Even at the planning stage, it was already obvious that a bioproduct mill in Äänekoski, Central Finland, would greatly expand traffic flows in the region. Handling and transporting deliveries of raw wood to the mill and moving its annual output of up to 1.3 million tonnes of pulp would require logistical arrangements on an unprecedented scale. On an average day, the mill would receive 240 raw wood trucks and 70 railcars, with some 40 outgoing railcars of pulp departing for Vuosaari port in Helsinki.
The 800,000 tonne share of annual capacity destined for export will be transported by rail from Äänekoski to Helsinki, over 300 kilometres away. Three trains have been reserved for a 24/7 operation: as one is en route between the mill and the harbour, another will be loading in Äänekoski and the third will be unloading in Vuosaari.
“With our logistics service providers, we have designed a logistics concept that stresses reliable delivery. Metsä Fibre has established a dedicated terminal in Vuosaari to serve as a core element in this concept, as there will be no export pulp warehousing in Äänekoski. The pulp will be transported directly from production to port,” explains Jari Voutilainen, who is SVP, Logistics at Metsä Group.
Voutilainen reports that one reason for choosing Vuosaari as the company’s export port was that it is easily accessible by both land and sea.
“Äänekoski is right in the middle of Finland, with a choice of multiple seaport options, but Vuosaari emerged as the optimal choice after a careful review. This port is a hub for Finland’s foreign trade, and substantial investments have recently been made in its infrastructure. We also had prior experience of using Vuosaari as a port for other Metsä Group exports.”
A UNIQUE AUTOMATED PULP DISTRIBUTION CENTRE
One entirely innovative element of pulp logistics, even by global standards, will be an automated distribution centre at the bioproduct mill, providing buffer storage for the entire pulp output of the mill as it is sorted by product type and customer. Besides output destined for Vuosaari, some pulp will be carried by road and rail directly to domestic customers and some will be refined locally.
“The automated distribution centre will be an entirely innovative element of pulp logistics.”
The distribution centre will include a high bay warehouse with two automated stacking cranes and two automatic overhead cranes for loading railcars. These cranes will feature specially customised loaders. It will take approximately six hours to load a train carrying some 1,400 tonnes of pulp.
“The transport chain will be fully automated in normal operation, so there will be no need for manual handling of pulp units until they arrive in Vuosaari. RFID tags will also help to enhance traceability and security in the manufacturing and shipping process,” explains bioproduct mill project development manager Kristian Isaksson.
To ensure smooth and secure management of the rising volume of traffic generated by the bioproduct mill, some significant measures are under way to improve the road and rail infrastructure that serves the Äänekoski region. These infrastructure projects are a result of close co-operation between Metsä Group and national and local authorities.
The first 47-kilometre rail track section between the mill and the port is being electrified and structurally modernised to enable environmentally friendly electric locomotives to operate over the entire route. Upgrading of the local road infrastructure, including Highway 4, is also under way to serve the needs of increased heavy goods vehicle traffic.
“A nearly threefold increase in output from the bioproduct mill compared to the present mill in Äänekoski also means a huge increase in raw wood deliveries,” Isaksson explains.
The bioproduct mill will use some 6.5 million cubic metres of wood annually, of which approximately three-quarters will be delivered by truck and the remainder by rail.
TESTS UNDER WAY at the bioproduct mill construction site
The construction project and equipment installations have progressed on schedule for the bioproduct mill, which is scheduled to begin operating in the third quarter of 2017. A commissioning stage of testing and trial operation began in February, with various process modules tested under normal mill operating conditions. The first tests of the high bay warehouse began in March.
A new drying machine will start processing pulp in June, with the output then transferred to the high bay warehouse for the first time. Rail transport will only commence after the mill has started operating. Pulp will be transported by road until this time, as most of the output from the current mill goes to destinations in Finland,” Isaksson explains.
“The new concept will deliver some synergy benefits because VR, the national railway company, will be responsible for both rail transport and port operations. This was the best way to ensure the quality and reliability of deliveries from the bioproduct mill.”
COMPREHENSIVE RESPONSIBILITY FOR VR GROUP
The chosen logistics partner of the Äänekoski bioproduct mill is VR Transpoint, which will assume responsibility for an innovative concept that smoothly combines functions at the mill, rail transport and port operations. Martti Koskinen, Senior Vice President at VR Transpoint, stresses that the company was involved in planning the solution from the very beginning:
“This is a case of genuine collaboration and strategic partnership. It is more common for a mill and its rail link to be designed separately, with inefficient logistics when the deliveries finally begin at some later date. In this case, the entire concept was designed to be right first time, in accordance with production and with the customer’s requirements.”
Martti Koskinen, SVP, Logistics, VR Group Ltd
VR Transpoint has made substantial investments in new rolling stock customised for pulp deliveries. It will be pulled by energy-efficient Vectron electric locomotives delivered by Siemens. These locomotives also have two auxiliary diesel engines for use in shunting yards, loading areas and short sections of non-electrified track. They also have a radio control feature to facilitate work done in shunting yards.
“The wagon design accommodates the requirements of the automated distribution centre and loading operation in Äänekoski. These wagons are already in service at the Joutseno mill, and the capabilities of Vectron locomotives have also been tested since the beginning of last year,” Koskinen says.
He explains that the Vuosaari port has an exceptionally long 400-metre track that enables unloading of an entire stationary train. This is an important consideration when transport schedules are tight. Some of the pulp will be stored in the Metsä Fibre terminal for break bulk shipments, and some will be loaded directly into containers.
“This is also an important deal for us because of the large volumes involved. It will make Vuosaari a significant port for rail transport,” Koskinen adds.