How Vaisala-Ensto cooperation helps make weather stations more indestructible.
There are few extremes that can surprise Vaisala engineer Pekka Puura. A customer once asked for a weather station with an ATEX enclosure big enough to fit a human being. It was for Greenland, and the customer wanted to be able to climb inside it to escape polar bears.
Vaisala is in the business of building things which withstand extreme conditions. Doing business in over 150 countries, Vaisala is a world leader in products for environmental and industrial measurement. The company was founded in the 1930s when Professor Vilho Väisälä invented the radiosonde, an electronic device used to measure meteorological variables in the atmosphere.
Since its beginnings, Vaisala has had a knack for building things that withstand pressure. If it isn’t arctic weather and polar bears out to do in a weather station, then it’s small animals eating door gasket seals and sensor cables. Or, in warmer climates, it might be human vandals. “You can have alternative options for all other parts on a weather station except the enclosure,” says Puura, noting that if you want a weather station to last 15 years, the box is absolutely critical.
So Vaisala is always striving to build something better, something stronger, something that will last longer. And this is how they found Ensto.
“Several years ago we were organized in three business units,” explains Kimmo Tuuha, Vaisala Sourcing Category Manager. “This meant we had three different R&D teams developing three different platforms for enclosures. It’s just hard to maintain so many different boxes with so many different specs, and we needed to go to one platform.”
“We needed a partner who could help our design team in R&D,” adds Puura, who says they found that partner in the Ensto team led by Sales Director Tomi Muurinen. “Ensto knows enclosures.”
For a period of two years, the two companies worked closely together to create the BOX652SET with ATEX closed-cell special gasket for Vaisala’s automatic weather stations.
The new enclosure’s most noticeable difference is its larger size. “Customers want to put their own devices in them,” says Puura. “The extra space can be used for batteries, solar powered weather stations, telemetry devices, radios, or modems, just to name a few.”
“The stainless steel is better, too. And no longer is the connector under the box. We now use through holes, a cable through the flange, two flanges per box,” says Puura.
Currently, Vaisala is ramping up production of the new product while it ramps down old production – you can’t quit production cold turkey, as some customers still need old models. But eventually, Vaisala’s intention is to use one platform for all enclosures it offers.
What’s the secret of cooperation that yields results? According to Tuuha, it’s communications and delivering on promises: “The biggest danger to a relationship is when sales guys give too optimistic information about capabilities or schedules.”
“Ensto met its promises,” adds Puura, who praises Ensto’s patience in the face of him requesting many changes in mounting plate prototypes. “Ensto did not criticize. They understood this is normal development.”
Durability and flexibility somehow have a way of transcending the products of both companies and seeping into the corporate culture. Perhaps it’s partly because both firms are headquartered in Finland that Ensto and Vaisala are both committed to building products which last in any extreme.
Also, an effort to make the process more sustainable is in the planning stage. Already a green company – its headquarters building is gold certified LEED – Vaisala wants its products put in Vaisala crates in Ensto factories to save materials and labor.
It’s unlikely the Ensto enclosure will stop the more bizarre customer requests from coming, though it increases the chances a need may be satisfied by a standard solution.
Engineer Pekka Puura will likely never run out of stories about customer requests for enclosures in extreme conditions. “For Australia,” he says, “the enclosures have to be bulletproof.”
“Have you tested that?” asks Kimmo Tuuha dryly.
“Okay,” admits Puura, “we know they’re handgun proof.”