Jonathan Newell finds out how Finland believes its roots in forestry enable it to take digital manufacturing beyond industry 4.0.
At this year’s Hannover Messe event, Finland asserted its position on the digital manufacturing playing field with a bold stand making equally bold claims of being able to take connected manufacturing beyond Industry 4.0.
To understand more about what Finland could offer, I spoke to Teija Räsänen of Finpro, the Helsinki based trade and investment promotion agency. Arguably Finland’s most famous brand, Nokia, had its roots firmly planted in the country’s extensive tracts of forestry when it started its pulp processing operations a century and a half ago before going through several major transformations to become the technology giant that everyone if now familiar with.
Even now, Nokia is still demonstrating successes in new markets and technologies through maintaining whippet-like flexibility despite its age and size! According to Räsänen, it is these same characteristics of a heritage in forestry and the ability to be both organisationally and technologically flexible that are allowing Finnish companies to make inroads in the highly changeable arena of digital manufacturing.
A 20-year head start
The concept of connected industry and sensor driven control isn’t a new thing to Finnish companies with the country claiming that it pioneered the approach as long ago as 1997. With around three-quarters of its terrain covered in forest and being the largest timber producer in Europe, the country needs sophisticated logistics management to control logging operations, timber factories and machine maintenance.
Ponsse Forrest Machines developed such a system which operated on real-time sensor based information twenty years ago and the industry has been using it and advancing it based on new technology developments ever since.
I asked Räsänen what she believes “Beyond 4.0” means and why Finland is capable of taking industry there. She told me it’s about breaking away from the way connected industry is approached. “Industry 4.0 is perceived as either a technology, which it isn’t, or something which is implemented within an organisational framework, which is too narrow for it to be successful,” she explained.
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and cloud based storage, analysis and communications are the technologies that lie behind I4.0, whilst Industry 4.0 is an approach or a way of doing things that employs these technologies. As such, it isn’t possible to contain this approach within the walls of a single organisation or use the services of a single I4.0 vendor. To be successful, it needs to go beyond organisational boundaries and involve a cooperative and flexible approach using different specialist vendors who can work together.
“Within Finland, there are a number of very small specialist companies that between them represent a skill base that can take the concepts of I4.0 beyond the company’s four walls and deploy it in a more widespread way,” Räsänen continued.
Fourteen such companies were exhibiting in the Finnish pavilion at Hannover Messe and they represented a diverse range of technologies that enable Industry 4.0, particularly in the fields of data acquisition, communications and analytics, arguably the three cornerstones of successful Industry 4.0 deployments.
Innovations on show relating to data acquisition included small form-factor devices that carry the minimum of code, enabling data gathering, processing, analysis and communication all to happen at the point of use with the bare minimum of data needing to be transmitted across scant network resources.
The logging conundrum of the Finnish forestry industry was the catalyst for innovative communication systems allowing remote devices to find connections and the most efficient route to cloud servers.
With its range of these small, innovative and technically focused companies, Finland has its sights firmly set beyond the industry 4.0 horizon.