The long-established mining company Nordkalk Oy was in search of a better solution for collecting and reporting production data. Digia provided them with a real-time reporting solution based on IoT data, which provides the company with a top-to-bottom view of their production across Europe.
Nordkalk Oy, which employs more than 800 people, is the leading producer and supplier of limestone products in Northern Europe. The company’s mining operations, which got their start in Pargas, Finland in the late nineteenth century, have spread to ten countries and thirty separate locations over the course of over 120 years.
The mining industry is a traditional one, and digitalisation has been relatively slow. At Nordkalk, the company’s passing into the hands of the next generation has accelerated digitalisation over the last decade, and the collection and reporting of production data in mines and production plants has become a priority area of development in this respect.
Digia developed a reporting solution for Nordkalk that provides a real-time view of production in the company’s plants and individual production lines. The solution includes role-specific views that place the key figures that are most important to specific personnel front and centre. However, any user who wants to can also delve into anything from top-level production statistics to the numbers of individual production lines.
In addition to its cost-effectiveness, Digia’s proposal was chosen because it did not contain anything unnecessary but still left room for unforeseen changes. We were also impressed by Digia’s industry expertise right from the start.
Jesse Kaukola, Digitalisation Expert and System Architect, Nordkalk
From concept to solution – Digia offered a flexible and tailored solution
Tita Nurmi, CIO of Nordkalk, explains that, during a competitive tendering for an IT service partner in 2016, the company was introduced to an IoT system in which she saw a potential solution to Nordkalk’s data challenges. Jesse Kaukola, an experienced digitalisation expert and system architect, was recruited to take the project forward.
“We had been looking for a solution for collecting production data and improving the effectiveness of reporting it for some time. When we were presented with IoT options, a lightbulb came on and we started considering if IoT could offer us what we were looking for,” Nurmi says.
The company started looking into IoT possibilities by ordering a Proof of Concept from their IT service partner, which was used to ensure the technology could be adapted to the purpose. With the PoC convincing Nordkalk of the opportunities provided by an IoT option, the company began looking for solutions worth implementing.
Kaukola explains that, at this stage, they had defined the business challenge for which they wanted a solution and had listed some wishes for its implementation, but the solution the company was looking for had not been defined beyond that. Because of this, the options the company was presented with were diverse. Of these options, Digia’s tailored solution was the most cost-effective and the most closely adapted to Nordkalk’s requirements.
“We did not want to lay down too strict a set of criteria, because we wanted to find the best option available. In addition to Digia, we evaluated two manufacturing execution systems and one IoT service package. In addition to its cost-effectiveness, Digia’s proposal was chosen because it did not contain anything unnecessary but still left room for unforeseen changes. We were also impressed by Digia’s industry expertise right from the start,” Kaukola says.
Development work was done on several fronts – work with Digia began with service design
The operating environment in Nordkalk’s twenty-five production plants varied significantly. Each had its own set of processes and automated systems with different technical capabilities. Alongside Digia’s reporting solution, another partner developed the various production plants’ technical preparedness to collect production data for a unified platform.
Because the plants’ preparedness and practices differed so significantly, the decision was made to start Digia’s development work with service design. Together, Nordkalk and Digia organised three workshops with participants from all of Nordkalk’s business units and functions and all its mines and production plants.
These workshops looked for an agreement on the question of what the issues were that Digia’s solution needed to address. In the process, all of Nordkalk’s organisation was energised for the project.
“Service design was absolutely a good place to start, because it let us collect lots of information about what was needed of the solution in different functions. Despite involving an enormous number of people, the workshops were efficient. By processing the information collected in them, we were able to effectively specify what we were looking to achieve. Digia’s expertise in both workshopping and turning data from responses into solution proposals was impressive,” Kaukola says.
The solution was developed using agile working methods
The agile Scrum framework was used when implementing the solution. Kaukola worked as Nordkalk’s technical product owner during the cooperation alongside a separate project manager who acted as the representative of the users and other stakeholders.
Digia’s team worked in close cooperation with Nordkalk’s project team and their other partners. Thanks to Digia’s technical and industry expertise, even breaking up large jobs into small, easily implemented tasks known as sprints was easy and effective. Because, in addition to this, the needs of users and other stakeholders had been comprehensively mapped and documented through service design, a production-ready solution could be implemented under the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) concept.
“I was familiar with Scrum and knew it was a good way of implementing development projects, and Digia’s team agreed. They seemed to have an exceptionally good grasp of how to turn our wishes and ideas into sprints that could be implemented. Thanks to this, defining the contents of the MVP was straightforward,” Kaukola explains.
Digia’s clear and solution-centred approach was also praised by the steering group consisting of Nordkalk’s upper management, including Tita Nurmi.
“From our perspective, the project proceeded in an effective and clear way. When it encountered situations in which the steering group needed to make a decision, the project team always showed up well prepared. They described the challenge, presented potential solutions and gave us their recommendation. Decision-making was made easy for us,” Nurmi says.
The solution was received well in production, and cooperation was expanded to the mobile application
The deployment of the production-ready solution was implemented in stages at different locations. When evidence of the utility of the data started to become available to production management after deployment, data ownership quickly became a priority.
“One of the production foremen summed up the effects of the solution on their everyday work well by saying ‘It’s great that we don’t even have to get up off the sofa in the evening to check the production numbers. We used to have to drive to the plant to do that’,” Kaukola says with amusement.
The need for a new data source was only recognised after the development project was already quite advanced. The loads that were transported at the mines were still documented manually on paper and then entered into Excel spreadsheets. IoT technology was not suitable for this purpose, so, after the options had been mapped, the decision was made for Digia to develop a separate mobile application for it. Kaukola acted as the product owner for this project, as well.
“From the perspective of a customer, the development of a mobile application and its integration into the overall reporting system happened very smoothly, though it was probably far from easy,” he says.
Data plays an important role in Nordkalk’s future
The increasing centrality of data is one of the great changes that has occurred in business life, and it touches every part of the organisation. For Nordkalk, the deployment of the IoT data reporting solution was an important stage in the development of data-oriented business activities because it allows for the collection of accurate, reliable and real-time data from all the company’s mines and production plants across Europe.
The solution’s immediate advantages in production have already been confirmed, which has strengthened the company’s commitment to data ownership. At the same time, the upper management of the company is already looking into other data-related opportunities. Tita Nurmi has a clear vision of the coming stages in the company’s digitalisation and data-orientedness.
“Data-orientedness and digitalisation are also significant cultural changes, which means there is still much work to do. However, when it comes to data and technology, the next steps are already clear. We want to develop our ability to analyse production data and combine it with sales and financial data. The long-term goal is to transition to more developed analytics and increasingly diverse ways of using data,” Nurmi explains.
The cooperation between Nordkalk and Digia has gone smoothly from start to finish, and the companies have a great deal of trust in one another. “I believe that Digia has an important role in our future data projects, as well,” Nurmi concludes.