Leading European paperboard producer Metsä Board, which makes premium lightweight paperboards from wood fibers, strives to be a frontrunner in sustainability and customer service. Markku Leskelä, the company’s Vice President of Research and Product Development, and Pekka Suokas, its R&D Manager, spoke with Compass about how 3D simulations help them achieve these goals.
COMPASS: Please tell us about Metsä Board and your products. What makes your organization unique?
Markku Leskelä: We manufacture paperboard and provide design services for recyclable packaging made from certified wood fiber. It’s our approach to engineering that makes us unique. We aim to meet the most demanding packaging needs quickly, cost-efficiently and, most of all, sustainably.
As the global need for packaging grows, so does the need to create new, sustainable solutions that can replace fossil-based materials. We want to be a forerunner in this regard, so we strive for products that are light, recyclable and compostable. We are always looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint, and we aim for fossil-free production and products by 2030.
Who are your customers? Why do they choose Metsä Board over the competition?
ML: We serve a wide range of customers around the globe who operate in a variety of industries, such as CPG [consumer packaged goods] and pharmaceuticals. In fact, consumers use millions of packages made of Metsä Board paperboards every day. Our main market is Europe, followed closely by the Americas, but we are seeing a growing demand from companies across Asia-Pacific, too.
Our customers value the high and consistent quality of our products, based on the excellence of our board mills and tailor-made, high-quality pulp. But they don’t just choose us for our technical performance; they value our commitment to sustainable development, too. Indeed, as reducing packaging waste becomes a global priority, our customers increasingly prioritize sustainability. This is where we want to excel. By optimizing the materials and structure of packaging, we can provide our customers with even more sustainable and high-performing packaging solutions. And, through the introduction of our Metsä Board 360 Services, we can go even further.
“Compared to physical prototyping, we can recommend optimum paperboard and even design improvements 85% quicker.”Markku Leskelä
Vice President of Research and Product Development, Metsä Board
What is Metsä Board 360 Services?
ML: Metsä Board 360 Services are designed to help our customers create the best solution for their needs while lowering the environmental impact of their packaging. Using advanced simulation technologies, we can create virtual twins of our customers’ existing packaging solutions and work out how they perform against our new innovations, in a variety of simulated environments. We can improve functionality, recyclability and brand impact in this virtual world, maximizing product performance while minimizing both carbon footprint and costs. What’s more, we can do this incredibly fast compared to physical prototyping. We can recommend optimum paperboard and even design improvements 85% quicker. This is quite a coup, and is being received very positively by our customers so far.
Pekka Suokas: Metsä Board 360 Services are facilitating a significant step-change in the way we work. As an example, our traditional approach was to make a prototype package, which then had to be transported to be tested. Based on the test results, we would then adapt the design and the process would start again. It was time-consuming and costly – and our customers do not have abundant amounts of time or money. By creating 3D virtual twins of products in the computer, we eliminate the physical prototyping stage and deliver a much better customer experience at the same time.
What is your major business challenge? And do the shifting demands of the customers you serve create additional complexity?
ML: We want to meet with the increasing demand in line with customer needs. CPG customers, for example, are often preparing for Christmas activity as early as spring, so we need to be equipped for this. Additional demand has arisen because of the pandemic, which gave way to a huge rise in e-commerce activity, as well as increased needs from the pharma industry.
The e-commerce market has unique packaging needs, which are different from brick-and-mortar retail. There are far more touchpoints, as packages are unloaded and reloaded multiple times before they reach the recipient. This means you need optimum paperboard and packaging design to withstand this heavy handling, while ensuring that packages are lightweight and have as small a carbon footprint as possible.
The pharma industry has different demands. It requires packaging that meets stringent regulations and can withstand extreme temperatures. Take our packaging that stored and transported COVID-19 vaccines, for example. It needed to retain its specified thickness, mechanical strength and water absorption properties – even at temperatures as low as -70 degrees Celsius [-94 degrees Fahrenheit].
How does 3D simulation technology help you meet these challenges?
“By creating 3D virtual twins of products in the computer, we eliminate the physical prototyping stage and deliver a much better customer experience at the same time.”Pekka Suokas
R&D Manager, Metsä Board
PS: Simulation helps us test an almost infinite number of applications of our products, and fast. When it comes to CPG products, we can achieve the optimal balance between strength, size and performance and save costs in the process. By reducing the weight of our paperboard we can achieve notable material savings. We produce 1.3 million tons of paperboard every year; if all of that were used to produce, for example, cereal packages weighing 19 grams each, it would be enough to make 160 million packages a day. So cutting the paperboard weight by just 1% would save the amount of natural resources needed to produce 1.6 million packages a day.
Simulation offers similar benefits for our pharma customers. We can run virtual simulations of how our packaging performs at -70 degrees Celsius [-94 degrees Fahrenheit] and combine transportation tests with board-conditioning tests. We can do all of this in as little as a day, instead of the weeks it would have taken using physical prototyping and testing.
What are the next steps in your strategy in the short and long term?
PS: Our success will be defined by how fast we can recommend optimum paperboard, develop new solutions and deliver them to our customers. I have no doubt that simulation will be helpful to achieve this; using this kind of advanced technology, we will be able to achieve more than conventional suppliers, and faster too. I’m excited about the new possibilities and interesting applications that simulation will facilitate in the future.