Getting more out of innovation

Innovation Days have always been a splendid opportunity for Metsä Fibre to get together with customers for brainstorming, but there is a great deal more to the company's new innovation process.
TEXT: SAMI J. ANTEROINEN PHOTOS BY SHUTTERSTOCK AND METSÄ FIBRE

Metsä Fibre has introduced a new innovation process this year. The aim is to highlight ideas coming from staff and stakeholders, and then evaluate and select the most promising ones for further development, thereby ultimately making the company more profitable.

The process draws on certain strengths of Metsä Fibre, including our innovative approach and culture of working together. It involves considering all ideas and transforming the best ones into commercially viable products and services, and into feasible process enhancements.

An innovative culture regards the current situation as an ongoing challenge, stimulating people to find ways of providing products and services more effectively, more rapidly, more simply, and at lower cost. All Metsä Fibre employees are involved in innovation and new ideas are encouraged. This also calls for a transparent and trusting atmosphere that tolerates failure and uncertainty.

Moving on a broad front

Metsä Fibre currently has four innovation channels: the Innovation Forum, the suggestions scheme, employee invention notifications and Innovation Days with customers, machinery and service suppliers and staff. While all of these have a role to play in highlighting innovation, Innovation Days remain the most important channel for enhancing work at the customer interface.

The company's Innovation Days have evolved over several years. Metsä Fibre began developing this modern innovation tool in 2008 as part of a quest for new ways of serving customers.

"INNOVATION DAYS ALSO SERVE AS A CATALYST FOR DISCUSSION, AND THEY HELP TO HIGHLIGHT NOVEL POINTS OF VIEW." TUOMO NIEMI, FIBRE TECHNOLOGY MANAGER

Operational enhancement was the main focus of customer co-operation at this time, and an insight emerged at Metsä Fibre that results could be improved by setting aside a particular time and place for innovation.

Metsä Fibre and its customers jointly concluded that innovation was quite simply essential in a modern, highly competitive world, that a certain steadfastness of purpose was required when investing in R&D, and that everything runs more smoothly when working with a reliable partner.

A day filled with ideas

Metsä Fibre Product Development VP Ursula Lumme explains that the company's customers were very enthusiastic about Innovation Days from the very outset, and there was clearly very considerable demand for an event dedicated to finding the trump cards of the future. She describes the first Innovation Days organised a few years ago:

"The customers had ideas of their own complementing the views of our specialists on how their operations could be enhanced. Collaboration gave us a way of identifying the best ideas and refining them further."

The basic concept has evolved over the years to become "part of our in-depth customer collaboration," she observes.

Teamwork brings results

Fibre Technology Manager Tuomo Niemi has now been involved in organising these events for a couple of years, and he reports that the four Innovation Days arranged over this period have been highly rewarding experiences. Niemi has served as a discussion facilitator on these occasions:

"These interesting events have been warmly received by our customers. Innovation Days also serve as a catalyst for discussion, and they help to highlight novel points of view."

Although each Innovation Day is a unique event, it is fairly customary to begin by hearing a specialist presentation and learning about the needs and aspirations of a customer. Various ideas are then developed in small working groups, Niemi explains:

"We generally divide into teams of two or three people, each with a specific assignment."

Skimming off the cream

The outcome will be a bundle of ideas, with only the most viable then selected for further work at this time.
"Prioritising helps to sift the wheat from the chaff," Niemi explains, while taking care to add that untapped ideas are not simply forgotten, as they may well turn out to be a platform for further development at some point in the future.

Niemi finds that more ideas emerge when there is some diversity of background among the participants. The customers have also noticed this, and they have sent representatives to Innovation Days from their R&D, sourcing, production, supply chain, sales, marketing and other departments.

Ursula Lumme similarly points out that there is really no way of telling where the next Big Idea will come from:

"We have worked hard to ensure that ideas can be used from all branches of the organisation."

Tuomo Niemi feels that participation at Innovation Days could even be broadened still further, and he is happy to share some forward thinking in this respect: "We have been considering ways of including the customers of our customers in the Innovation Days process."

When motivation is the key factor

The Innovation Days service is mainly aimed at customers engaged in sustained and far-reaching collaboration with Metsä Fibre. Ursula Lumme explains that motivation is the key factor: Innovation Days are a definite boon to any customer with a strong desire to enhance its R&D:

"Comments from customers indicate that our next Innovation Day is always an important and eagerly anticipated event. It's also gratifying to see the sense of focus that customers have for Innovation Days: coming up with and prioritising ideas is still considered relatively easy compared to the laborious process of implementation that often calls for several years of determined commitment.

Effective and fruitful collaboration are anchored in trust and transparency. The atmosphere is perfect for innovation when interaction is free of friction or thresholds."

A return on investment

Customers also expect to see some return on the time and money that they invest in Innovation Days, and Metsä Fibre is entirely willing to stand behind its promises with world-class expertise and a "think-outside-the-box" mind-set that brings tangible benefits to the customer in terms of aspects such as competitiveness.

"It is nevertheless important to bear in mind that our company is not the fount of all wisdom. Besides our customers, we can also call on the support of leading contacts in a broad network that includes suppliers of machinery and services, universities and research institutes," Lumme explains.

The same "collaboration is power" idea has also given rise to an entirely new innovation process tool called Idea Booster. Ursula Lumme explains that Idea Booster is an online service that substantially enlarges the brainstorming circle:

"Working on the Net, we can ask dozens of people for their views and proposals regarding ways of achieving objectives."

Everyone has a right to innovate

Idea Booster is expected to bring resources to bear on a range of problems, and its effectiveness will further improve as this new tool continues to evolve and a more user-friendly interface encourages people to get more deeply involved in the innovation process.

"We are currently operating Idea Booster on a trial basis with a view to large-scale deployment next year," Lumme promises.

"THE ATMOSPHERE IS PERFECT FOR INNOVATION WHEN INTERACTION IS FREE OF FRICTION OR THRESHOLDS." -URSULA LUMME, METSÄ FIBRE PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT VP

The company's Innovation Forum launched in 2012 also naturally forms part of the same overall continuum. This Intranet-based forum is also a proven way of bringing people together to get ideas off the ground. A vote is then taken, with the best ideas promoted for further refinement.

"The Innovation Forum allows everyone to see what kind of ideas are under development, and to get involved in the process where possible," Lumme explains.

An electronic suggestions box!

More conventional innovation formats, such as suggestions and employee invention reports, are still going strong. Ursula Lumme explains that the introduction of new electronic tools at production plants has facilitated and accelerated the process of preparing and submitting suggestions.

Whichever channel is used, the most important thing is to make sure that no ideas are ever simply turned down or trivialised. The corporate culture at Metsä Fibre encourages an enquiring and forward-looking attitude that is always seeking new opportunities.

Ursula Lumme feels that Metsä Fibre now has a firm grip on future R&D, and that this is a trend that can only grow stronger:

"It is precisely by providing business-boosting innovations that we can best serve our customers and maximise the rewards of partnership."


"I ENJOY AN INTERNATIONAL ATMOSPHERE AT WORK AND I LIKE MEETING NEW PEOPLE." -JUHO ROSSI, TECHNICAL CUSTOMER SERVICE MANAGER


Making a start in Germany

A new technical customer service manager is eager to encounter new people and paper machines.

Juho Rossi, 30, is the latest addition to Metsä Fibre's technical customer service team in Wiesbaden. Since arriving in Germany at the end of July, Rossi has spent the late summer learning the duties that go with his new job description. Expectations are high: he will soon begin visiting various customers and getting involved "at the pulp face".

"This job lets me help our customers in a very tangible sense when it comes to using pulp."

The job will involve a lot of travelling, but it's clear from Rossi's attitude that this is really a bonus for a young man.

As a graduate engineer in paper technology, Rossi obviously also enjoys working with new paper manufacturers, and after completing his studies at Helsinki University of Technology in 2009 he served in various supervisory and R&D capacities at Metsä Board. Then with five years of working experience under his belt, he decided to try something new. A transfer to Metsä Fibre was completed last March, and after only a few months of training he was finally ready for this international posting. Nor is this merely a flying visit to Germany, he insists:

"My German employment contract is permanent, and I'm fully expecting to remain here for a good few years at least."

The new job is inspiring, as there is quite a lot going on right now at the customer interface. Manufacturers of specialty papers, for example, are delighted to hear about new products that cut costs without compromising quality:

"The latest innovations are enabling us to provide products with many features that impress our customers."

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