Stora Enso: the future of manufacturing just got smarter

Stora Enso: the future of manufacturing just got smarter

Stora Enso is among the world’s oldest companies with more than 700 years of heritage, encompassing mining, iron and wood activities, stretching back to the 13th century. Today it focuses on all of the possibilities to manufacture a diverse range of products made from renewable materials with the forest and the trees as their foundation.

Marko Yli-Pietilä, Head of Smart Operations at Stora Enso, is in charge of driving the digitalisation and transformation programmes allied to global smart operations in all areas of the business: consumer board, bio materials, paper, packaging solutions and wood products. “The Smart Operations team is responsible for accelerating digitalisation in our operations, but that is only one part of Stora Enso’s overall digitalisation programme. We also look at digitalising the customer interface, supply chain digitalisation and back office digitalisation with HR and finance processes,” he says. “In addition to this, we work with the startup community to develop new digital solutions as well as nurturing our own internal startup invites to develop new digital products.” Its third such successful solution, Intelligent Packaging, was launched in January.

The digitisation of Stora Enso’s manufacturing fleet comprises around 100 production lines across many factories and is vital to achieve higher operational efficiency. “Operationally, we manufacture a diverse range of wood-based products. We’re also producing many completely new products, such as fiber-based composites,” says Yli-Pietilä. “My role is focused on smart operations, which means the digitisation of production and maintenance needed to keep our factories running efficiently also in future.”

Stora Enso started investing in its digitisation programme three years ago and has now completed around 160 different projects including artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality, machine learning (ML) and virtual reality (VR). “We’ve tested almost all of the technologies on the Gartner hype curve,” reveals Yli-Pietilä. “We’re using big data and examining different kinds of wearables, including smart glasses.” He adds that analytics is probably the strongest area of focus at present. “We have company-wide mobile maintenance tools available both for maintenance personnel and operators when they do maintenance-related tasks. Our people can also do safety notifications on the move, and we also visualise things already in 3D formats. The use of 3D models makes it's very easy to understand where things are happening. Whatever you need to do in your work here, you can do while on the move.”

Yli-Pietilä believes people are a hugely important aspect of this transformation. “They need to learn new skills to understand how analytics works and be familiar with different mobile tools, because there will be many applications used in the field, and also in different operating rooms. It's very important we create a unified user experience to teach users,” he says of the company’s quest to develop unified UIs.

To support these transformation goals the company has created a Stora Enso design concept called SEEDS (Stora Enso Design System). “SEEDS is a publicly available set of instructions and code which enables designers and developers to build a user experience aligned with Stora Enso requirements,” explains Yli-Pietilä. “The companies we partner with in the digitalisation area can access these assets to help them develop the services they are delivering to us.”

Stora Enso works with a variety of partners, from agile startups to larger companies, with a focus on creating an environment capable of fostering a collaborative ecosystem. “We aim to build data assets, like the Stora Enso IIOT platform, which our partners can access. In that way we can use the same data in the applications they co-develop with us and deliver to us,” explains Yli-Pietilä.

Three years on and the success of Stora Enso’s approach is already apparent with the company achieving second place for ‘Best implementation of IIoT on the shop floor’ at the 2019 Industry of Things World Award. “We are the first company in our industry to have implemented 5G to enable real-time 360° camera solutions in our production environment,” says Yli-Pietilä. “This allows experts all over the world to monitor certain areas of the production and give guidance when needed – ultimately making our production environment more efficient and safer.” The 5G solution will support Stora Enso’s efforts to achieve key targets such as “optimising efficiency, flexibility, and availability” in production.

During the acceleration of its digital transformation, Yli-Pietilä reflects on the biggest challenge he and his team have had to overcome over the past few years. “Handling the massive amount of data we generate in the process industry is always a challenge,” he admits. “We’re constantly looking at how we can get the data to be available for these advanced intelligent applications and is why we decided to build a Stora Enso IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) cloud-based platform. We are using a lot of resources to organise the data in the cloud so that we can have this integrated data asset in use by these applications that we are building in collaboration with different vendors.”

When Stora Enso needs to communicate across operations in real-time this is achieved by the close proximity of its digital tools to the production line. Now, Yli-Pietilä’s are keen to take things a step further. “We want to predict what will happen in the future, and we also want to prescribe. We're trying to do prescriptive analytics, not just to tell users what will happen in the future, but also advise them what they need to do to perform in their work in the best possible way. We’re building prescriptive analytics solutions using AI and ML, because then you're not actually in real-time — you’re in the future.”

Stora Enso already has AI-based applications in use that can see 12 hours into the future with good reliability. “We want to be able to advise people to take actions to make the future look like we want it to look, with product quality, machine performance, and the reliability of equipment related to the maintenance,” confirms Yli-Pietilä. “How we measure the success and performance of these tools is actually through the business KPIs that we use to measure our operational efficiency in general. We start following up those business KPIs, so that our digital transformation becomes a normal part of our business development also linked to profit and operations improvement.”

Yli-Pietilä explains how prescriptive tools can help maintain ongoing production quality. “Paper is produced at around 100km per hour and you need to be able to adjust the process in real-time to maintain the quality our customers expect. Those tools require calculation and predictive capabilities for us to be able to advise the operators that are running the machine to do the process changes necessary to keep production at the optimal level for as long as possible.” The company is also considering testing more flexible and intelligent robots, such as exoskeletons, to assist production workers. Elsewhere, testing is underway to examine the potential benefits of audio analytics. “Based on the sounds we are hearing, we're analysing how machines are running and if there's any evidence of a potential malfunction in the future,” he explains.

Across its business development the two most important trends for Stora Enso are climate change and sustainability. “After all, we are in the business of replacing fossil-based material with materials that are made out of wood,” says Yli-Pietilä. “We have been transforming our product portfolio for years towards that goal.” Though in smart operations Yli-Pietilä’s team have focused on the operational efficiencies of the manufacturing fleet, their efforts are still contributing to sustainability targets with energy efficiency for example. “We are very keen to develop our water treatment processes to be more sustainable every day and CO2 is something we are looking at really carefully and how we can bring those numbers down to contribute positively to our climate change targets,” he confirms.

With automation levels in its mills already high, Stora Enso aims to raise automation levels further while making work safer. “If we can automate more of the potentially dangerous operations, we will also be increasing our overall operational efficiencies (OEE),” adds Yli-Pietilä. “OEE is our most important KPI when it comes to operations. We will then look at performance, quality, and availability of the machinery because by increasing the automation level we can then affect these key KPIs positively. While we're doing this, it automatically makes the workplace safer every day.” With automation on the rise, Yli-Pietilä believes the concept of ‘dark mills’ is firmly on the agenda for helping to build a sustainable future. Digitisation has unlocked the door; Stora Enso is taking steps to shape the corridor beyond.

Stora Enso