Surrounded by forests, the town of Kuhmo has created a unique wood cluster that serves as a source of jobs, wealth and wellbeing.
In Finland, timber production and wood construction are traditional skills. Nowadays, they are also high-tech industries. In Kuhmo, companies and local authorities have pooled their forces to add to their respective success stories in the various fields of wood processing.
“The wood cluster started forming a long time ago. In the 1950’s Kuhmo Oy opened a sawmill. Progressively, small businesses emerged. Now we have 15 companies designing or manufacturing wood products in the Kantola area. Most of them use local wood”, explains Regis Rouge-Oikarinen. He is project manager at Woodpolis, a centre of expertise set up by the city and local companies in 2006.
Woodpolis promotes cooperation between stakeholders and helps them look for innovative solutions. In practice, they do this by providing training and apprenticeship opportunities for young people to learn the wood business. Woodpolis has created a training factory where old and new companies can use modern woodworking machinery, equipment and software in their product development. Woodpolis also provides subcontracting services.
“We are at the top of a trend; wood construction is becoming more and more popular. In the cluster approach, everyone wins. Cooperation comes naturally when we all work side by side”, says Woodpolis2020 project coordinator Sari Karikko.
Located on the border with Russia, 500 kilometres northeast from the capital, Kuhmo could be considered remote. Regis Rouge-Oikarinen does not find the distances a problem.
“Even if we are in the periphery, digitalization makes it possible for our customer to see the forest where the trees come from, follow the production line, observe how we work the wood. They can plan their project while sitting on the sofa in their own living room. We are no longer far away, we are closer to the users of the end products”, Regis Rouge-Oikarinen maintains.
During its twelve years of existence, Woodpolis has already seen impressive achievements. Crosslam Kuhmo Ltd is one of the new companies that is already fulfilling its potential. It is the first company in Finland to produce cross-laminated timber boards. They use locally sourced pine and spruce with the best tensile properties in the boreal forest.
“The raw materials are outstanding, and we want to work responsibly. The companies use wood preservatives and varnishes that do not contain any toxic substances. We are currently developing environmentally friendly glues. We have great new ideas all the time, and we try to bring them further so that we can have sustainable products”, Regis Rouge-Oikarinen declares.
“We are in living and working in Arctic conditions, and the ways we build and the wood we use for our building are different from construction on the Equator. Here, it takes more time for the trees to grow. Our raw material is pure, we have SEC certification, and our products are organic. That gives us a competitive edge”, Sari Karikko smiles.
There are currently some 330 persons working in the wood industry in Kuhmo, and more are coming. The jobs also have multiplicative effects in other fields – concrete, metal, even tourism.
“We believe in wood construction and we have consistently built our expertise. Now we are pioneers in the field. Our wood cluster is among the best in Finland, and probably on the top in the Barents region. Up here in the north it is rare to have so many companies so close to one another”, Regis Rouge-Oikarinen notes.
Sauli Ylinen agrees. He is the managing director of Elementti Sampo Ltd, a company that produces prefabricated modular units. He preaches the suitability of wood in building construction. Wood provides constant quality and healthy environments.
Traditionally, there have been wooden single-family houses, but constructing apartment blocks or public buildings out of wood is rare. This seems to be changing.
“We export 80 percent of our own production. Our customers abroad are beginning to understand that it is possible to construct apartment buildings out of wood – we have the technology to build even skyscrapers. We export our expertise, and at the same time we are exporting the pure Finnish nature”, Sauli Ylinen says.
Building with modular prefabricated units is faster than traditional construction methods. It is possible to complete an apartment building in half the time required in traditional construction.
”We can deliver units complete with electricity, heating, ventilation and air conditioning installed. We can even fit the household appliances, the customer can just plug them in”, Sauli Ylinen explains.
“In the Kantola industrial area we have one of Finland’s biggest private sawmills next to us. There is also a planing mill, a log house factory, a window company. The side streams produce the district heat for the town centre, which fits well with our green lifestyle. We have created a value-chain where it is possible to produce a complete apartment building.”
Even schoolchildren can benefit from the local expertise. The Tuupala School is the first school in Finland built of CLT elements and as such, an important point of reference for healthy and productive learning environments. Completed in 2017, the school consists of three buildings with a total surface area of 5500 m2. It attracts visitors from around the globe, and both pupils and teachers love the fresh and calm school premises.
Top: A wooden apartment building under construction. Photo (c) Elementti-Sampo Ltd.
Below: Tuupala school is a great example of modern wooden building. Photo (c) Crosslam Kuhmo Ltd