Award for Finland's best roads, quality without compromise - Tapio Pahkakangas Oy

Tapio Pahkakangas is an entrepreneur and prime contractor based in western Finland, which was voted by road users as having the best maintained roads in Finland in a survey conducted by the Finnish Road Administration during the 2020–2021 winter season. This recognition is significant both for this local company and Aebi Schmidt, as Pahkakangas’ company, Tapio Pahkakangas Oy, uses Arctic road maintenance equipment. Pahkakangas has been in the road maintenance business for thirty years and likes to share his knowledge and wisdom with others, as safety is something that affects us all. We interviewed the entrepreneur and found out what solutions other contractors can use to achieve similar results in their area.

Why are Finland’s roads so well maintained?

In response to this, Pahkakangas points to weather tracking and timely snow ploughing, and ultimately describes the practical process as “fairly straightforward”: “I would say that weather forecasts were used to decide how much salt to pre-spread and when is the right time to start ploughing. We save time and money by starting at the right time, rather than waiting until the snow has compacted. More salt was spread to make sure the road could still be used, not to melt the snow.” In addition to the weather, the entrepreneur also highlights temperature forecasts and weather radar: “If it rains at night, you can look at the radar and you don’t have to stay awake, you can simply set your alarm. That way, you don’t have to give up your night’s rest. In the last hour before we hit the road, I make decisions and instruct the drivers about what equipment to use and what to do.”

The award was made based on the already high-quality road maintenance. According to Pahkakangas, quality control has worked well in the region with consultants, regional managers and foremen: “I have not received a single fine for road maintenance failures,” adds Pahkakangas, summing up how previous years have gone in the area he covers. Perhaps the most important reason for ongoing development is that the entrepreneur finds that he is also constantly learning new things from the industry: “Professionalism has to be developed, it doesn’t suddenly appear in one or two winters. Not the most recent thing we have learned, but one that comes to mind now is dust suppression and spring maintenance. Those have to be done very carefully for everything to work well.”

Selection of high-quality road maintenance equipment

As a company that has won awards for high-quality road maintenance, the first question that springs to mind is: “What equipment do you use for road maintenance?” When answering, Pahkakangas doesn’t reel off a list of equipment; instead he talks about environmental factors and practical experience: “We have a total of 720 kilometres of roads to maintain. This includes the main road network of 300 kilometres, S-class roads of about 20 kilometres, and gravel roads. Coastal and inland conditions are very different and must be taken into account when selecting equipment. For example, if there is a thaw on the coast, there may still be frost further inland – wet snow in one place and frost in another. You have to stay on the ball at all times.” For road maintenance, the company has more than ten road maintenance vehicles, all of which are fitted with Arctic equipment. “The Arctic equipment has proven itself and paid for itself. I’m not seeing any alternatives, although I have looked around. Whenever we need spare parts, ordering has been hassle-free and has worked smoothly.”

Today, there are many equipment options for road maintenance and the choice can seem bewildering. The needs of road users also have an impact on the choice of equipment. This entrepreneur makes his decisions with the confidence gained through years of work. “Yes, these past 21 years have given me the self-confidence to tell drivers what to do and what equipment to use on the road. I instruct the drivers myself before every operation. I also want to be involved myself – I work on road maintenance in the winter and mowing in the summer to keep my hand in.” 

In the early days, the company also used second-hand ploughs, vehicles and sand spreaders. Nowadays, it tends to buy new equipment, which is then regularly maintained. “Firstly, you need proper equipment and the right tools for the job, right from the start. Nowadays, you have to have the right equipment because your work and maintenance has to be done on time,” says Pahkakangas when asked how contracting and the quality of road maintenance could be developed in a better direction. Pahkakangas praises the quiet HPD front ploughs: “These quiet ploughs are absolutely amazing. They are a pleasure to work with.” Every road maintenance vehicle in the contract area is also equipped with a scraper. Pahkakangas recommends using them and says he drives with scrapers a lot himself.

How can the quality of road maintenance be improved?

The contractor, with his well-deserved award, is of course the best person to explain his path to success: how he has invested in the quality of the contract work, how he has developed his business’s own activities, and how the company has tried to understand the needs of road users. Pahkakangas emphasises the need for the contractor and the works management to have knowledge of the profession itself and of practical work: “How can you know what you are talking about if you only read books and have never got behind the wheel yourself?” he ponders aloud. “On the other hand, you have to have decent equipment and the right tools to get the job done.”

© Etelä-Pohjanmaa ELY Centre. An entrepreneur makes his decisions with the confidence gained through years of work. “Yes, these past 21 years have given me the self-confidence to tell drivers what to do and what equipment to use on the road. I instruct the drivers myself before every operation. I also want to be involved myself, I work on road maintenance in the winter and mowing in the summer to keep my hand in.”

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