Big data and diverse teams will advance packaging and paper: Mondi hackathon

Tue, 14. November
Careers, R&D
R&D, innovation, data, papermaking, packaging, careers
PhD and master’s students from all over Europe ‘hacked’ the status quo of packaging and paper at Mondi hackathon. Potential of big data and greater diversity in focus.

Complex supply chains. Constrained natural resources. Climate change. Human rights and business.

Arnavaz Schatten, Mondi’s Group Social Sustainability Manager, clicked quickly through the slides.

“We do not operate in isolation. We’re part of social and environmental systems that affect the way we do business,” she explained to the audience of PhD and master’s students from some 20 European universities and institutes.

“How can we use big data to manage risks and grow responsibly?” she asked them.


In quick succession, other Mondi experts stood before the audience of scientists and presented industry insights they would put to use in the next hours, in the first Mondi Speed Data Hackathon.

Images of the data-rich systems that are part of Mondi’s global packaging and paper business flashed up on the screen before the students:

  • digitisation and human-machine interaction in production lines
  • predictive modeling for resource use, energy, and market changes
  • data points to identify, recruit and develop talent
  • technologies to ensure real-time connectivity with employees, customers and consumers

"Globally, Mondi uses as much energy as a city the size of Vienna. How can we use big data to do it better? How can we increase our flexibility?” said René Stadler, who heads energy procurement for Mondi.

In 2016, over 60% of the fuel consumption in Mondi’s plants came from biomass-based renewable energy sources; Mondi has reduced CO2e emissions per tonne of product by over 30% since 2004, but the plan is to go even further. Smart use of big data will be a key factor to do that.

The students studied the slides and scribbled down notes.

Then Mia Kainz, communication manager for Mondi R&D Paper, and the hackathon’s designer, sprang to the front of the room.

“Now, you’ve seen the actual business challenges that are part of producing packaging and paper, and the kinds of data we work with every day,” she told the audience.

“For the next two hours you’ll work in small groups and brainstorm how big data could be used to address challenges and opportunities in the packaging and paper business. When those two hours are up, you’ll present your concept to everyone, in the form of an elevator pitch. You’ll have just one minute to pitch.”

There’s a reason the event was named speed data hackathon.


Innovation under time pressure

Kainz flicked a slide with group assignments onto the screen and called out names of student team leaders and the Mondi sponsors who would support them through the brainstorming phase.

Eight groups of student scientists from different universities, specialisations and backgrounds. Most of them had never worked together before. That was by design.

“Within the groups we aimed to create the most complementary possible combinations of ages, cultures, scientific backgrounds and gender, to encourage fresh ideas and break out of the known.

“Thirty-seven percent of the scientists at the hackathon were women, for example. That’s a great sign,” said Kainz.

“What I really found amazing was how many different ideas came out in this short time ... and each one of those ideas may have the core of a business idea in it.”
Wilhelm Munninger, Technical Director for Mondi Release Liner

The clock started and the groups spread out through the Retzhof, the 16th century house where the hackathon was taking place.

Mondi experts wove in and out of the rooms, touching base with the groups to answer technical questions and fill in knowledge gaps about the packaging and paper industry.

“It’s always great to hear ideas from people who have not had so much contact with the industry. It gives them a kind of freedom to have out-of-the-box ideas,” said Juan Rosenzweig, commercial and supply chain excellence consultant at Mondi.

“The aim was to support the students without influencing the outcome of their idea,” he added.


One of the participants, Tanja Pleša, a master’s student at the Pulp and Paper Institute, Ljubljana, described the experience:

“When you are put in a group with other scientists who you barely know, with less than two hours to come up with a new concept, you are out of your comfort zone. At first it's hard, also because of the time limit. But if you are lucky, and the team connects well, you get a flow.”

At the end of the two hours, each team had developed a unique big data concept. They refined their sketches on flipcharts, nominated spokespeople to present, and rehearsed their elevator pitches against the stopwatch.

Then the groups and audience, including the Mondi jury, piled into the presentation room.


New concepts pitched

Leo Arpa, Mondi’s Head of R&D Paper, gathered the audience around for the presentations.

One by one, the groups pitched their concepts - eight fresh ideas using big data to rethink an area of the packaging and paper business:

  • A concept to ensure supply of raw materials through big data insights...
  • A system to feed real-time big data about consumers’ desires back to product development, procurement and other systems...
  • Energy surplus created and captured through regulating paper production...

and others.

“What I really found amazing was how many different ideas came out in this short time ... and each one of those ideas may have the core of a business idea in it,” said Dr. Wilhelm Munninger, Technical Director for Mondi Release Liner.

"The global challenges are so complex and large in scale that one company, one industry,one institute cannot tackle these issues on their own. You need lots of collaboration from different sectors and at different levels,” said Arnavaz Schatten. “I feel optimistic about this generation. They’re open, they link things, they’re quick and ambitious and smart... They’re going to be the next generation of sustainability thinkers. That was really exciting for me.”


Most convincing concept

At the post-hackathon party, with glasses raised and filled with Styrian sparkling wine, Leo Arpa and Bernard de Galembert, Director for Innovation & Bioeconomy at the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI), announced the winning group and concept.

“In my opinion data will be the next golden ticket, and you are part of it by being part of this hackathon,” said de Galembert.

“We had an even tougher discussion within the jury than we thought we would,” Arpa said, and continued: “The winning concept, ‘smart value chain’, provides an end-to-end view from the customer back to the producer and shows technical feasibility and is still a very innovative approach.


Pleša, a member of the winning group, reflected on her experience, “This hackathon was a good experience for me... you learn that working in a group of people who you do not know is not that scary... and that is kind of a life lesson.”


Background and acknowledgements

The Mondi Speed Data Hackathon took place on 24 October at the 2017 European Cellulose Materials Doctoral Students Conference / EFPRO meeting, organised by Graz University of Technology (TU Graz) Institute of Pulp, Paper and Fibre. Sincere thanks to TU Graz for inviting Mondi to host the hackathon at the conference.

Mondi shared the results of the hackathon with all the participants in hope of continuing open collaboration and knowledge sharing around the concepts created and presented there.

The Speed Data Hackathon is one example of Mondi’s many activities focused on innovation. The Mondi Group runs six innovation centres.

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