The manufacturing industry might by some people be seen as stagnant and boring at times, with not much happening within the space. I, on the other hand beg to differ from that view, as I have observed how innovation is flourishing to make the industry more efficient, sustainable and safe. The most important aspect when it comes to innovation is of course to solve the business issues at hand, whether it is about productivity or new business models. To do so, it is vital to first recognize which the most immediate requirements in the space are, and to find the apt solution for the same. According to me, one of the approaches to be followed is that of open innovation, for which there are several tools put in place in Stora Enso, one being the DigiFund. This allows any of our26,000 employees to utilize the fund to experiment with new digital technologies to solve a business problem and/or opportunity. The DigiFund has seen great success in the past three years, with more than 250 ideas being tested, out of which many have already borne fruits. Other important initiatives we have put in place are those of creating digitalisation roadmaps together with our manufacturing units, as well as openly innovating together with the startup ecosystem.
Addressing the business needs
When it comes to innovating and taking the company forward in the manufacturing space, I think it is good to begin with articulating the bigger topics that need our attention. At Stora Enso, we have set out to be a leader in the renewable materials space, why it is always key for our innovation and digitalisation agenda to support that vision. In parallel, we are determined to improve safety, sustainability, and efficiency in our operations, which partly can be achieved by implementing new digital innovations. For example, we could avoid many accidents by digitalising production processes and moving people away from machines. Other targets include ensuring a great customer experience as well as efficient and sustainable logistics. For us, our customers are always in focus, why we are also innovating around customer journeys and experiences, as well as finding new business to secure our customers stay competitive and successful. With these bigger goals in mind, we are well prepared to drive incremental and open innovation to achieve them.
Achieving alignment on all levels in the business
Given that the business targets for the innovation agenda is are place, the next step is to ensure continuous alignment on all levels within an organisation as big as ours. One way we have done this is by making sure that innovation and digitalisation is on the top of our leadership team’s agenda, as well as an integral part of our cross organisational operational governance forums. What it practically means is that innovation and digital roadmaps developed for each and every manufacturing unit will be aligned with our overall business governance and targets.
"The most important aspect when it comes to innovation is of course to solve the business issues at hand, whether it is about productivity or new business models"
So far in Stora Enso, several innovations have been implemented and scaled up. For example, drones have become a vital platform and necessary inclusion in manufacturing operations. The drones are hovering over woodyards at mills, giving a precise calculation of how many cubic meters of wood is present in the yard, which then helps provide real-time inventory updates to replenish the orders for inbound supply. Drones can also be used for scanning forests, getting information on the number and species of trees that are present in the forest, as well as the most suitable harvest areas. Another instance of innovation that is becoming an integral part of our processes is RPA. This, too, was initiated as experimentation but has now evolved into the core of our company. We have right now over 60 robots live in transactional processes to help our employees. Another example is the one of our AI solution, used together with sensors, to predict viscosity of pulp by mixing and matching various quality parameters together. This has been a real success for us with the best predictability capability, which ultimately results in high-quality products increasing value for us as well as our customers.
Instilling an innovative culture
On top of all this, as I mentioned in the beginning, we have established a structured approach for how to engage and work with the startup ecosystem. Startups usually come with a specific solution for a specific business challenge, which in turn enables us to innovate and scale with speed and agility together. However, with all this said, the most important part to succeed with innovation in the manufacturing space is to instil a culture of openness, willingness to try, and acceptance of failure. In Stora Enso, this culture shift has been profoundly promoted by our top management and supported by mechanisms such as the DigiFund and startup collaborations in various ecosystems.
To sum up, I think we have taken many significant leaps within the manufacturing industry during the last years, and the pace of change will not slow down. Personally, I am very excited to continue the journey to see what the future holds and all the new innovations which will come with it. At Stora Enso we are determined to be the innovation leader in the renewable materials space.