Thermory: digital solutions offer supportApril 21, 2021
Thermory AS is a chemical-free wood processing company founded in Estonia that produces thermally modified wood floors and terraces, weatherboards, and sauna materials. Thermory is the world’s largest manufacturer and exporter of thermally modified wood and sauna products, with production facilities in Estonia in Harju and Tartu counties and in
Thermory AS is a chemical-free wood processing company founded in Estonia that produces thermally modified wood floors and terraces, weatherboards, and sauna materials. Thermory is the world’s largest manufacturer and exporter of thermally modified wood and sauna products, with production facilities in Estonia in Harju and Tartu counties and in Western Finland in Teuva, additional sawmills in Estonia and the Belarus, as well as a subsidiary in the USA. Major target markets: Finland, USA, and Germany.
Thermory has sought out and found digital solutions that make manufacturing more efficient: the factory in Harju County recently implemented digital worksheets for lift operators, deployed the Evocon system and started to implement a planning programme. What to do, when processing the lift operator’s worksheets takes too much time? When the production assistant’s time is wasted on data entry? When taking inventory requires an entire month?
“We understood that the lift operators’ worksheets needed to be digital – the era of pen and paper was over. We saw that our warehouse programme needed an interface to optimise the organisation of work,” explained the head of Thermory’s support unit, Rebeka Kütt, regarding their goals. “In the past, the production assistant entered information regarding the movement of packages with a day’s delay and if the same package was moved more than once in a day, it was never certain where it really was and who was the last person to move it.”
Another challenge was to find a better tool for analysing production in the company, and so the Evocon system was adopted: “Previously the foreman would inform about tight spots too, but it is only natural that foremost the major issues would remain in focus, while smaller problems are ignored. Some small details could consequently go unnoticed,” describes Kütt.The third stage of digitalisation was the development of a planning programme, in cooperation with the Tallinn University of Technology’s School of Information Technologies. The development was based on a material and production planning research report. “There was no ’ready-made’ solution that was convenient for us to use, given the specifics of our production,” admits Kütt.
In order to develop the planning programme, the first task was to specify the needs and understand the functionalities of the software. This took nearly a year, as it was a secondary task to main work. “One needs to know the aim and what to look for in the already existing programmes,” says Kütt. “We knew how to move forward, when the guiding principles were defined and the supporting software solution was envisioned, in principle. Confusion can easily arise and aims become blurred, without mapping the situation, as different people generate and implement the ideas.
At the same time the issues of the lift operators’ worksheets and the tracking of lines were solved: the worksheets became digital, and the information was stored in a tablet, from where data were moved to the programme in real time. Thus, working time was saved and the movement of packages was much easier to track. The number of lost packages decreased significantly, resulting in general improvement of the workflow. We also obtained a better overview, how occupied with work the lift operators were.
The Evocon system was installed to improve the monitoring of production lines, which quickly gave a good overview of what was going on at the benches and indicated the main problems affecting each bench. It became apparent, among other things, that most outages are usually too small for being noticed by a bystander. “We thereafter analysed the major outages of every bench to understand their quantity and causes. Almost everyone in production knew, for instance, when a bench had an outage of several hours on a certain day. At the same time nobody noticed that a bench was consistently down throughout the week for 1-2 hours due to packaging issues. Packaging outages were often short, but they occurred repeatedly throughout the day. Therefore, longer perspective should be kept in focus and there is no need to drown in operational fires,” describes Rebeka Kütt.
The Implementation Process
Every modernisation in processing industry may arise doubt, if people can cope with new solutions and working processes. The implementation of modernisation went more smoothly than expected. Training was organised for the lift operators and the initial doubts, how the operators would cope with work on the tablets, were overcome. “In this kind of situation, preliminary work is important. We provided instruction for all lift operators, how to use the tablets. Everyone understood the work, as they calmly practiced and followed the manuals with pictures,” says Rebeka Kütt. “When the operators understood that a single wrong press of a button will not delete the programme and nothing bad happens, excessive fear vanished.”
The introduction of the Evocon system was accompanied by an initial fear of the workers that the system would serve foremost the purpose of their control and monitoring. “There was a need for communication. We had to explain what we monitor and what will be done with the data, so that the people would understand why the data needed to be entered. We explained, what changes will be implemented based on the data. When the bench operators realized the amount on outages in a week, they provided suggestions for improving the situation. The involvement of workers is important when making such changes,” Kütt says.
Teamwork and thorough consideration were also important for developing the planning programme: it was established, which processes needed to be digitised, what information to display, what information was needed by the sales or purchase departments, and what information was required in production. “Implementing the programme takes time, but having performed proper preliminary work, we were able to act further based on that information,” says Kütt.
Results and benefits
- Digitising the lift operators’ worksheets means that the location of the packages in the programme is trackable in real time and inventory requires just few days instead a whole month.
- It is no longer necessary to check personally, where a package is or who was the last person to move it.
- Most outages of the production lines were resolved by changes to the work process, i.e. rearranging the workspace to make mobility more convenient, which consequently increased efficiency without a large investment. The Evocon system clarified problematic areas, facilitating the search for solutions. The efficiency of a work bench was thus increased by 20% after simple work process changes, without large expenditure.
- It became obvious during the preparations for creating the planning programme that also the basic knowledge, terms and objectives had to be specified in cooperation with partners. This ensures that everyone will understand the objective correctly and the expected result will be achieved more quickly. Currently, 19 production lines of the company are trackable.
The next step will be the creation of a standardised workbench that displays important real time information equally to production and management. The next activities will thus be unified data models and visualisation. However, it should not be forgotten that the success of development is established with good preliminary work and mapping of needs. Digital solutions must support the company’s activities and assist swift, correct and prompt operational decisions.
Text: Liivi Tamm Photos: Thermory AS
Industry 4.0 best practice examples articles are created within the framework of the DIGINNO BSR project (European Regional Development Fund).