Last changed: 28 November 2017

Vision and mission: develop a new generation of Nordic Forest Technology with significantly improved performance level by 2020/2025. In order to stay competitive the Nordic Forestry must increase its productivity levels with 50%. Great advancements will thus be achieved in fields such as machine intelligence, human-machine interaction, automation, productivity, wood treatment, systems for log bucking pattern, maintainability and ergonomic standards.


The control of climate change by reduced global CO2-emissions provides strong incentives for increased forest production and wood harvest to meet the large global demand of renewable utilities of solid wood, fiber, chemicals and energy. The Nordic forest technology of today is highly advanced. Forest engineering and operational systems based on this technology have achieved high efficiency and competitive edge on the world market. The long-term development of Nordic forestry must rely on an advanced platform of research and education in forest technology in a broader sense thus securing the competence and systems for environmentally friendly as well as highly productive and cost-efficient forest operations. However, 10-15 years ago the investments in forest technology research and education were significantly downsized – in the Nordic countries and globally. Since then investments have not been recovered.

In order to stay competitive on the global market up to 2020/2025 it is estimated that the overall productivity in Nordic forestry must be raised by minimum 50% compared to the present performance level. This includes improvements of the present basic cut-to-length system, the large need for mechanization in silviculture and systems engineering, and development in the field of forest energy operations.

The present shortage of research capacity will hamper further strategies of improvements and advanced development. This shortage in R&D capacity is a serious threat to the long-term progress of the Nordic forestry.

Representatives from the Swedish forest sector called on the faculty of forest sciences to discuss the lack of higher knowledge in the area of forest technology. The conclusion was that an industrial PhD research school in this area would be an efficient way to raise the level of knowledge within the forest sector and reestablish a broader competence at the university. This proposal defines a strategic step of action to change this unsatisfactory situation.

Finnish and Swedish parties of interest have discussed a programme of high priority for capacity building in forest technology with the aim to establish a joint Finnish – Swedish Forest Industrial Research School on Technology (FIRST). The Swedish and Finnish part, respectively, will have somewhat different financing situations.

Vision and mission

Forest technology vision 2020. Up to 2020 a new generation of Nordic Forest Technology with significantly improved performance level will be developed. Great advancements will thus be achieved in fields such as machine intelligence, human-machine interaction, automation, productivity, wood treatment, systems for log bucking pattern, maintainability and ergonomic standards. Soft logging and transport solutions will ensure adequate soil and road treatment for all types of machines and vehicles under all types of climate and weather conditions. These Forest Operation Systems will offer attractive employment and working conditions with high degree of responsibility, variation and prospects for personal development.

This new generation of Forest Technology provides a fundamental base for the application of long term Sustainable Forest Management in the Nordic region as well as other regions with equivalent conditions regarding terrain slope and tree dimensions.

The Nordic forest sector will in 2020 still hold the position of a “hot-spot” for challenging advanced Forest Technology. The forest cluster, including operating enterprises, contractors, machine manufacturers and researchers will together constitute the base for strong and efficient innovation systems and networks with potential to attract adequate competence and risk capital.

The Swedish research school mission 2009-2013.Applied technical R&D will play a fundamental role in the development of the next generation of Forest Operation Systems. The present shortage of researchers trained in Forest Technology has been identified as a severe bottleneck in those efforts.

FIRST 2009 - 2013 will address that problem and build new capacity for qualified R&D and innovations. In this industrial PhD- programme 9 researchers are educated to take on future key positions in the forest research society as well as in the operational business sector, thus providing research- and purchasing competence for the future.

The establishment of a joint Finnish-Swedish research school organized by universities and institutes will furthermore create long-term beneficial impacts by developing cross-border synergies, networks and critical mass in the research work. The co-operation with operating enterprises as industry hosts in thesis work and practice will enhance the relevance and application strategy of the effort. Furthermore, setting up a research school will boost creativity within the research field enabling research ideas and methods that would not likely have been brought up in the normal situation of today.

FIRST will after a couple of years also vitalize the undergraduate education in many ways (e.g. results, future perspectives, study methods and master thesis). To strengthen the Nordic-Baltic co-operation in Forest Technology the Finnish-Swedish initiative FIRST will offer education possibilities for a certain number of additional PhD-students from other Nordic countries as well as the Baltic countries. 


The Swedish part of FIRST is owned by the forest faculty at SLU, and the Finnish part of University of Helsinki and the University of Joensuu. In Sweden, the associated partners are the research institute Skogforsk and a number of host companies in Swedish forestry. Between the parties of interest national consortium agreements has and will be formulated and signed, in which obligations, rights and rules will be stated. A letter of intent is signed by SLU, university of Helsinki, university of Joensuu, Skogforsk and Metla.

From each country 6-9 PhD students are enrolled to FIRST giving a total of 12-16 students all to be connected to an industry host company, which will take active part in the specification of the PhD project and the recruitment. FIRST started April 2009 and is completed by the beginning of 2014.

A steering group with in total 8-10 representatives is formed comprising persons from academia and the forest sector. The Swedish part of the steering group has had its inaugural meeting 18th of April 2008. In 2010 the group includes:

  • Björn Skogh (Head of Forestry, Norrskog)
  • Tomas Lundmark (Dean, Faculty of Forest Science, SLU) 
  • Tomas Nordfjell (Professor in Forest Technology, SLU)
  • Ola Sallnäs (chairman, Professor in Forest technology, SLU)
  • Jan Åhlund (Head of Forest Technology, Holmen Skog) 
  • Magnus Thor (Programme Leader, Skogforsk)

The steering group is scheduled to have two meetings per year, one national and one common Swedish-Finnish meeting. The role of the steering group is to secure scientific quality according to the university's standards and the relevance according to the forestry sector's needs.

Operational management of FIRST will be carried out by a programme manager (Magnus Thor, Skogforsk) and a scientific coordinator (Tomas Nordfjell, SLU, Dept. forest resource management). The operational management reports to the steering group. An economic controller function will be organized at SLU.

Modes of work

Project definition and recruitment. The PhD projects are specified in close cooperation with the forestry sector, based on needs with the horizon "advanced application in the year 2020/2025". A hearing with a gross number of host companies has been carried out in which the needs were specified and potential host companies were targeted.

Based on the project areas, projects are more clearly defined together with the specific host company and the group of supervisors. In cases where SLU does not possess enough in-field supervisory competence, assistant supervisors with specific knowledge will be recruited from other universities.

The recruitment of PhD students to each of the projects has been carried out in either of the following two possibilities:

A. Advertisement of vacant PhD positions within FIRST, with a specification of the project. The student must fulfill the basic qualification criteria, normally an M Sc in Forestry or in Mechanical engineering, Physics or equivalent, all depending on the project.
B. Enrolment of a person already employed by the host company. This person must meet the qualification criteria as set up by SLU and FIRST, just as in case A.

The area of forest technology is by tradition dominated by men. Efforts has been made to get an equal gender distribution within the group of PhD students.

The employment is for a special project of 5 years with the host company or SLU as employer. After the project is completed, the door will be open to a continuation within science or in the forestry sector. Ideally, about half of the doctors-to-be will continue within academia after the research school is finished and half will continue as technical strategists in the forestry sector.

Research work and courses. The Swedish PhD students will be located at the department of forest resource management at SLU. Assistant supervisors will preferably be searched for in the partner country within the FIRST framework. Additional assisting supervisors will be recruited from other universities, depending on the subject of the individual PhD project. The research and thesis work will be carried out at the home department and at allied research facilities. (Supervision and examination are to be executed in accordance with each national university system in Sweden and Finland respectively).

Courses, in total 60 ECTS credit points, are of three types:

  1. General PhD courses (e.g. Literature search, Philosophy of Science, World wide overview of forest technology, the development history of forest technology), approx 15 credit points. Most of those courses are common to Sweden and Finland. 5
  2. FIRST-specific PhD courses (e.g. Systems analysis, Work study methods, Logistics, Operative planning, Transport technology, Forest road planning and building, Human-machine interactions, Machine-soil interaction, Simulation technique, Experimental study design). All of those courses are common to Sweden and Finland, approx 30 credit points.
  3. Individual PhD courses, adapted to the specific PhD project (e.g. Automation and robotization, the digital chain of information). Those courses might be common to some of the Swedish and Finnish PhD students, approx 15 credit points.

In addition to research work and courses, each PhD student should go through, in total, one year of advanced professional practice at the host company. This practice is divided into a number of thematic blocks scheduled during the 5-year period. The blocks will be of the types “orientation about the company”, “investigation of a specific subject”, and at the later part of the PhD project “a small host specific applied research project”.

International views and collaboration. An important dimension in FIRST is the international aspects. The purpose is threefold; 1) to apprehend international views and knowledge and; 2) to form connections to the international society and; 3) to market the Scandinavian approach in the science of forest technology. This will be achieved by international conferences, study tours and Scandinavian workshops-seminars.

A FIRST research conference will be organized annually. The ambition is to attract top-of-the-line keynote speakers, researchers and practitioners. The PhD students will get good opportunities to present and discuss their research plans/results for the international society. These conferences will also give good possibilities for international cooperation, within or without the research school itself.

At least three FIRST study tours will be organized to areas of interest concerning the development of different forest technological approaches during the project: East (e.g. Russia, the Baltic countries or China), North (Canada, US) and South (South Africa). The study trips are organized in close cooperation with the host companies/partners – forest companies and machine manufacturers – who are also encouraged to join the trips on their own expenses.

Scandinavian and/or domestic work-shops/seminars will be organized were PhD students present their results to each other and forest practitioners.

Tentative Schedule in FIRST

The figure below outlines a tentative schedule for the research school. The coloured fields symbolize courses, practice, study trips and conferences. The white fields represent work on the actual research projects, writing of 6 manuscripts and thesis. During the first year focus lies on faculty-specific, general courses and introductory courses. Years 2 and 3 FIRST-specific courses and individual courses become more common. The advanced practice at the host company is divided into time periods with the focus on years 2-4. The first scientific papers are expected to be presented during year 3 (2011). Year 2011 is also the time for International Forest Engineering Conference (FEC) in Brazil, where FIRST is expected to contribute significantly. One of the three study trips will be allocated to South Africa in conjunction with FEC 2011.

In the two last years of the research school most attention is paid to the writing of manuscripts and thesis plus work at the host companies.


Figure. The tentative schedule in FIRST

Scientific environment and network

One of the most important parts with FIRST is to create an international scientific environment and strengthen the international network. Even though FIRST does not represent a big research school, it will be the largest group of PhD students in the area of forest technology world-wide. This will give a long-lasting impact on the international society, and a possibility to be the obvious lead partner in international cooperation’s for a long time. The research cooperation between Sweden and Finland will, with the help of FIRST, be much stronger than today. Almost everyone with supervision competence in the two countries will be involved in FIRST. The conferences organized by FIRST will create a natural arena world-wide for international meetings between researchers in the area. A substantial share of the international researchers in forest technology will be engaged as opponents or evaluation committee members, at the end of FIRST. Also this is a good opportunity to create more international contacts, and cooperation.


Tomas Nordfjell, Associate Professor
Department of Forest Biomaterials and Technology, SLU, +46 90-786 83 99