Strategic partnership sets VAK on the path toward sustainable growth


Succeeding in an increasingly complex and volatile world requires that companies are customer-driven, in touch with their business environment, and able to change. VAK, the market leader in offering transport solutions for heavy goods vehicles wanted to explore with VTT how their business needed to evolve to meet the challenges of tomorrow. VAK also wanted to chart a path toward sustainable growth and transportation.

The development program propelled VAK towards international growth and digitalization.

Analysing customer needs and tomorrow's business environment provided insight into the significance of sustainable business and the possibilities of service business.

VTT participated in the project with 27 researchers from 13 different teams. Their expertise ranged from data transmission solutions for transport equipment to strategic foresight.

Market leader’s operating environment in a turmoil

VAK, founded in 1972, provides transport solutions for heavy goods vehicles. Their transport equipment is known for its innovative technology and high quality. The company designs and manufactures products such as trailers, cargo compartments, and demountable bodies. VAK is also the only manufacturer in Finland with a proprietary maintenance service network. As the market leader in heavy-duty transport solutions, VAK aims to be a forerunner in sustainable transportation.

Over the past couple of years, VAK’s previously stable and predictable operating environment has become more volatile. The constantly changing environment calls for fast reactions as well as new digital solutions and ways of working. Rapid growth in the changing environment also requires scalability, which is particularly demanding for production.

VAK wanted to reinforce its position as the market leader also in the new operating environment. To do so, the company kick-started a two-year-long development program partially funded by Business Finland. The objective of the program was to chart a path toward efficient and sustainable transportation. VTT was chosen as the strategic partner for the program due to its extensive expertise.

Deep customer understanding drives growth

Since VAK already holds a significant market share in Finland, finding growth opportunities meant entering new business areas and international markets.

At the start of the project, VTT conducted an extensive interview with VAK’s Nordic customers. The comprehensive customer insight acted as the focal point for exploring new business opportunities.

“Understanding the customer’s business is the best driver of growth. Deep customer understanding allows VAK to act as an expert in their customers’ business and as a development partner. Armed with this knowledge, they can provide products and services that truly fit the customers’ needs,” VTT researcher Katariina Palomäki sums up.

“VAK has many long-term customers with whom we have had good discussions,” says VAK CEO Ilpo Korhonen. “But the program allowed us to make customer cooperation more systematic and to better understand our customers.”

And the participation of new development partners enables completely new solutions as well.

 “Through joint development, we can offer our customers even more extensive and effective services,” Korhonen says.

VAK Asell vehicle

Sustainable development at the heart of future business

One of the key objectives of the development program was to define what sustainability means for VAK and how the company can promote sustainable development. Responsibility concerning employees’ and drivers’ safety also came under scrutiny.

“We wanted to make sustainability an integral part of VAK. During the program, we have developed everything from a safe working environment to emission reduction roadmaps to company structures,” explains Korhonen.

And how is sustainability related to the energy efficiency of products, and how does it influence the service design of future products? VTT helped answer these questions by mapping and analysing VAK’s operating environment, industry regulations, and the sustainability expectations and requirements of suppliers and customers. The results were used to create a new strategy focusing on sustainability as well as a corporate responsibility policy.

“During the development program, VAK’s understanding of the importance of sustainability and the business opportunities it brings grew. VAK can have a big impact on sustainable development themes, especially through the services and solutions it provides,” Palomäki explains.

The development program also produced a separate research project focused on improving the energy efficiency of trailers with the help of an electric assisting axle.

“When it comes to sustainability, the work is ongoing – we are not done yet,” Korhonen emphasises.

VTT brought extensive expertise and large-scale support to the table

The key factors for a successful, comprehensive development program included extensive research and studies, varied expertise and the ability to respond quickly.

We had identified our future challenges on high-level and acknowledged that we needed help making the change happen. Since this was a case of research-based development, we wanted our decisions to be backed up by solid expertise. We selected VTT as our partner because their growth program offering fits our needs perfectly,” explains Korhonen. “We wanted to concentrate on digital transformation, energy efficiency, and sustainability. VTT has been a valuable partner to us in these topics.”

From VTT, 27 researchers from 13 teams participated in the project. Their expertise ranged from data transmission solutions for transport equipment to strategic foresight.

VTT’s wide-ranging expertise came as no surprise to us. We knew that an expert organization like VTT would have experts to cover our every need, and we leaned on them on several occasions in the decision-making process.
Ilpo Korhonen, CEO, VAK

The fact that different experts could be included in different phases brought flexibility to the project. At times, we had a big group of researchers from VTT working on the project. At other times, we had a smaller core team that only focused on a specific topic,” Korhonen continues.

Seamless communication between VTT and VAK was at the core of the successful partnership. Management team workshops facilitated by VTT also contributed to the success.

“This two-year development program was a real learning process for both VAK key personnel and VTT’s cross-disciplinary team,” says VTT Project Manager, Senior Scientist Tiina Apilo. “It was a joy to notice how excited our colleagues were over concrete challenges and how VAK trusted VTT’s ability to support them in the change process. It was also remarkable how committed the entire VAK management team was to carry out the development program,” Apilo praises.

The development program faced challenges but reached its goals

Instead of focusing just on a single topic, the development program had an ambitious goal of examining a broad tapestry. The program involved creating a roadmap toward efficient and sustainable growth and transportation. The program is only the first sprint in a development project estimated to last five years. And even though VAK is not past the finish line yet, some results have already been achieved.

We have already increased the share of exports in our revenue and founded a company in Norway. We have also taken a huge leap in digital transformation and in the way we measure results and plan production and maintenance.
Ilpo Korhonen, CEO, VAK

“Still, the biggest change has happened in our way of thinking. We believe that by working together, we can achieve better results. That is why we want to include our employees and customers in the change efforts.”

Some of the most important tools in the development program were workshops, interview rounds, future market analyses, and development teams where VTT and VAK experts worked together to find solutions for identified development needs.

Korhonen praises VTT’s flexibility and expertise throughout the project: “During the project, we faced challenges such as the COVID pandemic and global component shortage. Despite it all, we have accomplished everything we originally planned!”

“We set out to achieve internationalization and sustainable growth, and that is exactly what we got,” says Korhonen happily.

Tiina Apilo
Tiina Apilo
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