The pulp and paper industry and its many manufacturers have experienced more ups and downs than a roller coaster over the past few decades due to fluctuating demand for different types of paper and evolving technologies for their production.

“I’ve had five different owners in 30 years, but somehow kept the same phone number. Early in my career, life was good and we built new equipment. Then the recession hit and we had to focus even more on reliability to minimize costs,” said Greg Drewiske, PE, head of engineering and capital at Billerud Americas Corp., which makes coated papers in central Wisconsin “Now, open mills have a lot of outdated proprietary equipment, and the need to incorporate more automation is even greater.”

Tom Shope, vice president of digital transformation solutions at Endress+Hauser, added: “There are fewer staff, so it helps to have more intelligence in the devices. However, the question now is how to use all the data they are generating? For example, how can we turn them into maintenance work orders and send them to skid builders or suppliers.”

Drewiske, Shope and other panelists explored how the pulp and paper industry can optimize and transform with the assistance of automation and digitization at the 2022 Automation Fair this week in Chicago.

Right data, right hands

Speakers reported that more detailed, targeted, and distributed data can dramatically enable pulp and paper processes if it quickly reaches decision makers who can make best use of it.

“At the 8 a.m. meeting, operators and managers want to know why their job was lost last night, and that usually means pulling Excel spreadsheets and cross-correlated,” said Dan Timmers, Solutions Consultant for machine design, information and analysis at Rockwell Automation. “Now, more information is processed at the edge, such as flow signatures on a daily basis, and pushed to the cloud, which has the potential to give us the equivalent of Google Maps for process control. This is especially important because old that could walk by the equipment and tell something was wrong because of the vibrations are receding.As this tribal knowledge is fading, we need controls that can tell us what the 4-20mA signals can’t, and that transition is arriving.

Timmers cautioned that while information may be shown on a dashboard, it can’t just be blind data points and requires components and software smart enough to immediately put it into useful context. “This ability is immensely useful. Some applications can predict engine failures two to three months in advance,” he said. “We need devices to replace the retired experts, but these devices first need to establish performance baselines before they can look for anomalies. “.

Education softens the punch of reality

To reap the benefits of increased automation and more digitized data, some wrinkles inevitably need to be ironed out. Drewiske reported that the Billerud plant installed a single-loop distributed control system (DCS) about 10 years ago, which included HART-enabled devices that indicated new details when connected.

“It turned out that 30% of our tools had problems that we weren’t aware of before, like sticking valves,” said Drewiske. “We also implemented performance and control cycle monitoring software to identify tuning issues. In our drying section, we have collected current feedback and forwarded it to the FactoryTalk Historian software.”

Shope added, “IT is taking over some of these areas, but the question remains: How do we get 30 years of plant experience into just three years of staff training?” As IT becomes increasingly involved in manufacturing issues, Timmers advised users to designate a leader and cross-functional team to manage IT’s presence in the process space, such as deciding policy for switch configuration.

“We need to educate our IT kids,” Drewiske said. “Previously, if we couldn’t get emails for 3-5 seconds, not many people would notice. However, if we lose control of our paper process for 3-5 seconds, many people would notice.”

The Tooting automation horn

Drewiske said increasing automation, digitization and data analytics in paper manufacturing is also important to meet business requirements and achieve business goals. “It’s quite simple to meet production and base product priorities,” she said. “However, it’s also more difficult to keep up with technical obsolescence, as well as addressing what a company wants to do as it moves from family-owned to hedge fund-owned to internationally owned.”

Drewskie explained that plant personnel tend to fix equipment and systems and not make a big deal out of it, but that can result in other parts of the organization not being aware of the importance of OT or what it requires. “Equipment becomes obsolete and parts can’t even be found on eBay, so we have to negotiate. I always say the best time to negotiate is 2 a.m. after 10 hours of downtime,” Drewiske said. “In any case, we need to clarify what our processes and equipment need to maintain availability and time to activities and hopefully invest in a phased approach.”

Unfortunately, according to Drewiske, another obstacle to securing pulp and paper investments is the fact that operational problems and the cost to resolve them typically overshadow and sustain maintenance problems. “We measure overall efficiency and the speed and quality of the target, but when we look at lost time, operational issue management outweighs maintenance and makes it difficult to justify the investment,” she explained. “If a company is looking at a multi-million pound project, they usually want a 30% return on investment, and maintenance would take too long to achieve that ROI and justify that investment.

Drewiske added that automation and digitization bring operations, maintenance and other data sources out of their previously separate silos, making them easier to bring together. “We don’t review these reports as much as we should, but we have a business assurance initiative to focus on developing systems that complement our data sources. I think integrating them will become easier in the future once we get over the hurdle of bringing them all together.”

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