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Three key factors to succeed in mill digitalisation

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Digitalisation in general, and in our mill operations in particular, is a key driver in Stora Enso’s transformation strategy. Done right, digitalisation can bring huge advantages in value creation and competitiveness as the renewable materials company.

At Stora Enso, we recognised early on that the digitalisation of our mill operations would help contribute to efficient production and resource use, higher quality, increased safety, as well as product and service innovation. However, a challenge in the beginning was to make sure that all digital initiatives were developed in co-operation between mills and other parts of the business. Another challenge was to articulate the value of the digital innovations and answering questions like “What are the costs and business benefits of starting to use digital tools in a particular mill?”

A few years down the road we can conclude that we have taken several successful steps to overcome the challenges we initially faced – much thanks to three key factors. The first key contributor is the establishment of our ‘Digitalisation Fund’, a resource of 10 MEUR per year to enable exploration of new digitalisation ideas, solutions and technologies across the company. The fund has truly nurtured our ideation and growth mindset in the company, where new things can be tried and we can learn through the fail-fast approach – which is the mindset of moving quickly into testing phase and rather fail quickly than to spend extensive time in planning.

The second key factor is the formalisation of the ‘Digital Mill Concept’, which is a framework used for developing digitalisation roadmaps together with mills. New technologies will not be implemented just for the sake of it, they always have to support the business targets at hand. Consequently, the starting point of the Digital Mill Concept is to always understand how digitalisation can help the specific mill to achieve its business targets. The outcome from a series of structured discussions and workshops is then a digital roadmap, outlining which tools to implement, or explore and develop, in the mill operations at what time.

As one can probably guess, creating individual digitalisation roadmaps is a great start to digitally refashion the mill operations, but not enough. Another vital part is to coordinate the work between mills to avoid potential overlaps and to create transparency over developed tools and solutions. Hence, the third key factor contributing to digitalising our mill operations is the establishment of the ‘Smart Operations Work Group’. The group is a cross organisational team with responsibility to foster co-operation in our digitalisation initiatives, and to ensure that all individual mill roadmaps are aligned with Stora Enso’s overall business strategies and plans.

At this point Stora Enso has implemented well over 100 digital tool exploration projects and are now reaching a point where many of the tools can be scaled up and utilised by several mills around the world. Some examples of digital solutions we are trying out, or already have at our disposal, include: a warning device to avoid collisions between humans and vehicles in warehouses, artificial intelligence to predict web breaks on board- and paper production lines, visual remote monitoring solutions with real-time data, advanced analytics tools to optimise de-barking and sawing of wood logs to reduce waste of precious wood fibres.

This is only the beginning. Our portfolio of digital tools will continue to grow and by scaling up we equip our employees and mills to deliver renewable materials and solutions in the smartest way possible – we can make more with less, ensure quality, and keep our employees safe.


Marko Yli-Pietila

Marko Yli-Pietilä

Marko Yli-Pietilä is an experienced Digital Transformation professional. Today he is Head of Smart Operations in Stora Enso, which means digitalising operations to improve operational efficiency. Prior to joining Stora Enso, Marko has held international positions for example in Nokia and Teradata, which are leaders in their respective industries of Telecommunications and Advanced Analytics. He has also worked with renewable materials companies and their digitalisation related development programs for years as a Consultant. Marko holds a Licentiate of Technology post-graduate degree and he is also a certified vocational teacher.
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