Business and academia
Ola Boström and his colleagues focused on developing a computerised system that would sense the exact length and diameter and control the bucking operation. But 1980s computers did not perform too well in the rough forest environment, and Ericsson, the company’s partner in the project, pulled out after this bruising encounter with the realities of forest life.
In search of another solution, Boström and his colleagues paid a visit to their neighbours at Umeå University:
“We presented our plans to staff and students on the systems analysis programme, and the university decided to make it part of the curriculum.”
The students suddenly had the opportunity to write code for real-life situations and to see immediately whether it would work on site in the forest. The project proved successful and popular, and forest machinery is still used in case studies as part of the course.
“Our working relationship with the university matters a lot, and we recruit many of our engineers from there. This is essential, because today’s forest machines contain 12 computer systems that need to be programmed.”
But Komatsu would also give the university something in return: a project that originated in the arms industry.
In 1994, Finland purchased 64 American-built F-18 Hornet fighter jets, dashing the Swedish aircraft builder Saab’s hopes of winning a big order for its Gripen jet from Sweden’s eastern neighbour. In the tangled web of countertrading that ensued, a 3D visualisation project was awarded to a Finnish company with offices in Montreal. However, they declined to take on the project, even though it was funded.
Instead, it occurred to the Finnish government that Valmet, as a developer of advanced forest machinery, might be interested. Although the relevant plant was in Umeå, Valmet was still a Finnish company.
“We were awarded the project but soon realised that building simulators was not really our thing, although we were certainly interested in using them,” said Boström.
That same year, Umeå University had embarked on a major, high-profile 3D project known as the VR Lab, intended to create visualisations for social purposes. Valmet agreed to let the VR Lab take over the entire Finnish-American project.
Around the same time, Derny Häggström, an IT consultant, was looking for exciting new ideas to pursue. Having been in touch with the VR Lab in the past, he saw a future for 3D simulation.
“I realised that we could match the VR Lab’s expertise to Valmet’s needs,” said Häggström.