Talking about Digitalization with Francis Charette

FPInnovations recently created a Digitalization team to better understand the problems and operational efficiencies faced by manufacturers in their mill environment and to properly equip them in order to effectively address these often common and recurring issues.

To learn more about this topic, we met with Francis Charette, Manager of FPInnovations’ new Digitalization team, who kindly answered five quick questions to help us better understand the purpose of this demonstration project.

Why set up a Digitalization demonstration project?

Based on the findings of a survey conducted among our members and the industry, we were able to identify recurring problems at many mills that could be solved with digital solutions. We also listed the tools that are currently being used to manage these situations.

While a number of mills already have data collection tools, they are primarily used to measure process efficiency and generate reports, but don’t provide any solutions or improvements. The challenge is to provide automated tools that can detect anomalies in real time, initiate action to determine the causes and offer solutions to resolve them.

Why is this project important to the industry?

One of the objectives of the Digitalization demonstration project is to share the lessons learned from the various mills in their operations. By digitally identifying recurring problems and their causes using powerful analysis tools, we hope to be able to propose concrete solutions, thereby reducing downtime as well as minimizing product and revenue losses.

Lack of manpower is also a challenge facing the industry. For some time now, young workers have been difficult to recruit, while the experienced workforce is getting older and is unable to pass on its knowledge. Digital tools could partially remedy this problem by encoding the knowledge of experienced workers. This approach would help offset the lack of experience and decrease the learning curve.

What approach is the Digitalization demonstration project taking?

Our first step is a proof of concept that will be achieved in one mill at a time, with very close collaboration of mill personnel and data providers. This will allow us to experiment with an initial solution approach. Later on, the addition of more and more data will make it possible to develop algorithms that can be used in different mills.

An initial pilot project is under way and will continue through 2021 to test the system in a real production environment.

What can the mills expect?

The manufacturers will have access to a generic tool that will be able to identify problems immediately when they occur and propose solutions. However, for more complex problems, the system could enable them to consult an FPInnovations expert and solve certain problems remotely.

Thanks to a better perception of the problems, it will eventually be possible to avoid unnecessary travel, which will make it possible for FPInnovations to deploy its specialized resources where the problems are more complex, saving time and money for all concerned.

Who is the Digitalization demonstration project for?

The first phase targets the wood products industry (two typical cases are targeted: drying and sawmill production line) which already uses data compilation tools and for which our knowledge of the production process allows us to go beyond existing solutions. A second phase will target other sectors of activity according to their specific problems.

In order to speed up the roll-out of the demonstration project, several technical partners have been identified:

The SPN Consultants firm has a proven continuous data analysis and anomaly detection technology that is adapted to the specific needs of each mill. This technology, which uses the data collected and the history of identified problems, should enable wood processing mills in the sawmilling, drying and planing industries to optimize their operations by reducing the number and duration of unplanned downtime, while improving their productivity and ensuring the quality of their product.

Effecto, an affiliated partner of FPInnovations, is a specialized firm that has developed and implemented a manufacturing management system and traceability tools in several wood processing mills. Effecto’s systems are used, for example, to collect, structure, and transmit data for sawing, drying, and planing operations at Clermond Hamel.

MEC Dry Kiln, an affiliated partner, works closely with FPInnovations to access their controller database.

Clermond Hamel Ltée, a member company, is actively participating as a manufacturer that can benefit from the project by digitizing its operations between sawing, drying and planing, by giving access to the data of its production systems and evaluate the performance of the system.

For more information on this project, please contact Francis Charette, Manager of FPInnovations’ Digitalization Group.

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