Steinbeis Papier  Logo
Industry: Manufacturing & Engineering
Location: Germany
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Steinbeis Papier increases competitiveness and sustainability with an Industry 4.0 platform


  • Up to 99% faster deployment of new services, from hours to seconds.
  • Highly available operation of a container-based Industry 4.0 platform.
  • Minimal operational effort thanks to a high degree of automation.
  • Central management and monitoring of all clusters and workloads.
  • Comprehensive protection of sensitive production and business data through consistent security standards.
  • Deployment of new analytics services within seconds.
  • Deployment of new Kubernetes clusters in minutes.
  • Easy scalability as requirements grow — on-premises or in the cloud.


Introducing Steinbeis

Steinbeis Papier is a true pioneer in sustainable business. The family-owned company, headquartered in Glückstadt, began using wastepaper as a raw material for paper production in the 1970s. Since 1976, the company produces its papers entirely without wood, using 100% wastepaper instead. Today, Steinbeis Papier leads the European market in producing more than 300,000 tons of recycled graphical papers every year. The product range includes printing and copying papers, coated offset papers, and digital printing and label papers. The company operates one of the most modern recycling paper mills in Europe and strives for ecological balance throughout the entire manufacturing process. From regional procurement of recovered paper to production with its own energy generation and virtually closed water cycles, Steinbeis Papier consistently relies on sustainable solutions. As a result, the company has the lowest carbon dioxide emissions and consumes the least among of raw materials, energy and water in the industry. Steinbeis Papier is a company of Steinbeis Holding, which is active in the new lead markets of environmental technology and the energy industry.


Steinbeis Papier, Europe’s leading manufacturer of recycled graphical papers, has implemented a smart data framework from avato consulting to optimize processes using real-time data from production and other business systems. After building this platform with SAP HANA running on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES), the team needed a powerful container management platform to integrate new services quickly and operate the smart data framework efficiently and securely. Selecting SUSE Rancher, the team now enjoys reliable and largely automated operation of its Industry 4.0 platform, making it possible to provide new insights and services quickly and flexibly.

The journey to a container-based smart data framework

Having automated functions at the company’s paper mill for years, Steinbeis Paper found a new way to use its wide range of machine and production data. “This data has always helped us with traceability and error analysis,” says Dr. Michael Hunold, head of project management at Steinbeis Holding and project manager. “But we didn’t just want to understand why errors happened, retrospectively. We wanted to develop a system that continuously monitors data for detecting anomalies at an early stage. Ultimately, it’s about not only looking at the past, but also looking into the future.”

To achieve this, Steinbeis Papier launched a comprehensive Industry 4.0 initiative and brought IT consulting firm, avato consulting AG, on board as a strategic partner. “We wanted to create something that we couldn’t buy on the market,” says Ulrich Middelberg, IT manager at Steinbeis Papier. “Our idea was to build a platform that would help us answer questions about our business processes using real-time data already available in our various systems.”

After collecting departmental insights on how digitization could help optimize processes, Steinbeis Papier and avato consulting developed the platform’s technical solution architecture with SAP HANA running at the center. The high-performance, in-memory database quickly processes up to 50,000 new data values per second collected from 27,000 production sensors in a custom-built network of streaming components designed by avato consulting.

The team then uses machine learning algorithms to analyze the data, turning it into usable information within seconds. The smart data framework very quickly detects deviations in the manufacturing process that can affect the quality of paper products or lead to machine downtimes. Intuitive dashboards with digital assistants then provide production staff with tangible advice on how to fix these problems.

avato consulting developed the smart data framework entirely based on microservices to be able to quickly adapt the solution architecture to new requirements and to increase reliability. “The streaming components, the analysis services and the individual front ends of the different data applications run in their own containers,” explains Leon Müller, smart data lead at avato consulting. “It was, therefore, clear that we also needed a powerful container management platform for the rapidly growing environment. This is the only way we can integrate new services quickly and operate the smart data framework efficiently and securely for Steinbeis Papier.”

“The smart data framework provides us with valuable information every day to make our processes even more sustainable and efficient. Thanks to SUSE Rancher, the platform runs extremely stable and can be expanded very quickly to include new analytics services.”

Why SUSE Rancher?

Together with Steinbeis Papier, avato consulting selected Kubernetes and the SUSE Rancher management platform for container orchestration. “One important factor was high standards compliance,” says Middelberg. “SUSE Rancher supports all CNCF-certified Kubernetes distributions and all common cloud platforms. This way, as a customer, we don’t run the risk of getting into vendor lock-in and can keep our options open.”

Steinbeis Papier’s experience with SUSE also spoke in favor of using SUSE Rancher. “Our entire SAP HANA environment runs on SLES,” explains Middelberg. “We, therefore, knew in advance that we could rely on SUSE’s competent support at all times.”

For the specialists at avato consulting, who operate the smart data framework for Steinbeis Papier as a managed service, SUSE Rancher’s sophisticated management and monitoring functions play a key role. “With SUSE Rancher, we can manage multiple Kubernetes clusters from a single interface and always have an overview of all workloads,” emphasizes Müller. “SUSE Rancher’s high level of automation helps us keep operational costs low, making the implementation of a comprehensive Industry 4.0 strategy affordable, even for a medium-sized company like Steinbeis Papier.”

avato consulting uses SUSE Rancher to standardize all cluster operations such as provisioning, version management and backup. All smart data framework workloads are monitored from a central console. At the same time, the platform enables consistent user access and security policies to be defined and automatically applied across all clusters. In this way, the service provider maintains high security requirements when analyzing sensitive production and business data.

Benefits of the new platform

Improved transparency creates added business value

With the help of Kubernetes and SUSE Rancher, avato consulting now provides almost 100 different analytics services and data applications for the smart data framework. Every day, these provide Steinbeis Papier’s managers with valuable insights into their processes, helping them optimize workflows and save costs.

The system continuously checks all real-time data for anomalies, whether they be from production or quality and process control systems. For example, conspicuous values in power consumption can be used to identify potential problems in machine drives at an early stage, before expensive machine failures and downtimes occur.

“Our paper machines are extremely complex pieces of equipment. Today, we provide our production staff with all the information they need to react proactively to burgeoning errors,” says Hunold. “The smart data framework significantly speeds up troubleshooting and supports condition-based maintenance of our equipment. Even if the cost benefits are difficult to quantify in individual cases, this is an enormous added value for us.”

The platform can also flag deviations in quality or in raw material and energy consumption. In this way, the smart data framework not only improves Steinbeis Papier’s competitiveness, but also its sustainability. “We are constantly discovering new optimization potential and are now able to produce recycled paper of the highest quality with even fewer resources,” says Hunold.

Multiple departments at Steinbeis Papier are now benefiting from the possibilities offered by the smart data framework. Step by step, avato consulting has mapped various use cases that go far beyond the production environment. Purchasing, for example, can now perform analyses of all product groups with just a few clicks and evaluate a supplier’s performance with the help of data. In this way, employees can quickly see how much money was spent on what, helping them better prepare themselves for the next negotiations.

High reliability of the Industry 4.0 platform

When implementing the smart data framework, Steinbeis Papier emphasized its need for stable operations. “Of course, we wanted to know right from the start: is all of the data really being collected reliably? What happens if something fails? How quickly can services be restored?” asks Middelberg. “With SUSE Rancher, we were able to put the smart data framework on very solid footing and meet our 24/7 production requirements.”

Among other things, avato consulting’s technical specialists use SUSE Rancher’s monitoring capabilities to permanently monitor the health of cluster nodes, Kubernetes components and individual workloads. In addition, they have also set up alerts that automatically notify them when certain events occur, such as when a service is not running at the desired performance or when communication between different services is delayed. This helps resolve problems before impacting the smart data framework’s functionality.

Furthermore, SUSE Rancher enables avato consulting to upgrade the platform without the users at Steinbeis Papier noticing. SUSE Rancher automatically upgrades individual nodes one by one while the services on the remaining nodes continue to run and remain available.

“For us, it’s simply reassuring to know that the platform works so reliably,” emphasizes Middelberg. “SUSE Rancher enables avato consulting to provide support for issues such as data backup and cluster recovery. So, Steinbeis Papier doesn’t have to worry about the day-to-day operations of the smart data framework. We can focus on optimizing our processes instead.”

SUSE Rancher maximizes flexibility and agility

The smart data framework has evolved tremendously since the launch of the Industry 4.0 initiative with more applications being added regularly. SUSE Rancher enables developers at avato consulting to deploy new services to the platform with ease.

“Fleet, SUSE Rancher’s GitOps solution, has enabled us to move to a continuous delivery process,” explains Andor Németh, lead architect at avato consulting. “Our developers can now deploy applications directly from the Git repository to one or more clusters — with all the settings and policies they need. As a result, we were able to reduce the deployment time of new services from hours to seconds.”

SUSE Rancher has also increased the team’s flexibility regarding platform extensions. With just a few clicks, IT can deploy additional clusters. The entire provisioning process is automated according to the “infrastructure as code” principle and no longer requires any manual configuration steps.

“SUSE supported us very well during the initial setup — today we can provision new clusters within minutes,” confirms Németh.

What’s next for Steinbeis Papier and avato consulting?

Having had such a positive experience with the smart data framework to date, Steinbeis Papier now wants to make the platform even more widely available. Among other things, the company plans to connect other business units and facilities, including its fully biological wastewater treatment plant. In addition, other Steinbeis Holding companies will also become part of the Industry 4.0 solution. “It definitely pays off that we opted for an easily scalable architecture that can grow flexibly with our requirements,” says Hunold.

avato consulting also has many more ideas for the future of the smart data framework. The company is constantly developing the solution architecture for addressing other customers’ requirements. “Thanks to SUSE Rancher, we are now able to realize powerful Industry 4.0 platforms for our customers faster than ever,” concludes Müller.