Mill Manager Camilla Wikström discusses progress made on the Äänekoski construction site

Innovation means collaboration

​Innovation is a hugely important term for Metsä Fibre. It touches upon a huge variety of topics and areas of activity for the company, extending outwards from its credo of continuous improvement – internalised by every employee – into the hundreds of projects underway daily, large and small, which each necessitate critical thinking and a broad base of engineering skills.

TEXT: IAN FENTON, PHOTO: METSÄ GROUP

Innovations are created at Metsä Fibre as a result of buoyant collaboration, both internally and in cooperation with its customers and partners. While the methods and tools may differ, the restless and creative spirit underlying each case invariably makes itself felt.

HELPING PEOPLE SHARE

Running a number of mills with distinct sets of personnel in the age of the intranet made Metsä Fibre’s top management realise the importance of sharing innovative ideas across such boundaries. To that end, the company’s Innovation Forum was constructed. Jukka Rantamäki, Development Manager, Business Development, who works with a team of ‘idea catalysts’ to promote ideation at Metsä Fibre, is responsible for this employee-only web site.

“With the Innovation Forum,” he points out, “we’re looking for ideas which are not necessarily ready to be implemented. They often need work, whether in planning or implementation. Generally speaking, someone makes a discovery and thinks: ‘Hey, couldn’t we do this better?’”

The Innovation Forum site is reminiscent of an Internet discussion forum. When an employee has their idea, they document it there as a new topic, and it becomes available immediately online for others to read, express their enthusiasm or otherwise, and contribute towards.

The Innovation Forum has allowed employees to share ideas that would otherwise have remained isolated moments of inspiration.

Rantamäki’s responsibilities include developing the site’s growth in terms of the number of potential innovations contributed, the number of responses ideas receive once they are online, and the organisational diversity of the employees contributing. In doing so, he is firmly convinced that one of Metsä Fibre’s advantages is its closeknit community of employees.

By touring the company’s various facilities regularly, he is able to meet the mill management who routinely benefit, just to give one example, from the efficiency improvements provided by the forum. Such conversations have helped the Innovation Forum to take shape over time.

Rantamäki’s main tool for increasing awareness of the forum has been the company intranet, where he highlights certain key areas in which innovations would be particularly welcome. These function almost like competitions or challenges, with a time stipulation and a series of communications messages reminding employees to take part.

Steadily increasing in activity and usefulness, the Innovation Forum has become a successful method of allowing employees to share ideas that would otherwise have remained isolated moments of inspiration.

Focused customer collaboration

Metsä Fibre are always keen to push their relationships with customers beyond merely supplying pulp. With vast papermaking experience and in-house competences across the entire value chain, the company is in a position to help customers improve their businesses in a number of ways, ranging from process improvements all the way to product development.

Development Manager Raili Koponen explains the origin of this approach: “It all comes down to knowing the customers and trying to create a winwin situation with them.”

“By deepening the trust in our relationships,” continues Development Manager, Business Development, Pirkko Liias, “we begin by supporting their every-day problem-solving things before progressing to R&D-related projects and other more ambitious undertakings.”

One useful tool to facilitate this has been the Botnia IdeaBooster Day, a joint event at which key personnel from across both Metsä Fibre and the customer’s organisations share time together, discussing ideas and planning steps towards their implementation.

Such collaboration can also take place remotely thanks to the development of a tool named IdeaBooster Online. Taking online idea collection, polling, and discussion into account, the IdeaBooster can be used either independently or in conjunction with an IdeaBooster Day to help make the best use of participants’ time, and provide the freedom to generate ideas outside the pressures of a workshop environment.

“It’s very interesting to see how the IdeaBooster’s flexibility can give rise to unexpected results,” says Koponen. “While we might begin reflecting together on one idea, side conversations can develop, and soon a whole new topic for innovation might be in full flow.”

Metsä Fibre’s customers have responded very positively to these collaborations. “They are often very pleased with this kind of joint work,” enthuses Liias. “It shows we are going the extra mile, and taking their business into account, and a number of very promising projects have resulted from it so far.”



The partnership connection

Another recent area of innovation that has been a significant topic for Metsä Fibre in recent months is the strong contribution to the bioeconomy the company’s new Äänekoski bioproduct mill represents.

The mill shares the broader aims espoused by the Finnish government and the wider international community in seeking to reduce dependence on fossil resources, facilitate economic development and create new jobs.

The bioproduct mill in Äänekoski is one of the largest investments in the bioeconomy in Europe.” -Riikka Joukio, Senior Vice President of Sustainability and Corporate Affairs

“The bioproduct mill in Äänekoski is one of the largest investments in the bioeconomy in Europe,” enthuses Riikka Joukio, Metsä Group’s Senior Vice President of Sustainability and Corporate Affairs. “It’s a prime example of combining the old and the new. It will produce pulp, but the other constituents of wood will also be separated out during the production process. These side streams will be used to manufacture a wide selection of bioproducts, and the pulp will be processed into wholly new products.”

“From the mill’s very first planning stages,” explains Mill Manager Camilla Wikström, “we aimed to look at the facility from a wider industrial perspective. We considered the idea of different types of partners making use of the side streams – an area which is already active to a more limited extent at other mills of ours – and began strengthening the technical processes needed to make this a defining feature.”

Side streams for shared success

This emphasis signalled the idea of a thriving ecosystem surrounding the Äänekoski mill. “The production process of pulp gives rise to a number of by-products,” continues Riikka Joukio. “Some of these amount to side streams that we can make use of ourselves – for energy production, for example – and then there those that are either too small or best suit a business that we are not active in.”

With an ecosystem of partners – both small- and medium-sized companies – these opportunities can be captured in a way that encourages innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as benefitting the local communities and society at large.

Potential new products from the bioproduct mill’s side streams include product gas, sulphuric acid, textile fibres, biocomposites, lignin products, fertilisers and biogas. In some cases, existing partners will extend their cooperation to capitalise on these resources. In others, Metsä Fibre is collaborating with universities and other research bodies to establish further processes and production paths, with the aim of signposting the next phase of products to be derived from the bioeconomy.

Once again, collaboration is the key term. Across the organisation and within all its relationships with other stakeholders, Metsä Fibre has capitalised on the potential of working together. Wherever the initial spark for innovation comes from, for the work that follows it to succeed, nothing is more fundamental.


Äänekoski construction site

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