Småland in southern Sweden is characterized by its forests and tough stony landscape. In the 1940s, forestry and saw mills were thriving businesses. At the time, manual labor still dominated this heavy industry, but the most progressive sawmills began to import a novelty from the US - the lift truck. This was the starting point for a completely new industry, and Småland became the cluster of the Swedish truck industry in just a few years.
Sawmills needed to be made more efficient
The story starts with a representative of LMV, who was sent out to spy on an imported American forklift in service at a nearby sawmill. When the sawmill staff went for lunch, he was able to investigate the forklift and quickly sketched down his most important findings on paper. The drawing led to the debut of the very first Swedish lift truck, built from an old Volvo truck, in 1950.
It also led to the Swedish sawmills’ never-ending need to continually streamline their businesses with these new and effective forklifts. As a result, Silverdalens Mekaniska Verkstad (SMV) was founded in Silverdalen, Småland, by Bengt Sundberg. SMV was the predecessor company to today's Konecranes Lift Trucks.
Lift trucks built from old trucks
SMV's first year in the industry was mostly contract manufacturing. But the demand for making sawmills and paper mills more efficient with the help of trucks increased throughout the 1950s. We met with Björn Sundberg, brother of SMV's founder Bengt Sundberg, who at the time was already employed at SMV:
At that time, SMV used old trucks that were rebuilt into lift trucks. Some customers preferred Scania, others Volvo. SMV took the components that were on hand to make the conversion. Some experimentation was required, but in 1959 SMV was able to present its first lift truck.
An entrepreneur-driven company
In a short time, SMV got up to production speed and was able to produce around fifteen lift trucks a year.
In the beginning, each lift truck was unique. You could even see which person built which lift truck. But gradually, as drawings became common, the design began to be standardized.
Heavy trucks for heavy jobs
SMV soon saw success in scale and started to produce a series of lift trucks that were well received by the market. In contrast to many imported American lift trucks, that often were constructed for lighter use, SMV's lift trucks were, by customer demand, designed for heavy duty. Robust gearboxes, stronger hydraulics and larger wheels better suited to the rough Smålandian terrain became synonymous with SMV. It was a winning approach to a successful business era lasting over four decades.
– I started at SMV when I was seventeen and retired when I turned sixty-five. During these years, I was able to follow the company's development and see how it became a leader in heavy lift trucks. It is not without pride that I can look at today's Konecranes and think that I was actually involved in building the very first lift truck, says Björn Sundberg.