New solutions and next generation process control systems are required to improve the sustainability and efficiency of manufacturing industries. Smart automation systems need better and more reliable measurement data. Consequently, there has been a clear need to develop more compact, affordable and high-performance analysis technologies for real-time quality monitoring. These trends towards more efficient manufacturing processes were the main motivation for the biggest joint research project for optical sensing technologies in Finland.
The future of photonics
The TERAVA project was funded by the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation (Tekes) and participating companies and agencies. The total budget of this project consortium was almost 7M€ and it was started in January 2016.
The project had an extremely ambitious goal to generate next generation process sensors and an analyzer concept for optimizing process control and measurement applications in many process industries, such as pulp and paper and pharmaceutical industries. The project had a total of 11 industrial and research partners who worked together to build and validate future measurement concepts in industrial measurement applications.
The project ended in December 2018. The main output from the project was showcased in The Future of Photonics seminar hosted by the Committee for the Future of Finnish Parliament and the Federation of Technology Industries in March 2019.
Collaboration with a leading-edge company in paper process automation
The biggest industrial partner of the TERAVA project was Valmet Automation Ltd. Valmet Automation is the biggest automation solution provider in the paper and pulp industry and its revenue was 357M€ in 2018. 70% of Valmet Automation’s sensing instruments are based on photonics. The company offers measurement and control solutions for cellulose, kaolin, moisture, polymers and special coatings. The biggest challenge for new sensors is often related to the speed of paper web, which can be up to 2000 m/min.
The Future of Photonics -seminar’s key note speaker Markku Mäntylä from Valmet Automation presented the main R&D results and business impact of the TERAVA project in his speech.
“We investigated the suitability of new spectral sensors for measuring the quality of web-like products such as paper and various plastics and developed a technology for real-time measurements in difficult conditions. It has been great to see Spectral Engines’ cost-effective sensor technology and the applicability of their sensors in challenging measurement applications that require precision and stability. This project proved that Spectral Engines’ sensor technology creates significant opportunities for business growth in paper industry applications", Markku Mäntylä summarized the project.
VTT – the forerunner of optical sensor technologies
VTT, the Technical Research Center of Finland, has over 30 years of experience in optical measurement technology development and it is one of the leading research organizations for process measurements. The TERAVA project offered a lot of new insight on miniaturized sensors which can be implemented for real-time process measurements. One significant result of the project was the evaluation of the performance of different spectral sensor technologies in real time paper quality measurements. Many sensors technologies were studied and compared in real industrial applications.
According to studies done by VTT, Spectral Engines' sensor performance matched the performance of spectroscopic analyzers used in laboratories.
”We made comprehensive validation for many different optical sensors including Spectral Engines’ NIRONE Sensors in this project. We compared the performance of affordable sensors and high-quality laboratory spectrometers in our application studies and their performance was equal. Spectral Engines’ sensors offer very high Signal-Noise-Ratio and the wavelengths can be selected based on applications. This enables very high-speed process measurements with high sensitivity. Paper industry measurements, of course, are very demanding applications for spectral sensors, but we found Spectral Engines’ sensors to be very competitive in these harsh industrial measurements where the measurement time is only few milliseconds”, says VTT’s senior researcher Pekka Suopajärvi.
Smart Industry – better quality and less waste
The TERAVA project played a very important role in the development of Spectral Engines’ NIRONE Sensor family. The project created new application information and optical integration ideas. Of course, the project also offered a possibility to test the sensor technology in demanding situations.
”This project opened new possibilities to further develop and test our award-winning NIRONE sensors, especially in fast real-time industrial applications. Collaborating with Valmet Automation, VTT and other project partners has been extremely fruitful. I’m looking forward to continuing this collaboration and commercialization with our existing partners and with new customers, who are developing high-performance affordable sensor solutions for Smart Industry“, says Uula Kantojärvi, CTO of Spectral Engines.
The TERAVA project was a big investment from the companies, research organizations and Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation. The initial expectations were very high when the project got approved three years ago. It is safe to say that these investments have really paid off and generated collaboration between companies and research organizations. Even though the project mainly focused on paper industry measurements, the results will benefit not only paper process industry but manufacturing industries in general, as they can be used in measurement and control automation (MCA) applications as well.