Stora Enso updated its strategy and working methods, and its key focal point was to be among the first in the sector to make use of the opportunities offered by digitalisation and the industrial internet. They wanted to do things better and smarter. The company began piloting digital innovations on several fronts, and the Konecranes Agilon® material management system was one of these. Now automated warehouses are used at the company's five largest pulp and paper mills.
"It was a mature product from Konecranes, and it already had plenty of references. The benefits of the service were clear to us. We are familiar with Konecranes' hoists and cranes, so we presumed, believed – and later also found out – that it was worth embarking on a project like this. We did not want to invest in our own warehousing system," says Project Manager from Stora Enso's mills in Oulu.
The company had two good reasons to improve its management of the tools needed for maintenance, the goods replenished according to consumption, and critical spare parts.
"The availability of production equipment needed to remain high, so spare parts must be available when they are required. In addition, operations must be cost-effective. As the price of paper is decreasing all the time and salary and material costs are going up, there is no alternative but to operate more efficiently." Nobody lost their job as a result of Agilon; instead, the employees are now able to concentrate on more demanding work, as the system has freed up their time.
Systems on five Efora sites
Agilon consists of an online portal, users' support stations, a shelf system and robots that travel between the shelves. The fixed monthly fee includes the system and a maintenance agreement that covers the software, remote support, maintenance and spare parts.
The positive feedback from Oulu quickly spread to other parts of the company, leading to the Agilon service being expanded to cover the company's other sites at Stora Enso's mills. At present, the mills in Varkaus, Imatra and Uimaharju all have one system each, while two are operating in Kemi. A second system has been ordered for delivery to Imatra, and a second system has already been installed in Oulu to serve the pulp plant.
The Oulu pilot system is 12 metres long and 5.6 metres high. Its access station serves 250 users, who include Stora Enso's shift supervisors and specialists.
The Agilon, which is operating as a warehouse for supplies and spare parts, has enough capacity to store a thousand packages weighing up to 25 kilograms with dimensions roughly equal to a large packing box. The shelves are filled judiciously.
"We have not stuffed the system completely full. We try to store critical goods and items with a quick turnaround time, such as the filters and washers needed for paper machines. If the Agilon is filled up with goods that are not taken out, it is being used wrongly," Project Manager states.
Balances always in order, no more stock-taking
Previously, all of the maintenance supplies and spare parts were stored in an open warehouse. Every withdrawal was supposed to be registered, but this did not always happen.
"People often choose the easiest way and they may be slightly careless. If withdrawals are not registered and people do not understand the importance of keeping records, the whole chain breaks and problems arise. No new goods are purchased because the buyers think that the shelves are still stocked. If a component is missing, a paper machine may need to shut down, which can lead to substantial costs. From time to time, parts needed to be brought from Tampere or Helsinki by taxi or delivered by express air freight," Project Manager continues.
Now, every user logs in to the system with their own account. Every transaction is logged on the Agilon, which is integrated into the enterprise resource planning systems used by Stora Enso. According to Project Manager, the system works, and it forces everyone to do things right.
When inventory balances are always up to date, nobody needs to spend time stock-taking or counting the contents of boxes. The inventory levels of components in the Agilon can be obtained automatically.
Automatic supply chain runs like clockwork
Stora Enso also aims to make its operations more efficient by increasing transparency and automating the supply chain with its suppliers. Thanks to Agilon, information and purchase orders now flow automatically. When the system notices that the stock of an item has dipped below the specified threshold, the Agilon automatically sends an order to the supplier. Procurement proposals and purchase orders are no longer needed, which reduces the maintenance organisation's workload.
One of the company's large suppliers is Ahlsell, a wholesaler of technical goods that has been involved in Stora Enso's project since the start. Agilon can also be integrated into Ahlsell's enterprise resource planning system.
"It is a major advantage that the systems can talk to each other. There is no need to work on documents and send them from one place to the next – the data goes there directly. The manual work at both ends of the supply chain has been eliminated. There are no errors of the type that can occur when information is manually transferred from one system to another. Now that we have real-time data on stock balances, we no longer have to go and check what needs to be brought to the customer. This has halved the number of visits we need to make," says Teemu Paaso, Key Account Manager from Ahlsell.
The service runs like clockwork from start to finish, as the supplier brings the ordered MRO supplies and spare parts. The orders are then compiled into a single monthly invoice.
"Nowadays, nobody wants to have goods lying around in the warehouse: the supply chain and all of the operations should be as streamlined as possible. I think the fitters are also happy now the system makes sure that the required parts are always available. They used to get frustrated when the supply chain broke down and the components were not at hand," Kokkila adds.
If more of a certain item or component than usual are needed due to work such as planned maintenance, the extra items can be conveniently ordered from the Agilon by temporarily increasing the stock balances.
Interest in a mobile app
Stora Enso Project Manager is satisfied with the progress of the delivery project and the collaboration with Konecranes. Although the project will soon be over, the development of the Agilon system will continue.
"We are developing it together so it meets our needs. The work is making good progress: there is nothing to worry about."
Stora Enso has followed the development of the Agilon Mobile app with interest. There have already been discussions about deploying it.
"If we are thinking about smaller sites, such as a small sawmill with just a few warehouse shelves, the actual Agilon warehouse with a robot would not be needed: the goods on open shelves could be managed using only a smartphone and a portal. The connections to suppliers work electronically in the same way. The mobile app is very good for these purposes," says Project Manager.
Ahlsell, a wholesaler of technical goods, has been involved in Efora's Agilon project since the start.