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Finnish industrial groups launch AI and robotics ventures

Industrial companies across a broad range of sectors in Finland are applying artificial intelligence to their operation

Multinational Finnish industrial groups Outokumpu, Metsä and HKScan are scaling-up deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) to drive international growth and strengthen performance-based efficiencies in their production and product-based core research operations.

The AI-focused capital investments earmarked by the three Finnish companies reflect the wider adoption and exploitation of AI and robotics technologies by industrial groups across the Nordic region. 

Permeating through all main industry sectors, the rapid increase in the use of AI and robotics technologies by Nordic companies reflects their growing need to find innovative services to modernise production and propel research activities to identify ways AI and digitisation can be exploited to reduce risk and enhance productivity.

The rapid uptake in the use of AI by Outokumpu, Metsä and HKScan – companies that operate in very different product areas – demonstrates the high level and broad interest that Nordic industrial groups are displaying to exploit the commercial opportunities embedded in this new technological tool.

The central mission of the Outokumpu project is to combine AI and robotics to bolster safety management at its stainless steel production plants in Europe , the first global company in this specific industry to do so.

Metsä has launched a pilot project to deploy AI to both identify insect damage in its forest plantations and assess post-storm damage to trees. For its part, food-processing company HKScan is harnessing AI to promote animal welfare on farms using video imaging and AI to identify contrasting behavioural activities in different animals.

A key goal in the Outokumpu project is to utilise AI and robotics to improve safety management in its factories by reducing the accident frequency rate (AFR). The company is aiming to achieve the lowest AFR within the steel industry in Europe by 2025.

Monitoring health and safety

The AI-robotics offering deployed by Outokumpu features safety inspection robots accompanied by parallel undertakings to digitise the health and safety monitoring systems and processes of stainless steel production plants.  

Outokumpu is using ANYmal safety inspection robots under an autonomous robotics delivery agreement reached with Swiss supplier ANYbotics in June last year. Outokumpu’s steel facility in Krefeld, Germany, was selected as the first industrial site to employ the ANYmal safety inspection robots.

The use of robotics has the potential to reduce human exposure to hazardous substances by up to 80%, said Thorsten Piniek, Outokumpu’s vice-president of health and safety.

“Utilisation of robotics technology fits well with our mission to increase workplace safety by reducing employee exposure to hazardous substances and environments,” he said. “Our goal is to optimise production through preventive maintenance. When we began to research the potential of AI in safety management in 2022, robotics emerged as the best available alternative.”

In addition to the Krefeld site, Outokumpu has rolled out the ANYmal safety inspection robot offering to its stainless steel plants in Finland and Sweden

The deployment of safety inspection robots will complement rather than replace the human workforce. Part – but not all of – the inspection work, will be handled by robots, said Piniek.

“The robots will multitask,” he said. “They can cut the time employees spend inspecting acid areas. Their inspection role means they are used to reduce the risk of fires due to overheating of bearings and motors. Robots will be used to shorten malfunction times since defects can be detected at an early stage through temperature and sound profile measurements before a failure occurs.”

Forestry management

Metsä is running its AI pilot research project in partnership with CollectiveCrunch, a Helsinki-based software firm specialising in AI forestry management services. Metsä is using the CollectiveCrunch-built AI app to identify and visually assess insect attacks and infestation in trees, as well as a tool to evaluate storm damage to spruce and birch forest plantations.

Metsä has made the app available online to help forest owners and forest management partners better manage their tree plantation assets.

The app incorporates machine learning and an open remote survey data tool that is capable of monitoring large forest plantations in real time. The app can assess and report threats by invasive insects, such as the bark beetle, or damage caused by extreme weather events.    

It provides an excellent tool to maintain the vitality of forests and map areas for urgent attention, said Olli Leino, head of digitisation at Metsä’s Wood Supply and Forest Services unit.

“Using advanced AI technology, the app is designed to alert [forest management] to various types of damage to trees, such as insect damage,” he said. “The app can also be used to identify forests that suffer storm damage or draught, or forests that are excessively dense or are at risk of damage in some other way. The app is also able to detect damage that is not yet visible to the human eye, allowing forest managers to take swift remedial action.”

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CollectiveCrunch deepened its involvement with AI forestry applications in February 2024, when it formed a strategic partnership with Ponsse Group, a producer of timber harvesting machines. The collaboration was established under a €1m project funded by Business Finland, which forms part of the state industrial development agency’s innovation programme to develop sustainable mobile workstations.

The CollectiveCrunch and Ponsse joint project aims to create AI tools to improve the way forests in Finland are inventorised and monitored. The offering will seek to combine higher-resolution forest analytics to enable a better and more granular understanding of forests, their biodiversity and stress levels.

Improved analytics will enable forest machinery to perform its tasks in a more sustainable and efficient way, said Mika Korvenranta, CollectiveCrunch’s chief product officer.

“Forests are under significant stress from climate change. This AI initiative supports more sustainable forestry, while the data-driven vision will enable better productivity and transparency of outcomes. Improved forest inventory information can play a core role to plan and execute harvesting operations so that only the trees that need to be cut are cut.” 

HKScan, one of the five leading Nordic meat processing companies, is harnessing AI to promote animal welfare, initially in farm cattle. Using AI and digitisation, the company launched a pilot-research programme to study the behaviour of bulls. Led by HKScan, the project’s partners include the University of Helsinki’ s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and AI software development firm Empirica Finland .

The combined AI and digitisation service will be used to drive HKScan’s animal welfare research programmes and gather data on the behaviour of bulls housed in insulated barn environments through video imaging. AI will be used to identify different behavioural activities based on video analysis.

“We are looking at the possibility of using machine learning to recognise more specific social behaviours such as relaxation, friskiness or body grooming,” said Heidi Härtel, a project leader at HKScan. “Using data, this will help us determine the time budget of beef cattle in insulated barn conditions, and how much time bulls spend lying down, eating, standing and possibly engaging in social behaviour. We are also developing AI-based measurement technology to monitor the use by bulls of the cattle brushes in their stalls.”

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