Finnish wood pulp manufacturer, Metsä Fibre, was in need of an automated solution to improve shipping processes to customers around the world.
The RFID solution delivers:
- Improved accuracy and efficiency of shipping process
- Cost and error reduction
- Decreased manual labor
- Increased management control over order and shipping status
Prior to implementing RFID into their shipping logistics, Metsä Fibre transported wood pulp by first forming it into bales measuring about 3 x 2 x 2 ft. (90 x 60 x 60 cm). Then the bales were packed into groups of eight and stored in warehouses before being shipped from Finland to other European Metsä Fibre sites. From there they would be sent to customer paper mills. Different bales contain different grades of pulp, so it is critical to ensure the right bales are shipped to the right customers. In order to do this, Metsä Fibre relied on labor-intensive visual identification of each bale at every storage point on the way to the customer mills. The system was often inaccurate and incredibly labor-intensive, as the markings on pulp bales identifying their grade were not always readable and identifying pulp bales for shipment orders was done manually.
Metsä Fibre had considered using RFID technology to improve their shipping process as early as 2005; however, it proved difficult to read passive UHF tags through wood pulp. Metsä Fibre needed RFID tags that could be reliably read through wood pulp, dissolve in the pulping process, comply with FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and EEC (European Economic Community) policies, and have no subsequent effect on the paper making process. The pulp manufacturer also sought a system that could automatically report shipment data to Metsä Fibre’s management, in order to eliminate time- and labor-intensive, manual data-gathering.
In 2011, Metsä Fibre partnered with Vilant Systems, a Finnish RFID software developer, to provide a solution with UHF tags that could work in the presence of wood pulp. Vilant researched the read range of different tags to find the right ones. Smartrac’s DogBone tag, made with Impinj Monza chips, and a custom-made tag from Confidex which dissolves during the pulping process were chosen. Both tags had a read range of 16.4 feet (five meters) and have no effect on the subsequent papermaking process. After a successful pilot from October to December 2011 at Metsä Fibre’s Rauma pulp mill, Vilant began implementing their RFID solution at Metsä Fibre’s other mills. The following January, one of Metsä Fibre’s customers, a paper mill, began using RFID to read and record data on shipments from the pulp manufacturer. By March 2012, Vilant’s RFID system had been implemented at two more of Metsä Fibre’s mills. As of May 2012, Metsä Fibre was using the system to track 2.4 million tons of pulp.
How It Works
An RFID tag is automatically installed into each new bale of wood pulp as it passes by on a conveyor belt. The tags are encoded by Impinj Speedway Revolution RFID readers. Vilant’s Device Manager software, which controls the readers, sends each tag’s ID number to Metsä Fibre’s management system, which links the tag with information on the bale: the grade of the wood pulp and the bale’s production block number. The tagged bales are then stacked and transported via forklift to pre-shipment warehouses. Each forklift, outfitted with a Speedway Revolution reader, tracks its pulp bales from the mill to the warehouse, then from the warehouse to a shipping vessel, and sends that information back to Metsä Fibre management via the Vilant software. Metsä Fibre’s management and forklift operators automatically receive an alert if a mistake is made during transport.
When the bales arrive in European pulp ports, employees use handheld readers to read the tags before they depart for customer mills. When the shipments finally arrive at a customer site, there is a final tag reading to ensure the right shipment has made it to the right place.
Metsä Fibre, based in Finland and founded as Metsä-Botnia in 1973 by G. A. Serlachius, Metsäpohjanmaa and Nokia Corporation, is a subsidiary of Metsä Group, which manufactures bleached, Botnia brand wood pulp. Its four mills, located in Finland, have an annual production capacity of 2.4 million tons of wood pulp. Metsä Fibre produces both soft and hardwood pulp for a variety of paper products, from cooking parchment to cardboard. With an impressive array of over twenty different pulp grades in its portfolio, Metsä Fibre both sells Botnia pulp to European paper mills and market pulp from ten mills in Europe and South America, and is currently expanding its business to growing Asian markets.
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