IT was a sad day for the world of forestry last month, when news broke that Lars Bruun, widely regarded as the father of the modern forwarder, had died.

One of the pioneers of mechanization in forestry, the Swedish inventor and engineer passed away on Friday, 3 December, at the age of 87.

The news came as a major blow not only to those familiar with his revolutionary creation, the Bruunett – which became a major influence on all subsequent forwarder designs – but also to everyone awaiting word of a new forwarder, which he was said to have been working on right up until his death.

Born in 1934 in Västra Götaland, Lars entered the industry at a time of great excitement and uncertainty. In 1960, horses were still being used to extract at least 80 per cent of the industrial roundwood timber in Sweden. The money and the will to modernise were there, but amid a wave of advancements in tractors, skidders and other technologies, it was unclear what would become the preferred method of timber extraction.

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Lars developed Sweden’s first forwarder, the Brunett, while still a young engineer employed by Värmlands Skogsarbetsstudier (VSA), one of the Swedish study organisations of the day, dedicated to pushing the industry forward. 

Forestry Journal: An FMG 678 Mini-Bruunett in action.An FMG 678 Mini-Bruunett in action.

The Brunett was built on a standard farm tractor (originally a Volvo BM 350) with a 41 kW engine, clutch and 10 gears. The front axle was removed and a rear load-carrying chassis part with single-axle wheels was attached. A Hiab 177 hydraulic grapple loader, originally designed for trucks, was attached and an articulated steering system mounted between the two chassis parts. The rear wheels were powered with a hydraulic motor that was engaged when needed. It had a curb weight of 7.7 tonnes. the machine was characterized by a short wheelbase, a crane that could be used around the entire tractor and loading stability which was independent of the load size.

A prototype version, demonstrated in 1962, met with a muted response from forestry companies either distrustful of the VSA or who suspected tracked machines were superior. However, there were a few which showed faith in the concept. One of these was Iggesunds Bruk (where the manager for forest technology was Gösta Bruun, Lars Bruun’s brother), which in 1963 bought seven of the first 12 commercially produced Brunett forwarders to come on the market.

Forestry Journal: (Photo credit: Torbjörn Esping)(Photo credit: Torbjörn Esping)

The company evaluated the Brunett forwarders thoroughly and provided feedback with recommendations for improvements. Its operators reported it to be very reliable compared to competitors. In the industry, 25 per cent downtime was expected for repairs and maintenance during normal operating hours, but the Brunett needed only 15 per cent downtime, which attracted a lot of attention at the time.

From around 1964 on, the Volvo tractor base was swapped for a Ford 5000 and the red colour changed to Ford blue.

As the VSA was not a commercial machinery manufacturer (and did not wish to be), in 1968 the forwarder was sold to Kockums and the spelling of the name changed to ‘Bruunett’.

Lars Bruun started a new company, Bruun System AB, and continued to develop forest machines together with Bror Hult in Filipstad. 

Forestry Journal:

In 1978, he unveiled the now-legendary Mini-Bruunett, the first modern eight-wheeled machine, with a roof-mounted crane. In fact, there were originally two models presented – a Maxi and a Mini – but while the Maxi was quickly forgotten, the Mini went on to become a huge success.

The first of the more environmentally friendly forwarders featuring eight wheels and a lighter footprint, it was able to cope with quite peaty conditions providing an adequate brash mat was secured from the surrounding crop.

It became so popular that ÖSA was persuaded to purchase the company in 1983, continuing the development of the machine, which was manufactured as 578 and then 678 until the 1990s.

Being the entrepreneur he was, Lars continued inventing and building machines and accessories. 

In the 1980s, he received a large amount of support from the industry to develop a forwarder that ran on band tracks – an experiment which ultimately ended in failure.

Called Bruun TwOO, the project produced 15 machines before Lars was forced to conclude it did not work.

Apart from forwarders and harvesters, he invented a levelling system for chairs in forest machines, a chain-tensioning system for harvesters, and many other things.

In the late 1990s, he invented and patented a new hydraulic system for recovering positional energy in lifting loads for all kinds of working machinery. Marketed under the Eco-Mate brand, the system involved adding energy-saving cylinders to the crane of a forwarder or other machine, producing significant energy savings.

Though the system never quite took off in the world of forestry, in 2003 Lars was awarded the Karlskoga Inventors’ Association Prize, “for his determined work to reduce energy consumption for work machines with lifting work”.

In 2020, a report from Torbjörn Esping published in the Swedish magazine Skogen told how Lars, now well into his 80s, was working on plans to launch a new forwarder into the market.

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Highly critical of recent trends in the development of forest machines, he complained that the light forwarder he had pioneered in the 1960s had been transformed over time into a large, heavy and slow monster doing great damage in the forest with its banded bogie.

He told how his new forwarder would create a revolution in the forest machine market and shared drawings of a forwarder that can load 10 tonnes while having an unladen weight of less than 10 tonnes (or a load index above one).

Forestry Journal: An ÖSA brochure from 1985 proclaims the excellence of the Mini-Bruunett 678.An ÖSA brochure from 1985 proclaims the excellence of the Mini-Bruunett 678.

Describing bogies as an abomination, he instead proposed an idea for an electrically powered forwarder with pendulum arm-suspended wheels that compensate for unevenness in the ground. The load never tilts and the weight is distributed more evenly.

The fact that it does not have such a large load capacity does not matter, he said. With the help of old patents (Eco Mate perhaps), energy could be recovered and operators could drive twice as fast with less consumption and far less damage to the ground. 
Rolf Björheden, a professor and senior researcher at the Forest Research Instute of Sweden (or Skogforsk), described the concept as “a wet dream for everyone who does transport in the forest”.

At the end of 2020, Lars had said he hoped to be able to finance the project with the help of other patents and start production within a year.

No updates followed and it remains to be seen whether the last grand ambition of one of modern forestry’s foremost visionaries will ever be realised.