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Automating and Transforming Classic Sawmills
Jani Kangas, Head of Automation, Wood Products Division, Stora Enso
Stora Enso is progressing on its transformation journey into a renewable materials growth company. Our strategic choices are to grow in wooden building solutions, and packaging and biomaterials innovations. This has also set new requirements to our classic sawmill business. Our customer base and end products have more stringent product quality requirements and increased liability risks due to more comprehensive usage of our wooden components in buildings. The growing industry and business set pressure to improve our operations OEE and efficiency, which maintains the competitive advantage.
We operate 18 sawmills and their further processing in 10 different countries. There is lots of variety in operations, process control, IoT, and OT/IT technologies. It is more than usual that processes, and their automation control and optimizer software are not connected, and new solutions need to integrate with legacy systems. Our plan is to connect all the processes and mills, increase standardization and introduce new software, data, and advanced automation solutions that are scalable across all mill locations.
Challenge the Old and Understand the Needs
As in all digitalization journeys, you need first to understand customer’s problem that you want to solve. In our case, we have worked with all the mills and identified, classified, and prioritized their needs using use cases. It has been paramount to have industry domain knowledge owners involved in these discussions. All this has provided us a tool to build value adding streams with detailed value unlocking roadmaps.
“As in all digitalization journeys, you need first to understand customer’s problem that you want to solve.”
Solve it With the Best Solution
Fortunately, the sawmill industry has not been the forerunner in digitalizing its operations. This has provided us now an opportunity to be the classic ‘fast follower’ and avoid some earlier system level pitfalls. It helps when there are none of a few years old and non-scalable IoT, OT, or IT solution/architecture trials with infant flaws that would need to be maintained or phased out.
Together with industry domain experts, we have identified the optimal OT/IT solutions for the mill needs. This has allowed us to build our automation systems lean from the beginning, and we are avoiding manual data manipulations or needs of using robotics process automation for the data or business logic weaknesses on higher level systems. For example, we have created data structures needed for real-time low latency processes and asset optimization. We built from the very start architectures including device, edge, and cloud levels with state-of-the-art software management and runtime systems. This has given us a possibility to build highly performing solutions where real-time analytics and control are providing the highest-level competitive advantage and optimized operations control. The architecture gives us an opportunity to introduce APIs that can be used for internal or external customer products or services. Furthermore, it enables computer vision and AI solutions that have made possible to create cost efficient solutions that would not have been even possible with older technologies.
When solving problems, the human tendency is to add something to the equation. We instead always stop and re-think the whole system. Our aim is to remove something from the system that makes it simpler and more efficient in the end. It usually helps to remind everyone that replacing the old system with better one does not mean that you do it in the same way but faster. This step in our solution building is giving us the extra boost and it cannot be done without in-depth knowledge of the needs and industry domain knowledge that is combined with understanding of the capabilities of the full stack of OT/IT and data.
Don’t Forget the Work Culture and Superior User Experience
What we cannot remove is the human component in the transformation. Furthermore, our OT/IT users these days are used to fast, easy, and intuitive user experiences, which is natural when the end device at work is often the same as the one used for entertainment at home. We always take an extra mile to communicate the coming roadmaps, listening the end users throughout the creation process, and we use service and UX designers even for our internal services and interface developments.
Watching the Wood Dry
Everything starts with understanding your customer needs. Then solving it better way and making sure you have less complexity and components. Finally, you accomplish the solution delivery with unbeatable user experience followed by fast end user adaptations. And for us in Stora Enso, wood drying is something close to our heart and we have passion for it. We are excited to take advantage of the full stack of OT/IT and the latest AI, computer vision, and IoT technologies to make it the coolest thing on the earth.
About Stora Enso: Part of the bioeconomy, Stora Enso is a leading global provider of renewable solutions in packaging, biomaterials, wooden construction and paper. We employ some 23 000 people, and have sales in more than 50 countries. Our shares are listed on the Helsinki (STEAV, STERV) and Stockholm (STE A, STE R) stock exchanges.
The Wood Products division is the largest sawn wood producer in Europe and a leading provider of sustainable wood-based solutions for the construction industry. Our growing Building Solutions business offers building concepts to support low-carbon construction and eco-friendly designs. We develop digital tools to simplify the designing of building projects with wood.