in 2018, it turned to Microsoft partner Solita, who set the company on a path to build a modern cloud-based data platform on Azure.
Solita’s goal was to condense Ponsse’s architecture into a cloud-enabled end-to-end solution, where business data could be gathered and refined to support both customer use cases and the company’s own processes.
Connected machines are also integrated into the data platform via Azure IoT Edge and IoT Hub, allowing Ponsse to stream on-site operational analytics in real time and use those insights to help increase the life cycle of every forestry machine.
“The whole Ponsse Manager IoT solution is built around a feedback loop where information is both gathered and fed back into every stage of Ponsse’s operation,” says Marko Suojasto, Account Executive at Solita.
“Data from sales and marketing is helping things go right in the factory, and that production data is then used as part of Ponsse’s service and support offering. Feedback from customers is fueling new products and innovations, which is data that then goes right back into new sales and marketing. And in the middle of everything we have the data platform, which is a great example of how intelligent manufacturing and end users can work effectively together.”
“Ponsse has a strong background in using Microsoft technologies, so Azure was a natural fit for us,” adds Soininen. “And having a Microsoft-based data platform helps give our customers peace of mind that reliable data security is in place and any information they share with us is secure.”
Along with helping to meet customer needs, Ponsse’s new data platform is also offering valuable insights into sustainable forestry – helping the company to optimize its harvesting processes, wood logistics chain and reduce its overall impact on the environment.
“Responsible forestry is something within our customer space that companies are becoming more aware of and demanding more sustainable solutions,” explains Soininen. “This is an approach that Ponsse is striving for. And using this additional knowledge from the mills, machine logistics and forest resources, we have the tools to reshape our operation in a more efficient and sustainable way.
“Azure IoT data is also helping us run a number of predictive maintenance use cases to minimize machine downtime and unnecessary logistics,” he adds. “We have even started updating some of our older models with these new IoT capabilities, so they can also feed into our data platform and provide a more accurate overview of our forest-machine fleet.”
With 20% of Ponsse’s turnover already made up of aftermarket sales, the company is using this digitalization as an opportunity to add more value to customers – by moving from a product-based business model to a service-based model.
“Providing machines to customers and the lifetime services that go with them is a long-term goal for us,” says Juho Leskinen, Product Group Manager of Digitalization and Information Systems at Ponsse. “But to provide those lifetime services, we need to understand our customers more deeply so we can offer the right services and solutions based on their individual needs.
“That comes from the information we gather from our machines. So we can see how they are used and identify areas where we can make a customer’s operation more efficient and importantly more profitable.”
As well as benefiting customers, this transformation has also helped Ponsse build a stronger ecosystem with its stakeholders and partners across the world, making it easier to securely share data across the organization and even open the interface to third parties.
Now that company stakeholders have seen value in the data platform, the company is incorporating these services into its business strategy so they can be a viable offering for customers in the future.
“Thinking big picture, we now have all our bases covered,” says Leskinen. “We have the data platform, the connectivity, and the machine learning to deliver more sustainable solutions. But we need to be the best in this area – which is why we are investing more into growing our competencies so we can develop different kinds of connectivity solutions for different environments.”
The company is now of the process of launching its Ponsse Manager IoT solution as an Independent Software Vendor (ISV) – a partnership with both Solita and Microsoft to help other manufacturers outside of forestry use data more efficiently and sustainably.
“Any customers or manufacturers who have some kind of physical assets will understand Ponsse’s situation and want to build up their machine service levels in the same way,” says Suojasto.
“There is a mega trend at the moment in electro-mobility that many companies are driving forward and launching new products in that area. But they are missing that core part of the reporting service where data can be captured and fed back into the business journey, which on a larger scale is exactly what the Ponsse Manager solution offers.”
“Right now many of these other industries are on the road behind us,” adds Soininen. “We already have a two-way connectivity platform, and as an ISV we can look to integrate both the electronics and software into different applications.
“That as an offering, has placed us in a very unique market position for the future.”