Our recently started mill in Pärnu is a response to the growing demand for birch plywood in the global market. With the investment, Metsä Wood started a new concept: the birch veneers are produced in Äänekoski, Finland and then transported to Pärnu, Estonia for plywood processing. It is crucial to have the veneer and final plywood quality well in balance with customers’ needs. To ensure this we have taken into use a digital mill solution called “Smart factory”.
Open communication is a key in industrial operations. Even if there is a lot of information of production available in many systems, we tend to have our own information files, like excels, in use. Indeed, that piece of information can be an important part of the whole system, but the challenge is to make the big picture visible for everybody involved.
Plywood production consists of several process steps starting from log handling to packaging and storage. Already at the beginning of the process, the veneers are graded into different categories in order to process them further. The veneer grade distribution plays a significant role in production and product optimization. This is where the digital mill solution enters the picture. In Smart Factory, the whole mill is visualized on-line in a 3D lay-out. With Smart Factory, we can visually see and control the veneer grades we currently have in the process.
This is one of the biggest benefits of our new Pärnu mill compared to traditional plywood processes: the production status of the whole integrated site (starting from Äänekoski) is visualized in one view showing the efficiency of different process steps and the bottlenecks that occur there. In addition, big data analytics can be used to forecast how the whole supply chain will develop.
Personally I use this digital mill system to see the veneer balance and the real development needs in the process. I start my day with Smart Factory to check out the situation in the process. At the mill, production management uses it to see the status of the mill and how it will develop. The operators observe the big picture, including bottlenecks. Smart Factory is also an easy way to present our modern mill for the visitors or clients.
In production, digitalization means that we take control of so far unknown directions. All development actions are linked to continuous improvement that upgrades our productivity. Continuous improvement is part of our daily operations at the mills, in the form of small steps and bigger leaps like Smart Factory in Pärnu.
I believe that there is a lot of unidentified potential at our mills that we can further improve. We can simplify our operations, improve production efficiency with better OEE (overall equipment efficiency) of our lines, implement new analytics and put that all together in digital mill solutions.
I highly recommend to make a habit of starting every day with a tour at the digital mill! It is a great tool for fact based decision making.