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An aerial view of Holmsund, Source: Umeå Municipality

With help from EIB, Sweden turns to papermaking 4.0

With help from EIB, Sweden turns to papermaking 4.0

The demand for paper packaging is growing worldwide

On 1 October, Swedish pulp and paper company SCA signed a loan agreement with the European Investment Bank with a view to receiving 300 million euros. The money will be used in the digital upgrading of its Obbola kraftliner paper mill in order to enhance the process towards transitioning to the so-called papermaking 4.0.

Paper products are increasingly becoming more and more popular as a choice for packaging needs in view of changing trends towards sustainable economies. Their biodegradability is unmatched given the organic origin of the material and the decreasing relevance of plastics.

Unchallenged demographic growth potential for northern Sweden

Obbola is a suburb of Holmsund (Umeå municipality), located in northern Sweden. In a landscape characterized by massive and seemingly endless pine forests, it is no surprise that industries related to wood processing would spring up - one such being papermaking.

SCA has been present in that locality for more than 100 years and is a major economic engine for the region. Kraftliner is the unbleached paper used for packaging and boxes and made from spruce or pine pulp, sourced locally from the northern forests. Its production is only projected to increase due to growing demands linked to, among other things, online shopping.

That is why the company has decided to digitize and optimize production with the implementation of something called ‘papermaking 4.0’. This is in trend with ongoing developments, described as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, characterized by the use of big data and smart software that controls, predicts and analyzes production processes.

The President and CEO of SCA Ulf Larsson explained: “The demand for sustainable packaging is increasing and SCA decided in 2019 to expand the manufacturing capacity at the Obbola mill from 450 000 tonnes to 725 000 tonnes. Through this investment the need for fossil fuels in critical parts of the production process will be eliminated resulting in a significantly lower carbon footprint. As a result of this investment in the world’s most advanced kraftliner facility, we will considerably improve the mill’s competitiveness, sustainability footprint and product quality.”

Robotization does not mean depopulation

Such news of increased machine involvement in the traditionally labour-intensive production process should not stir any concerns about job shortages into the future. Quite the opposite, in fact, as just today the municipal website of Umeå published a call to Holmsund and Obbola residents to gather on 31 October and propose their visions for the future development of their settlements. Authorities reported that by 2050, these areas are expected to grow by more than 5000 residents.

SCA's industry characterizes life in these communities and the expansion project, made possible by the European financing has created a stir of excitement. In parallel, investments are planned in the railway sector, which means, among other things, that the current freight yard in central Holmsund can move down to the port area. Detailed planning work is also underway for the building of new homes.

There are many started and planned projects that provide new opportunities and conditions for how and where the places can be developed. But with new businesses and housing also comes more traffic and other types of issues that need to be considered in the ongoing planning work. To manage the individual projects, an overall picture of the conditions that follow from the development that takes place is likewise needed,” explained community planner Thomas Lundgren.

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