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The Polarbröd bakery in Älvsbyn
Photo: Polarbröd

Polarbröd is building the sustainable bakery of the future

When Polarbröd began building its new bakery in Älvsbyn after the fire last year, they had three important criteria for production: it must be efficient, sustainable and flexible. Through its participation in the research project RaSP, Polarbröd wants to find smart methods to achieve its goals.

Although just over a year has passed since the bakery in Älvsbyn burned down, the first loaves of bread have already been baked in the new bakery.

– “It wouldn’t have been strange if we’d only started rebuilding around Christmas this year,” says Gunnar Eklund, Director of Production at Polarbröd. “But by carrying out the reconstruction in stages, we were able to get started much faster. An advantage was that we had just built a completely new, optimal production line that was set to be inaugurated the day after the fire. So, we basically ‘copied and pasted’ to get the first line started and hired the same contractors as before.”

Certain modifications were made immediately, however, particularly in relation to fire safety. This also applied to the bakery in Bredbyn, located 420 km away, to which parts of production were redirected immediately after the fire.

– “In a very short time, we invested SEK 83 million there and managed to increase capacity significantly by overhauling and expanding, including a new 1,000-square-metre packaging hall,” says Eklund. “We also invested in new technology and automation, which has made production more flexible. Before, we could essentially only bake certain types of bread in certain places.”

Challenging sustainability goals

In 2012, Polarbröd’s owners established new challenging goals regarding sustainability. Among other things, this has led Polarbröd to invest in its own wind turbines, which now produce as much renewable energy as the company uses, as well as in rail transport to reduce fossil emissions during inbound and outbound deliveries. During the first stage of the rebuilding in Älvsbyn, the focus has been on being able to quickly start production again – and to make both bakeries as fireproof as possible. But before the next stage begins, they are also looking to take another step in the area of sustainability.

– “After the fire, we said that we will take the chance to realise a vision we had had for a long time at Polarbröd to collaborate with others and try to make Älvsbyn a centre for sustainable, attractive and resilient food production, while at the same time also helping to expand the entire food industry in Norrbotten,” says Cindy Kite, Sustainability Manager at Polarbröd.

The initiative, called CHARM, received funding from Region Norrbotten, Sparbanken Nord and Älvsbyn municipality and began with a series of workshops that led to contact with researchers at Luleå University of Technology, RISE and Jönköping University of Technology. As a result, the research project RaSP (Resilient and Sustainable Production) was launched together with two other companies who were about to invest in new facilities (greenfield) and overhaul existing facilities (brownfield), as well as an automation and design company.

–  “By collaborating with researchers, we can get help with questions about how we can build sustainably, efficiently and flexibly,” explains Kite. “At the same time, we are establishing networks with companies that face similar challenges and can learn from and help each other.”

By collaborating with researchers, we can get help with questions about how we can build sustainably, efficiently and flexibly

Necessary to meet unknown requirements and demands

One of the key questions is how to build facilities that will last for many years, while remaining flexible enough to meet new and partially unknown requirements and demands in the future.

– “Should we build modularly so that we can easily replace parts, or are there new technologies linked to digital solutions that can help us?” asks Kite. “This is one of the things we hope to answer. As part of the project, we will have a few students here from Jönköping University of Technology who will carry out their degree project on automation and big data.”

Some measures have already been implemented to increase flexibility. At the bakery in Bredbyn, areas have been set up that make it possible to meet any new needs on the packaging side of things. Both bakeries have also adapted production so that it is easier to switch between different products and volumes.

– “One of the changes we are seeing is increased demand for flexibility from the market,” says Eklund.  “This means we must adapt to ensure the same efficiency with the same cost-effectiveness.”

RaSP – Resilient and Sustainable Production – Proactive greenfield and brownfield production development

Researchers from: RISE, Jönköping University of Technology and Luleå University of Technology.
Participating companies: Polarbröd, Havredals, Falks Metall, 3Button Group and P9 Projekt.
Financing: 2021–2024.

Published: 2022-02-04
Ulrika Harlin

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Ulrika Harlin

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