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Business: Sustainable living

Business: Sustainable living
L–R: production director Piia-Riitta Bergman, logistics manager Minna Hukkanen and development engineer Anninka Hujanen in the new logistics centre

Business: Sustainable living

Genelec’s new logistics centre is providing the manufacturer with increased capacity and sustainability, and the extra space is proving invaluable too. Caroline Moss reports from Finland

Sustainability is not a new buzzword for Genelec. Its lakeside factory in Iisalmi, Finland, was constructed in 1985 with environmental concerns in mind, and products are designed to have a long lifespan and ease of service, with spare parts available years after discontinuation. Since 2000, the company has initiated regular procedures to ensure sustainable development, the most recent and far-reaching being last year’s addition of a new logistics facility at its headquarters. This has increased the space, flexibility and efficiency of warehousing and logistics operations, while enabling the entire facility to be powered exclusively by sustainable sources including solar, wind and hydroelectric energy.

“We wanted to keep manufacturing and R&D under one roof in Iisalmi,” explains production director, Piia-Riitta Bergman, one of several inspirational women who oversaw the expansion. “The main aims were to maintain the high quality of production and make sure our processes are streamlined as new products get introduced, especially in the key area of final testing of our equipment. The company has grown, new items have gone into production and we realised we needed more space. Building an extension was a natural way to respond to our growth as we keep developing production processes and bringing some new ones in. In a multi-product environment, it makes sense to optimise the internal logistics: how the goods come in, where they are stocked, how are they reached from the stock and delivered to the assembly stations and then how the ready-made speakers are transported. Now, we have much more room for the shipping department; the space we have available to handle incoming and outgoing goods is much bigger.”

Genelec's new warehouse and retrieval system
Genelec's new warehouse and retrieval system

A key investment was an automated warehouse and retrieval system, providing hundreds of metres of shelving and storage capacity for the entire production process. Automated vertical storage is planned to boost handling efficiency by up to 65% and increase floor space by up to 70%. Fully automated, it allows production staff to select a job on a screen and, moments later, receive a tray containing the necessary components. To minimise error, lasers point to the correct item when the shelf comes into view, so exactly the right components can be collected and transported to the assembly station on a dedicated trolley. Future plans involve fitting a robot driver onto the trolleys so they can automatically get where they are needed on the production floor. “Automation in our type of industry is typically used to free up a person to do something that creates more value,” says Bergman. “Some of the simple routine and repetitive tasks can be taken over by a robot, or a person and a machine working together, to improve quality and productivity.”

Development engineer Annika Hujanen, who managed the project, came on board in late 2018, with building work starting in March 2019 and lasting 10 months. “We did a lot of research into the companies we worked with on the construction,” she explains. “To keep the carbon footprint down, the furthest the contractors came from was Kuopio, 85km away, and they used local subcontractors from Iisalmi.” A steering group was formed so that big decisions could be taken collectively. “This enabled very smooth communication with all the partners, and we learned a lot through the process,” adds Hujanen.

Although Genelec moved from oil to wind- and hydroelectric-generated energy some time ago, the new building sees its first-time use of solar panels, with over 450 mounted on the roof. “We chose a local solar provider,” says Hujanen. “In the winter, and when they are covered with more than 10cm of snow, we don’t get any power but, in the summer, even the nights are bright. And if we make more than we need, we can sell the power. We’ve calculated that one-third of our electricity comes from our local solar panels – a very good achievement and it’s still early days.”

Another contribution to carbon reduction comes from the consolidation of two former warehouses in the Iisalmi area into the new building. “There was a lot of traffic going back and forth, so we’ve reduced the carbon footprint here,” says Hujanen. “We’ve also made a lot of changes to our recycling system, investing in a crusher, and doing smart recycling that only gets collected when it is ready. Our ultimate goal is to run our operation with zero waste. We ask our partners around the world if they can use recycled materials, planting ideas and encouraging them. When we audit our factories, we also audit from the point of view of sustainability.”

Of course, the new extension is also providing an unanticipated bonus in these times of social distancing. “The extra space has helped during this period as the warehouse and material logistics have been working in a separate area,” says Bergman. “We’ve divided production into different groups and shifts, with smaller groups working at different times, while also implementing working practices and routines to protect the health and safety of personnel. Safe distancing has been implemented and we are limiting and organising the movement of different teams in separate areas of the factory.”

Not quite the future Genelec was envisioning when planning the new factory extension, but its timely construction has ticked another box as the company continues its drive towards sustainability.

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