Road graders, snow removal and cargo handling equipment. Vammas was one of the most respected global manufacturers of civilian technology in its fields.

Text: Matti Remes Photo: Patria

Some of the success stories of the Finnish mechanical engineering industry have received little public attention. One of these is Patria Vammas Oy.

Its business was launched in the 1950s at a Ministry of Defence factory in Santahamina, which started manufacturing hydraulic tractor diggers.

Production was soon transferred to the Vammaskoski factory in Vammala, now Sastamala. Mechanical engineering operations got up to full speed there. Over the next decades, the yellow tractor diggers made by Vammas gained a solid foothold in the domestic market. They dug countless building foundations and thousands of kilometres of ditches.

“An extremely international business”

Vammas Oy was merged into Patria when the State’s defence materiel industry carried out major restructuring in 1997. This created Patria Vammas Oy. One of its businesses focused on civilian products and the other on weapons systems.

Martti Wallin took the helm of Vammas’s civilian business in 2003. By then, the engineering workshop was focusing on road graders, airport snow removal equipment, and cargo handling equipment.

Wallin, who now heads up Patria Aviation, has many warm memories of Vammas – above all, he remembers the international nature of its business.

“It was an extremely international business. Eighty to 90 per cent of sales were generated abroad.”

Its Swedish and German subsidiaries added to the international scope of its operations.

According to Wallin, Patria Vammas Oy had a relatively small team working on civilian products – but its key asset in strong competition was its heavy-duty technological and commercial expertise. Equally importantly, the team had employees proficient in foreign languages other than English.

“For instance, German clients required the spare parts manager to be fluent in German. That position was held by Tapio Sainio – no problem, he said.”

A small company with a great reputation around the world

The company sold road graders to Spain and snow removal equipment to Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union, such as Armenia.

“Contacts could come from anywhere in the world. The most exotic location might be the Kabul airport in Afghanistan, where our equipment was in use.

North American airports were also an important market for snow removal equipment. For instance, O’Hare in Chicago – at that time the busiest airport in the world – cleared its runways with a Vammas PSB 5500 snow removal machine, which ploughs, brushes and blows clean a 5.5 metre strip of runway in one pass.

“It was nice to see that although the company was small, we and our products were greatly respected. In North America, we could offer the best technology on the market.”

Civilian business was discontinued

However, the manufacture of civilian products was not a core business for Patria – and so Wallin was given the task of finding new owners for these businesses.

“It put me in a melancholy mood, but this was a strategic decision to divest non-core business.

The road grader business was acquired by Veekmas Oy, a family-owned company based in Kitee, which still has a major foothold in the international market for road graders.

The cargo handling business was sold to a German family-owned company. The snow removal business in turn went to a US company.  You can still see Vammas snow removal equipment at North American and European airports, as their current manufacturer, Fortbrand, kept the Vammas brand.

Defence materiAl was also made in Vammala

In addition to civilian products, Vammas produced defence equipment and developed weapons systems in Vammala. It made not only ammunition and mortar shells, but also products such as the barrels of cannons and mortar systems. The workshop also repaired and modernised heavy equipment such as tanks and cannons.

Patria no longer produces defence equipment in Sastamala. Weapons systems production has been merged into Land, and the expertise gained in Vammala is now utilised at the Hämeenlinna and Tampere locations.

Patria sold the munition production plant in 2014 to Nammo Lapua Oy, which is carrying on the production of steel mortar shells in Sastamala.

“Patria still owns industrial properties in Sastamala that are leased by other companies,” says Wallin.