“This is like the job of
a player coordinator”
For Timo Merikallio (60), this year marks 30 years of working for Metsä Group. He is currently working as the Project Director of the bioproduct mill. For Merikallio, moving from his position as the Mill Manager of Metsä Fibre's Rauma mill to head the project at Äänekoski represented the closing of a circle.
“When I first came to Metsä Group in 1986, I worked as a research engineer here at Äänekoski. At the time, the mill hadn't even been up and running for more than a year,” says Merikallio, who completed his master's degree in engineering at the University of Technology in Otaniemi, Espoo.
Over three decades, the life cycle of this efficient, well-functioning mill had inevitably reached its final quarter and Metsä Group made the major decision to build a next-generation bioproduct mill.
“At the beginning of 2013, Metsä Fibre's CEO, Ilkka Hämälä, told me that I would start leading a project of this kind. Even if it had been up for debate, it wouldn't have even crossed my mind to say no,” adds the smiling Merikallio.
Solid trust in the team
The project management work began with setting up a three-member strong project team in November 2013. Given that the project was to remain firmly out of the public eye, the work had to be carried out separate from everything else.
“We rented a small office near the airport in Vantaa and got to work hunting for the key players for our team of about twenty people. My job took on many of the characteristics of a player coordinator,” says Merikallio, who dons the blue and yellow scarf of the Rauman Lukko ice hockey team.
The bioproduct mill team came to include an ideal mix of Metsä Fibre's own people and people from outside. Again, Merikallio finds a fitting simile from ice hockey:
“Everyone working in the project organisation is an expert in their own field. Like professional ice hockey players, they too put their heart and soul into the game from the very start, for the success of their own team.”
Merikallio underscores the fact that managers must be able to trust the people they've selected 100 per cent.
“Finding the right role for each person is crucial. I think we've been successful in this, thanks to which the project has progressed exactly according to plan.”
Tight, yet realistic schedules
It is the project manager's job to be up to date on what's happening on the project and to ensure that agreed schedules are followed.
“When something is decided, it won't be changed on a whim. You have to be able to be resolute about some things,” says Merikallio.
When something is decided, it won't be changed on a whim.
The new mill is set to begin operations in the third quarter of 2017, i.e. by the end of September that year. Merikallio nevertheless admits that he has a very clear date in mind on which the new mill is supposed to start running.
“The deadlines are tight, but realistic. If we fall behind schedule in a project such as this, it will translate into not only a loss of reputation, but a huge amount of money for us as well as the equipment suppliers and contractors.”
Issues are communicated openly
Merikallio admits that, in the past decades, the forest industry was no stranger to learning things the hard way when it came to communication. The policy with regard to communication took a radical turn in the mid-1980s, at the time the existing mill was under construction.
“Päijänne-liike – a grass-roots movement that challenged the forest industry in the 1980s – was one of the factors that made the industry to be more open and made it do things differently. In the end, the experiences were good, due to which it has been very clear for us, from the very beginning, that we need to communicate issues very openly, both internally and externally.”
Even the assessment of the mill's environmental impact, including the related events for the public, was an open process that advanced awareness of the project and made it more acceptable. The project's own website features webcams that give everybody a chance to follow the progress of construction in real time. The site's internal communication is handled by, among other things, the weekly bulletin and the soon-to-be-installed information screens.
“We try to organise regular briefings and site tours for local and national media.”
The builders of the bioproduct mill is a new series of articles that introduces readers to the people bringing the next-generation bioproduct mill to life and describing their work in the biggest investment in the history of the Finnish forest industry. This is the first article of the series. The builders of the bioproduct mill will be published on our website at www.bioproductmill.com during the first half of 2016.