It’s not every day that a guy gets an inside, completely transparent look at an organization’s innovation. Among the industry leaders in the realm of outdoor power equipment, Husqvarna now has taken it up a notch by dedicating more money and resources to the U.S. market than they ever have before.
Recently, I had the opportunity to head to Charlotte, North Carolina, to attend Husqvarna’s grand opening of a brand-new, state-of-the-art research and development center. What this company is doing every day here is as sophisticated testing and innovation as I’ve ever gotten the chance to witness.
When it comes to outdoor power equipment, chainsaws, among other products, are important to me. When I was a kid, my older brothers and I spent hours out in the back acres of our farm with our dad, reluctantly tolerating the freezing cold to help load logs that would heat our home and workshop. Getting to actually take hold and operate one of his saws was a right of passage for us, or at least it seemed like it to me.
Today, those bitterly cold memories resonate with me, and each time I’m around flying saw dust, it hearkens me back to those same fields with my father.
When I think of chainsaw brands, I think Stihl and Husqvarna, like a lot of people. Sure, there are countless others, but those are the two major players both nationally and worldwide. (Husqvarna is number 1 globally, and Stihl is number 1 in the U.S. Both are foreign companies, Stihl being a German brand, and Husqvarna is today what started as a gun manufacturing company in Sweden.)
My dad was a Stihl guy. To this day, if you were to run a Google search for the term “brand loyalty,” a picture of my big brother Andy ought to turn up at the top of the search results; such is his love for Stihl chainsaws and products.
Our dad met his maker about 8 years ago while using a Stihl chainsaw. I guess this explains my passion for chainsaws and chainsaw safety. Every time I get to cut wood, every time I go full-throttle with a saw in my hand, I feel like my dad and remember those fields and hedgerows, and that’s therapeutic for me.
The chainsaw is also just a bad-to-the-bone machine, a modern marvel of engineering and machinery that forever changed everything about building homes and heating them.
And, especially in a post-recession economy and with the access to instant information we enjoy today, brand loyalty is becoming less important to the typical consumer all the time. People are wary when making large purchases, so they’ll research a brand, read what people have to say on online forums, compare products, and buy whichever brand they find to be the best product, regardless of what their forefathers liked.
Husqvarna is looking to capitalize on that, and you do that by putting out the best product you could possibly put out; and you do that by investing in research and development. Behind the scenes at the new Husqvarna facility in Charlotte, what I saw on the tour amazed me with how sophisticated the testing facility is and what these folks are doing around the clock.
In one room, they had more than 20 or so saws running nonstop, 85 percent of the time at full-throttle and 15 percent of the time at idle (the estimated average in real life), varying the time increments and cycles widely. When anything on the machines fails, it’s logged, the part is replaced or repaired, and the machine continues to be tested, to see what will fail next, and why.
In another room, a chainsaw is hooked up to a large hose drawing the exhaust to an emissions tester. Emissions lab manager George Hanson can vary things like climate and altitude, manipulating conditions while measuring torque and rpm.
This tests one of the two newest technologies on Husqvarna saws, Autotune (the second being X-torq), among other things. Autotune is a cool new patented piece of engineering where sensors check conditions like outside air temperature/altitude/conditions and internal airflow and every eight revolutions adjusts the engine’s fuel-air mixture to optimum levels. So Hanson can make an altitude change and watch his computer monitor to see how the chainsaw adjusts and even what it does to emissions. Or as the chain dulls, he can watch as the machine adjusts itself.
X-Torq is the other new engine technology Husqvarna is most proud of right now, and it gives saws a more rapid acceleration and higher power over a wider rpm range. It also increases fuel efficiency by up to 20 percent and reduces exhaust emissions by up to 75 percent, 20 percent less emissions than previous Husqvarna saws. These two new technologies are on a lot of Husqvarna machines like string trimmers and others.
In other rooms, mowers were running nonstop, hitting simulated bumps and running at varying speeds, testing for failure.
It’s exciting and interesting. Before now, Husqvarna had around 50 engineers working in the United States. Now, that number is closer to 200, and with 40 percent of Husqvarna’s expenditures now being in the U.S., it’s obvious that this Swedish company has realized the American market is pivotal to them. And that means better products for you and me.
Listening to the presentation, two major things stuck out to me with regard to Husqvarna and this new facility: passion and innovation.
Innovation is easily apparent touring the facility. Outside of the labs engineers worked on machine concepts and design at their computers, many with a chainsaw or another machine sitting right there on their desk in their cubicle. They could hold them in their hands while sitting at their desks and dream up new ways to improve them.
Cary Shepherd is one of numerous Husqvarna chainsaw gurus. In his down time, he goes to help with disaster relief, cutting timber and clearing away trees. He teaches chainsaw safety courses on his own, and he’s a national training specialist for Husqvarna.
His passion for chainsaws is contagious and borders on obsession, and I mean that in a good way. It really is his life, he loves it. And he’s one of the best at it.
In ten minutes of working with Cary on sawing back in 2010, I had improved technique and felt more comfortable just by hearing little tips I’d never heard before, like adopting the stance of a boxer when you’re working, and keeping the bar horizontal and still when cutting down through a trunk to let the machine do what it does best.
He embodies passion when it comes to the Husqvarna chainsaw, and there are Cary Shepherds for all their products: Gent Simmons with the string trimmer, Sean Dwyer for zero-turn mowers, and the list goes on. I was impressed.
So they talk about passion and innovation, it was one of the talking points of vice president of marketing John Marchionda, but in hanging around these folks for two days, you see it, they live it. And I respect that, it’s something we try to take pride in at GRIT as well, to live it.
Whether you’re a Stihl person, Husqvarna gal, or an Echo guy, this sort of attention to the American market can only mean better competition within the outdoor power equipment category, and in the end that means better saws for all of us. I just hope Andy doesn’t blow a gasket if I someday purchase a Husqy saw (the 562XP that should hit retailers soon is really something else).
Bottom 7 photos: courtesy Husqvarna
Caleb Regan and his wife, Gwen, live in rural Douglas County, Kansas, where they enjoy hunting, fishing, and raising and growing as much of their own food as they can. Caleb can’t imagine a better scenario than getting to work on a rural lifestyle magazine as a profession, and then living that same lifestyle right in the heartland of America. Connect with him on Google+.