Headed by VTT, a group of Finnish forest companies, companies in the digital sector and research institutes will start a two-year SEED project that will generate new type of innovation activity originating from the needs of business operations. The aim is to develop together digital solutions that will improve the international competitiveness of all participants.
The Finnish forest industry is known for extremely high level of technology and competence. For the industry to take the next big leap in terms of competitiveness and productivity, it must carefully consider new digital opportunities to develop practices, products and services, as well as business models and networks. Identifying and utilising these opportunities requires close cooperation with IT companies, and a common language must be created between these actors.
"We want to help the forest industry to take full advantage of the huge potential the Finnish IT sector can offer. The SEED project brings those in need to the same table with those who have something to offer. The purpose is to innovate digital concepts with which the forest industry can enhance its operations within and between the plants and throughout the life cycle of each plant. The aim is to improve the international competitiveness of the Finnish forest companies. At the same time, the actors in the IT sector can develop new products and establish new routes to a new customer segment and international markets", says Jutta Nyblom, Co-creation Manager at VTT.
The total volume of the SEED project is about EUR 7 million, and its main sponsor is Business Finland. UPM, Metsä Group and Essity offer their plants as innovation platforms around which the participating research institutes and the IT, technology and design companies can gather to resolve the challenges presented by the forest companies. Some of these solvers have their own related development projects and some work without external funding. In the start-up phase of the SEED project, some 20 companies are participating in the project, many of which are leading IT and design actors in Finland.
Innovation ecosystem aims at long-term cooperation
In the SEED project, the forest companies open their doors for application developers and researchers. The participants together aim at discovering the types of tasks and processes to which digitalisation could be applied in plants, and how it could be applied. Such applications could be, for example, service and maintenance tasks as well as exchange of information between shifts and plants. As usual with all types of innovation development nowadays, the aim is to work as quickly as possible to make the concepts and demos generated from the ideas available to users for testing and also to get the resulting solutions further to the markets.
"SEED offers us huge potential. Digitalisation changes the culture of working and enables new solutions that can be used to enhance working and, at the same time, productivity. The core of this consists of the people, tacit knowledge and the utilisation and implementation of knowledge", explains Tero Junkkari, Maintenance Development Manager at UPM.
"Digitalisation is a key factor in reaching Essity's sustainable development goals. Digital applications that utilise different fields of artificial intelligence and analytics will take the quality experienced by our customers, resource optimisation and our employees' project management to a new level. SEED is an excellent platform to utilise Finnish know-how in developing intelligent and resource-efficient production", says Essity's Chief Digital Officer Olli Härkönen.
"We managed to put the SEED project together in a flexible and efficient way, and now we look forward to the experimental phase of concept development to improve the productivity of these plants. We will surely see new and still unpredictable possibilities when we get to combine the plant systems, internet data and the know-how of our experts", says Pirita Mikkanen, Director, Energy Efficiency at Metsä Group and the Chair of the SEED project steering group.
Along with fast-paced development work, the partners deepen their cooperation in regular joint meetings whose topics for discussion include, for example, the challenges related to the utilisation of digitalisation, such as the ownership of data. Moreover, the project will develop the practices of cooperation further in order to make the alliance between the companies and participating sectors run as smoothly as possible. The aim is to build a foundation on which this alliance can continue as an efficient and fruitful innovation ecosystem and grow to meet new challenges.
VTT coordinates innovation ecosystem projects in other sectors as well, and being an independent actor in this role, it can pass on the best practices between the projects. VTT's competence in developing the IT sector, industrial operational plans and business operations are all available in the SEED project.