We found the oldest Konecranes crane in use – it’s still working like a charm

We set out to find the oldest operational Konecranes crane and ended up in the port town of Rauma, Finland. The crane, model K141, was built in 1938 for a local sawmill. This is a story about a crane that has stood the test of changing times.

It glides smoothly on the rails attached to the ceiling structure of the storage facility where we’re standing. “You can tell from the sound of it that it’s not exactly brand new,” notes Konecranes service agent Harri Huuki with a smile, operating the big machine with a push of a button on a cabled remote control.

It’s a hot early summer day in Rauma, a port town located on the Gulf of Bothnia in Western Finland. The sun beams through the large windows of a storage facility owned by energy company Rauman Biovoima Ltd, located in an industrial area managed by UPM, a company specializing in the production of sustainable and innovative forest-based products.

The very fact that the overhead K141 crane is not “brand new” is the reason we’re here. In operation since 1938, it is the oldest Konecranes crane still in use that we found. (But if you’re reading this and know of an older crane out there, please let us know!)

“It’s not used all the time,” says managing director Timo Pitkänen, one of our hosts at Rauman Biovoima, “but we couldn’t do without it.”

Overhead crane K141 in its original setting
The first job for the K141 was at a power plant generating electricity for the surrounding mill and town by burning wood waste. Image: UPM keskusarkisto.

K141, ready for service!

Back in the 1930s, when the K141 was built, you could hear Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald on the radio and see the likes of Spencer Tracy and Olivia de Havilland in the movie theaters. In Rauma, best-known for its picturesque old town quarters that hold the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, pulp production was thriving. The town has been closely tied to the paper and maritime industries throughout its industrial history.

The first job for the K141 was at a power plant generating electricity for the surrounding mill and town by burning wood waste. Capable of lifting 25 tons, the crane was used for lifting the parts of steam turbines used in energy generation. “Cranes in turbine halls generally have a large maximum load capacity and need to be very precise in movement. They are essential for the assembly, maintenance and disassembly of turbines,” Huuki says.

The K141’s role in the turbine hall lasted five decades, ending only when the power plant was decommissioned.

That, however, didn’t mean the end to the story. “After a lull of some 25 years, it was modernized in 2006 with the help of spare parts from another Konecranes crane the company had in possession,” Huuki says.

Refreshed and reborn, it has since been working tirelessly in the storage facility where we find it on this sunny day.

The Digital Revolution

Over the decades of the K141’s lifetime, the UPM mill site, the town and the world have changed. One person who witnessed the change alongside the K141 is Jari Toivonen, a retired electrical foreman, who worked at the mill site from the early 1970s until 2014 and is our companion for the visit.

When asked just how much things have changed, Jari points to his smartphone. “Back when I started, there was less phone harassment,” he says in the distinct Rauma accent – something else the town is also known for – referring to the constant calls and notifications we get today.

The ways of working were different when he started as a young electrician. “We had kind of a traffic light system back then. You could see these bulbs lighting up on the wall, and if it was your bulb, it meant there was a call waiting for you at the office.”

Pitkänen, Jari Toivonen’s former colleague, puts the digital revolution into an industry-wide context. “It has been the biggest game-changer. Digitalization has significantly decreased the demand for certain kinds of paper.”

“Today, the UPM mill produces coated magazine paper with two state of the art paper machines and fluff pulp for the production of hygiene and tabletop products, Pitkänen says.

K141 in its current warehouse setting
Timo Pitkänen, Jari Toivanen and Marko Mäkinen showing the old crane in in its habitat, now working in a storage facility.

The development of crane technology

Crane technologies have, of course, also taken major leaps since the early years of the 20th century. Many of these advancements are related to digitalization, enabling energy efficiency and better material management.

“Nowadays our cranes can lift up to 1,200 tons of material compared to the 25-ton lifting capacity of the K141 in 1938,” Konecranes’ Huuki says.

“The modern cranes also utilize advanced technologies, some of them capable of operating autonomously, and come with software that help our clients to better manage all their material handling solutions.”

At the Rauman Biovoima power plant's storage facility, new meets old as Huuki hooks a pallet to the K141 and begins the lift with the remote control. And with ease, it goes up. Still working like a charm.