Comatec has been involved in developing rolling stock for 20 years; within the company there is also plenty of knowledge and knowhow relating to this demanding field of engineering. Comatec’s expertise is based on the ability of experienced individuals to develop themselves and their activities. Professional skills, customer service and trust are the most important factors. One important and experienced man behind Comatec’s rail technology expertise is Jorma Nordfors, Business Unit Manager, Special Vehicles and Rolling Stock. Nordfors is also one of Comatec’s owners.
For over 200 years, rail traffic has played a significant role in society. Although it is an old invention, the development of rail technology is by no means ending. In fact development is not only continuing but taking on a new dimension and a new direction: not so much ’forwards’ as ’upwards’. Rail traffic is heading towards levitation technology.
Comatec has been involved in developing railway rolling stock for 20 years; within the company there is also plenty of knowledge and knowhow relating to this demanding field of engineering. Comatec’s expertise is based on the ability of experienced individuals to develop themselves and their activities. Professional skills, customer service and trust are the most important factors.
One important and experienced man behind Comatec’s rail traffic expertise is Jorma Nordfors. He studied production technology at Tampere University of Technology, and as part of his studies he did a project on the maintenance of machining equipment for Valmet, as the company was then known. He later asked Valmet if there were any positions available in their maintenance department. There were none at the time, but a position was open in the company’s rail equipment department. The position became his in 1980 and Nordfors started work at the factory in Härmälä – the start of a career working with rail rolling stock that now spans over 35 years. In the early days he worked as a design engineer primarily working on heating and ventilation, then on vehicle body structures. Later he took on project management and quality control activities.
A larger change in Nordfors’ life and career came in the early 1990s when Rautaruukki and Valmet combined their rail rolling stock business and Valmet’s rolling stock factory became part of Rautaruukki’s rolling stock company Transtech. However, in the autumn of 1994 Transtech announced that it would finish all its activities in Tampere, and Nordfors found himself facing impending change.
Transtech did offer him work, but the new job would have taken him to Oulu so Nordfors decided to look around for other opportunities. One of them was Comatec, a company with which he even had some personal contact: Jorma Nordfors and Comatec founder Aulis Asikainen were neighbours at the time in Vehmainen, Tampere.
Jorma Nordfors started at Comatec on 1 February 1995, but he did not completely get away from Transtech. Already in those days outsourcing was becoming common, and Transtech wanted to work together with Comatec. One requirement Transtech had for co-operation was that Comatec would take on six design engineers from the Tampere office it was closing. Three of them are still working at Comatec today. Taking on new employees was no small thing for Comatec at that time; then still a small engineering office, the move almost doubled its staff.
The co-operation between Comatec and Transtech couldn’t have started better. The first joint project was designing the aluminium body for the first Finnish double decker railway carriages. Everybody knows that starting to design a new type of carriage will require a lot of time, but the design process was on a firm foundation. The aluminium profiles were acquired from Swiss company Alusuisse, who also participated in preliminary design planning and structural strength calculations. The carriages were built in Otanmäki.
Jorma Nordfors and his work partner Petri Leino, who also moved from Transtech to Comatec, formed an effective team. They also decided to invest in their own and the company’s future. Comatec had just turned ten years old and had managed to survive the recession.
In 1997 the two men were offered the chance to purchase shares in the company when a couple of earlier owners sold their shares in the business. After the ensuing deal the company’s ownership structure was as follows: Aulis Asikainen 60 %, Petri Leino 20 % and Jorma Nordfors 20 %. The design and development of rolling stock would now continue on an even firmer footing.
Nowadays rolling stock is one of Comatec’s primary areas of focus. Over the years the company has had many clients offering a number of different kinds of projects, all of which have helped Comatec’s expertise in the field continue to grow. And 35 years in the field is a long time, offering a solid foundation on which to build.
Clients have included practically all Finnish companies involved in rail stock, as well as many from other countries. For example, Comatec was involved in the project to acquire Pendolino trains, producing the Finnish instruction manuals for the equipment. Another recent example is the Allegro, which is in service between Helsinki and St. Petersburg. For that project Comatec translated the maintenance instruction manuals and parts manuals, as well as other instruction material for drivers and other staff, into Finnish and Russian. There were around 14 000 pages of text in both languages. The documentation for the Allegro was particularly challenging as the original documentation was in Italian, from which it had been translated into English by someone who was not a professional in the field.
Railway traffic in Finland has its own particular challenge: winter. Winter is challenging for both the rails themselves and the rolling stock that moves on them. Comatec has been involved in developing solutions for winter’s challenges for over 20 years and has reached a high level of knowledge and expertise in this specialist area. Working together with clients has taught that, with sufficient attention and a systematic approach, winter-related rolling stock problems can be eliminated before they even appear.
Comatec’s international operations have always faced the challenge of the company being based in a small and relatively distant country. There has only been one route to success – to do everything better than competitors. By following this model Comatec has been able to forge relationships with almost all major European businesses in the field.
Comatec’s co-operation network and client base includes domestic players such as VR, Trafi and HKL as well as international companies such as the French company Alstom, Spanish company CAF, Swiss company Stadler, German company Siemens and Canadian company Bombardier. When specialist expertise is joined by strong quality, customer service and trust, the word quickly spreads. Comatec has found itself in situations where a given client not only recommends that Comatec is used, but actually demands it.
Trust is one of the foundations for business. In Comatec’s case this is shown in situations where the company is able to act in a trustworthy manner even in situations where there are companies that are in competition with one another. In a small country such as Finland situations like that arise from time to time, but Comatec has come through them with honour every time.
According to Jorma, Comatec is currently involved in just about all ongoing rolling stock projects in Finland. “Comatec’s biggest customer at the moment is VR, for whom we are working on rolling stock upgrade and maintenance planning,” he says. “For the Finnish Transport Safety Agency Trafi we are carrying out preparatory work and technical assessments to do with the assessment and approval processes for the implementation and modification of rolling stock. Other larger projects include working on Helsinki City Transport HKL’s tram carriages, Pääkaupunkiseudun Junakalusto Oy’s local trains, and of course Tampere’s local tram line project.
TEXT: HEIKKI HARRI