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Toftan 2, Võrumaa, Estland © Toftan
Interview

Close to optimum

Article by Gerd Ebner (translated by Eva Guzely) | 10.04.2018 - 07:45
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Martin Arula, managing director of Toftan 1 and 2 © Gerd Ebner

How did Toftan 2 come to be?

We proceeded systematically by asking ourselves which raw material is available within a 50 km radius. The answer was: thin logs of 8 to 20 centimetres in diameter and 3 metres in length. This type of raw material is difficult to handle and is hardly suitable for high performance production. For this reason, we set high targets in terms of the speed of the individual machine components.

Why do you use mostly Scandinavian technology?

We invited all renowned European manufacturers to show us previous projects and prove that they can meet our requirements. The manufacturers we chose were the ones who have already built similar systems in the past.

Does the production site constitute the theoretical optimum?

Almost. We had to make a few concessions, for example during the authorization process. Fire safety regulations forced us to make spaces and roads wider. That alone means that our forklifts drive an additional 1000 km a year. Norms and regulations sometimes do cost time and money.

Why display performance numbers on all the monitors in and around the sawmill?

I want to create awareness for overall efficiency. Nobody stares permanently at the performance number on the screen, but I think it is present in the subconscious. When the machines stand still for three minutes, the percentage drops. This shows how important availability is.

For me, yield, performance and quality are key aspects. Maximising one of them is easy, but only the interplay of all three leads to highest profits.

We hold meetings every week and discuss aspects that can be improved. Step by step we try to optimise the sawmill as a whole. Employees’ suggestions are always welcome. Since they work with the machines and systems every day, they know about the respective processes.

Only 18 employees work in the sawmill, eight of which in the production hall. Isn’t that risky?

This is only possible if employees can work flexibly in various positions. Also, we require our employees to be bilingual in order to be able to communicate with our suppliers. In return, they are paid wages which are 40 % above this country’s average.

Have you reached the technical standard you desired?

My goal is to optimise every board as if it was the last board on earth.

The biggest shortcomings are in the image evaluation. Changing some of the algorithms is not enough. We would probably need artificial intelligence. The millions of boards we produce every year should be enough of an input so that artificial intelligence can learn from the new findings.

At the moment, we realise about 170 €/m³ in all assortments. By optimising some aspects, a lot could be done here.

In general, it is a matter of appreciating the value of the raw material. The more valuable logs become, the more careful we have to be in the handling of them. Cheap materials are always handled too carelessly.