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VTT helps Metso Automation gain a position as market leader in on-line paper quality measurements


The Metso-VTT cooperation has had a positive effect on the position of Metso Automation and Finnish industry. Metso is currently market leader in paper on-line quality measurements with a turnover of EUR 60 million, and carries out all sensor manufacturing in Finland, using domestic components where available.

Metso Automation acquired Sentrol Systems – a Canadian company producing the Sentry paper quality measurement and control system – in 1987. The system needed reshaping because of its outdated system structure. Metso – known at the time as Valmet – made a decision to renew all the sensors and transfer research and development, production, application development and control systems to Finland. Transmission moisture measurement was the first to be rebuilt, and VTT was given a leading role in the design of the project’s optics and measurement principle. The product launch in 1995 was the start of continuous and ongoing development work on different sensors: reflection moisture (1996), gloss (1997), coating thickness (NIR 1998, NIR&MIR 1999), colour (2001), imaging whole web moisture (2002), formation (2006), surface topography and fibre orientation (2010); and to close the circle, launch of a second-generation transmission moisture measurement in 2006.

“The commitment of VTT personnel has been great. Far from any ‘state official’ mentality, the researchers have had a burning desire to truly solve the problems, not only to idea or first prototype level in the laboratory, but to the proven system, operational in real on-line conditions and ready for product launch,” says Markku Mäntylä, Research and Technology Manager of Metso Automation.

The sensors have been technically excellent in measurement performance and stability. The new moisture measurement sensor is a good example of the superior measurement capabilities, not only an excellent moisture measurement system but currently the only optical measurement gauge for on-line measurement of dry weight of tissue paper. Apart from enabling new diagnostics functions, it also offers superior measurement speed with good accuracy.

“The cooperation has been beneficial for VTT, assisting in developing internationally recognised know-how in optical instrument design and measurement technique,” says Jouko Malinen, who heads the Intelligent Sensor Systems research area at VTT. The projects have offered great opportunities for learning how to identify the needs in industrial on-line measurements, how to design robust instruments with robust calibration, how to model system performance quickly, and how to test instruments in the laboratory and in the field. Following in close cooperation with the customer, the whole project has given the research team direct feedback from start to finish. On the technical side, Metso’s commission projects established a base that later underwent further development in jointly funded projects: the design, modelling and manufacture of affordable free-form mirrors, improving system performance and reducing complexity by merging the optically functional surface to mechanical parts. “This,” says Mäntylä, “combined with application and calibration know-how and intelligent and quick modelling methods for estimating the signal-to-noise-ratio, have accelerated the process of idea to product tremendously.”

Even though these have been difficult years for the pulp and paper industry, there is no dip in development work. The next product will arrive soon, and research projects are ongoing. “To be competitive in this industry, it is essential to continue persistent and innovative research and development work, and to be broadminded in the search for ideas,” says Mäntylä. As an example, measurement technology research for new printed electronics manufacturing has also generated ideas for conventional on-line measurements. On the application side, new fields can be found from paper and board conversion and other filmstrip production. By the same token, traditional laboratory measurements are increasingly being replaced by on-line measurements.

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