Significant optimization potential found for Stora Enso in a student project

A tool was developed to optimize material flows in a network.
Kuvassa Stora Ensolle tehdyn opiskelijaprojektin työryhmä.

The students developed an optimization tool for Stora Enso’s Consumer Board division to optimize material flows in a network. In addition to building the model, the students focused on the user friendliness of the tool’s interface. The project was implemented as a Customized Student Business Project in collaboration with the supervising professors and the customer’s representatives.

Stora Enso had identified a need for a new tool to support the strategic and operational decision-making process in the wood processing network. Particularly, a new tool is expected to optimize flows in a network as well as allow for experimenting with different scenarios, for example, changes in volumes or network structure.

A multidisciplinary team of students of Aalto University accepted the challenge to develop a tool in a user-friendly and efficient manner. Master's degree students Heidi Valtari and Ngau-Thu Nguyen, from School of Business, and Katja Metsäkoivu, from School of Science, combined their skills in mathematical modelling, analytics and data visualization under the supervision of Professor of Practice Katariina Kemppainen and Associate Professor Juuso Liesiö.

The created tool can optimize costs in our subcontractor network

First, the students formulated and programmed the optimization model to reflect the processing network. After having a smooth and fast solving process for the model, the focus moved on to the user-friendliness of the interface. In the end, one compact tool is visualized to be clear for new users, and the outcome is a standardized report for the real-life use cases. The produced results can be viewed quickly in an overall view or studied in fine detail for more complex analysis depending on the interests of the end user. In the final part of the project, the students made a scenario analysis between possible future scenarios and current baseline. The scenarios showed significant improvement potential for the costs as well as operating guidelines.

“Even though faced with a new industry and the optimization of a relatively complex network, the student succeeded in absorbing the required background information astonishingly fast. The created tool can optimize costs in our subcontractor network while taking into account the different constrictions we have in choosing the subcontractors. The results will also be used to compare different subcontractor and capacity options in our future network”, says Erja Karjalainen from Stora Enso.

Close co-operation was the best thing in the project

“The best part of the project was the close co-operation with Stora Enso’s team members with weekly meetings. We were able to learn about the realities of the business and get instant feedback for our ideas”, tells Katja Metsäkoivu, a Student Team member.

Frequent communication between the students and Stora Enso benefited the project in three main ways: first to get an understanding of the operations to be modelled, then to simplify or add to the right aspects of the model to keep the results realistic, and lastly to report the optimized results in a meaningful way. This was accomplished by weekly skype meetings between students and Stora Enso representatives, who would also be the end users of the final product. Accomplishments, problems, changes, and wishes were openly discussed in the meetings and topics were taken forward to supervisors when needed.

As a supervisor, Professor of Practice Katariina Kemppainen commented that this project was a success. ‘We are very proud of the team that worked in a highly professional manner. As an example, their project management was top notch throughout the assignment, which allowed us as supervisors concentrate on giving advice for the most challenging issues such as how to model the business problem and how to synthesize and visualize the results. Last but not least, the great attitude of the team made this a joyful experience for us as well.’

Throughout the project, the students learned a great deal about the importance of iterative work with the client, about creative problem solving and efficient compromising in restricted timeframe, as well as acquiring a good knowledge of modeling and solving a linear network optimization problem with real life parameters and data. The student business project is an invaluable opportunity for the students to use their skills for a real-life business problem and for the customer to get new knowledge and innovative ideas.

‘I would highly recommend any student to apply for the Customized Student Business Project. You can learn things that you never expected and take on challenges that you were not exposed to before in classes. It was a wonderful learning opportunity for all of us in the team’, tells Ngau-Thu Nguyen.

The Customized Student Projects concept coordinated by the School of Business offers students the opportunity to work on solving current challenges faced by corporate business, giving the assigning company the possibility to develop and spar new ideas together with the students.

Photo: Professor of Practice Katariina Kemppainen (on the left) and Professor Juuso Liesiö from the School of Business, Paula Vuorela, Tommi Laine-Ylijoki and Erja Karjalainen from Stora Enso and students Heidi Valtari, Thu Nguyen and Katja Metsäkoivu.