Our mates at Windsor now supply Konecranes equipment. The company’s first lift truck was shipped from their factory in southern Sweden way back in 1959. For a business that lives and breathes lift trucks, their Scandi origins are no surprise. Here’s a feature we wrote for Windsor on the strange appeal of our colder, European cousins and their affinity to materials handling…

Knowing Me, Knowing You

Think Scandinavian businesses and pretty soon you’ll see a famous flat pack furniture store or a boxy car company, but a quick look at the origins of some the MHE’s big boys reveals a fascinating link. Atlet, Konecranes, BT Rolatruc, Hiab, Cargotec, Kalmar, Svetruck – all have geographical links to the Peninsula.

Exactly why such a large group of impressive lifting businesses should come from a relatively small number of countries is open to debate. Perhaps it stems from the various national characters, perhaps it is merely an accident of history. Sweden is today among the world’s richest and most technologically advanced nations on earth. It has not always been this way: Sweden was a largely impoverished agrarian society until it was transformed into a center of heavy industry in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Now the country has an impact on global business and industry far beyond its size, and companies with Swedish roots, such as IKEA, H&M and Volvo, are household names from Boston to Beijing. Sweden’s transformation has been helped by several factors, including avoiding involvement in the 20th century’s many wars and the country’s long history of entrepreneurialism. Economists and politicians have long pointed to Sweden as a role model because of its successful combination of generous welfare benefits and high-tech capitalism. It constantly places near the top in international rankings of competitiveness, innovation and standard of living.

Taxes are high, but the streets are clean. Certainly design, entrepreneurial spirit and craftsmanship are also highly regarded throughout the Nordic area. The success of Atlet owes much to founder Knut Jacobsson.

The company started by making hand pallet trucks. Around 1960 powered stackers and telereach trucks dominated the market. Knut Jacobsson then invented the pedestrian stacker that had a lifting capacity comparable with the telereach trucks, but could be used in narrower aisles, thanks to its patented side stabilizers.

SMV Lifttrucks AB of Markaryd, Sweden, now part of Finnish firm Konecranes, began its first lift truck production in the 1950s, at that time based in Silverdalen, Sweden.

Over half a century later, SMV is now a world leader in the manufacture of fork lift trucks, container lift trucks and reach stackers with lifting capacities from 10 to 60 tonnes. At a modern production plant in Markaryd, in south western Sweden, SMV combines the latest technology with efficient manufacturing methods and solid craftsmanship.

SMV trucks are built on unique, heavy-duty box chassis in combination with well selected components and engines that deliver high torque at low revs. Konecranes themselves have links to the giant KONE engineering group, which spun off its crane and hoist business in 1994. After much investment and continued success, Konecranes now offers a respected ranged of heavy duty forklifts trucks, reach stackers, container handlers, and Roll-on Roll-off (RoRo) trucks.

In 2003, Kone decided to concentrate on Container Handling and Load Handling and the tractor and forest machine businesses were sold. As the structure of Kone Materials Handling had changed significantly, the name Kone Cargotec was introduced in January 2004. Its business areas were Taken in isolation, it appears unusual that so much equipment has originated in the same part of the world, but perhaps geography has more than a passing influence.

The Swedish economy is built on rich reserves of iron ore and timber, and plentiful hydroelectric power, ideal conditions for heavy industry. That timber also creates a strong demand for big trucks, a hugely influential factor, whilst all the Scandinavian countries have a significant number of ports too (although only Bergen in Norway registers in the 15 busiest in Europe).

Perhaps more significant for the future, only Finland in the region is more quickly and more strongly than many other industrialized nations, and foreign observers have noted its healthy public finances.

Meanwhile, a large portion of the Swedish economy is to this day based on the export of technical inventions, and many large multinational corporations from Sweden have their origins in the ingenuity of Swedish inventors – Skype, Spotify, GSM, Tetra Pack, all developed in Scandinavia. And failing that, there’s always the big furniture shop…

Great Danes & Swedish Mice

It’s not all Ace of Base, Bjorn Borg and tasty meatballs.

Here are some of our favourite other Scandinavian exports…

There are many other exports accredited to the region affectionately known as the Land of the Midnight Sun. Surprisingly, Peter Schmeichel isn’t their only famous export as children’s favourite Lego is another Danish stroke of excellence!

Car manufacturer Volvo are of Swedish descent, as is the Nobel Prize and the computer mouse. Finland is the birthplace of the much loved 3310, thanks to phone giants Nokia being Finnish, and the Danish company Mærsk is the largest sea transportation company in the world; you can see their cargo containers everywhere in almost every country in the world. There’s also Bjork, but we’ll not go there…