TABLE OF CONTENTS Jun 2003 - 2 comments


Cathy Slater & Michael Morgan of Weyerhaeuser Company Limited

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By: Zsolt Patakfalvi


In 1900 Frederick Weyerhaeuser and his partners acquired 900,000 acres of forestland in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. With the purchase of 10,000 more acres of forest in British Columbia in 1911, the Canadian roots of the operation were planted. A century later, the name Weyerhaeuser is synonymous with being one of the world's largest producers of softwood lumber, hardwood lumber, softwood market pulp, containerboard packaging material, and uncoated freesheet paper. Its Canadian operation began in 1965 and has grown to become the second largest forest products company in Western Canada, with facilities in British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. The present-day company slogan, "The future is growing" is most appropriate. With the official Weyerhaeuser corporate vision of "being the best forest products company in the world and a global leader among all industries," Frederick Weyerhaeuser would be proud of the past 103 years.

In 1987, the company established its presence in Alberta with the purchase of a lumber mill and an oriented strand board (OSB) mill in Drayton Valley. With major acquisitions in Grande Prairie, Grande Cache and Slave Lake in 1992, Weyerhaeuser's roots in Alberta were solidified. The Grande Prairie mill, built in 1972, is located on the Wapiti River, approximately 500 kilometres northwest of Edmonton. It is surrounded by boreal, and sub-alpine forests. The bleached kraft pulp which is produced at the mill, is valued for its tensile strength, sheet formation, surface smoothness and opacity.

"Who would have thought when I was a young girl growing up in Alabama, that I would end up in Alberta as the vice president of a pulp mill?", said Cathy Slater, referring to her four year appointment at the Grande Prairie location. I interviewed Slater just days before her return to the United States, having been promoted to the position of vice president and mill manager of the pulp mill in Port Wentworth, GA. Her four years in Alberta were, she admitted, "a great learning experience about the Canadian way." On her arrival, she found that the community in Grande Prairie was not only strongly involved in the Weyerhaeuser operation, but was equally motivated to share in making the facility more successful. "I have never seen such community support," said Slater, adding "it made me feel right at home."



Lumber mills 20

Timberlands 24

Pulp mills 4

Paper mills 2

OSB mills 6


Bleached paperboard


Fine Paper

Market Pulp

Recyclable Papers

Being a woman and being from the southern United States, Slater was different than her predecessor, but such differences melted away in the first few weeks. "I will never forget that first day when I arrived, and the temperature was 38 degrees below zero F. I started that day in Atlanta with 70 degrees F. I quickly learned what a toque was used for."

Together with Michael Morgan, pulp mill manager, Slater has achieved major successes in Alberta, beyond just the expected efficiency of running a mill. The two both feel that an employee is a company's number one asset.


Safety in the workplace
Employees' personal development

Safety in the workplace, always a major consideration in any operation, was highlighted. Forestland Manager, Roger Loberg said, "When she [Slater] delivered a message on safety direction, you sensed that she cared deeply for the employees." Her "Heart of Safety" campaign is still alive today, and as Morgan says, "her passion for constantly re-enforcing the safety message will always stay with the employees." As a matter of fact in 2000 the Grande Prairie mill won the Safest Mill in Canada Contest awarded by Pulp and Paper Canada. Awards aside, the sincerity of the campaign for safety echoes throughout the mill, and can even be heard on Morgan's telephone answering message as he greets you with a heart-felt "have a safe day".

Morgan and Slater hail from different corners of North America, but both share a background of chemical engineering degrees, Morgan from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, ON, and Slater from the University of South Alabama in Mobile. What they also share is a passion for the process of pulpmaking, which is the quality that bonds them together.

On the issue of employees, Slater says, "I want any facility to be successful, and for that to happen, I have to offer the employee the right opportunities for personal development within the company. It is for the good of the company as a whole."

Morgan applauds this initiative and adds, "We all benefit when employees are involved and offer long term commitments to their workplace."

The Grande Prairie mill has seen many dynamic transformations in the last decade since Weyerhaeuser has acquired it.

In early 1999 Cathy Slater arrived to Grande Prairie, AB, as an American from the south. In 2003 she left as a friend, leaving behind a distinct impact on the employees of the mill. Roger Loberg, Forestland Manager sums it up by simply saying, "we will all miss her".


1966 The region around Grande Prairie searches for an industrial boost

1967 Grande Prairies site is elected by the government to negotiate a pulp mill project

1969 Grande Prairie signs the Forest Management Agreement

1971-73 Procter & Gamble owned pulp mill is constructed

1974 Official dedication on June 19, with employment reaching 700

1976 Mill celebrates 1 million hours without a lost time accident

1977 Celebration of the production of one million tons of bleached kraft pulp

1980 New sawmill construction completed, and production began

1981 Ten millionth seedling was planted seven years after the start of the reforestation program

1985 Pulp mill achieves production of 3 million tons

1992 In June the site celebrates its 20th year anniversary. In August Weyerhaeuser announces purchase of the Grande Prairie operation


The Odour Reduction Project came on line, and a recycling partnership was initiated with Recycle Plus

1995 Weyerhaeuser participates as a major sponsor in the 1995 Canada Winter Games

25th year of operation The site receives a ten year environmental operating licence covering air, water and soil requirements. Mill achieves certification under the ISO standard for quality assurance of product.

Pulp mill achieves 1 million safe work hours

2001 First phase of the GPOP initiated, with double felting and a new press for the pulp machine, a new chip bin and chip meter for the digester and a new tertiary air fan for the recovery boiler.

Cathy Slater's appointment as VP in Alberta comes to an end#text2#


Left to right: Darcy Calkins, process operations; Michael Morgan, pulp mill manager; Tina Larson, process engineer; Cathy Slater, vice president, Alberta; Cal Watson, maintenance planner
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Reader Comments

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Conrad Winkelman

My work at the Grand Prairie Pulp Mill 05-07-2013
In 1975/76 I worked at the Proctor & Gamble Pulp Mill in Grand Prairie as Mechanical Engineer, via my Employer Sandwell & Company Ltd in Vancouver. I had graduated from UBC in 1974. We were assigned to assist in any way we could with the ongoing De-bottlenecking Project P*G was carrying out that time. The mill was designed for 750 TPD white pulp.
At the time I and a college arrived the Mill the De-bottlenecking Project had pushed the production up to ~900 TPD but that was a ceiling. . .any attempt to go higher resulted in frequent production stops due to the Kamyr Digester Chip Chute overflowing or running dry, which stopped the Chip Feed Pump the fed the Digester. . . . The Chip Chute is a relatively narrow open topped vessel. . . directly on top of the Digester Feed Pump. . . in which the caustic cooking liquor is mixed with the wood chips. Overflowing tripped an Alarm and usually created a great mess in the basement. When running dry the pump under full power went is a violent vibration mode and made enough shocking noises to make it appear an earthquake was taking place. . .
During one of these Emergency Pump Shutdowns I happen to visit the Digester Control Room in its Panic Modes. After the Reset of the system to a lower production rate and a Restart the Digester Manager(DM) was kind enough to show me the Chip Chute PID-Level Controller at an operational point of close to 900 TPD. The Level Indicator was violently and erratically swinging up and down . . .the SF said:
“At this rate we can just prevent the system from tripping but if we just go a tad more the system will trip frequently. Even the Instrumentation Foreman has no solution for this. We suspect that the Control Valve in the 10-inch Liquor Feed Line is too small and needs to be replaced with a bigger valve. If you have any ideas on solving this Level Control Problem we would be very grateful”.
I looked at the PID Level Controller, fiddled a bit at the three Gain dials, turning them sequentially left and right almost imperceptibly. . in order to avoid an upset in case the settings were already optimized, which I suspected, and when I came to the D-gain dial I noticed it was set at 0. . .I said: “Look, the D-gain stands at 0. . . .that is not good. Any level controller must least have some D-gain. . .it should be increased”.
The DM reacted a bit as if I had stepped in his toes: “We have spend a lot of time optimizing the settings. . .The Instrumentation guys have instructed us that the D-gain must be set at 0 in order to optimize the P-gain and the I-gain settings “. . we have been at this for weeks now and no one can get us beyond this problem”.
I suggested: “Would you mind I spend some time studying this and tweaking the controller to find maybe some improvement?”.. .”If course not. . .Be my guest”.
To make this story come to an end, I set the D-gain greater than zero and turned the P-& I-gains down a bit and this way I kept changing the 3 dials slowly back and forth until the level control indicator had significantly settled down to about half the wild swings we had been dealing with, and I called the Digester Manager to come to have a look: “Holy Cow! I have not changed the flow rate! How the hell did you manage THAT? This is great! At this flow rate we have never seen the level so stable. It’s Beautiful! “
I explained that the D-gain control can lower the speed at which the level is rising or falling. If for example it rises to fast it will create overshoot and that will cause a wild level swing also on the down side. With a non-zero D-gain the control valve starts to close earlier and so that will dampen the wild level swings.. . this feature acts like a “Shock Damper”. When all the 3 gains are optimized the level controller will allow for a much greater flow rate with smaller level swings. The DM became to believe in me and said: “OK, I will increase the flow rate and I will let you do you magic with the P-I-D Dials”. In a few days the mill was running at 950 TPD and the DM was a very Happy Man. . .
At 975 TPD the Pump Tripping began again and with some more PID-Tuning the Controller was optimized. . .any other combination of settings could not improve on it. The DM wanted more. .at least 1000 TPD. The following set of events I initiated, in summary, were:
1) I determined from a design analysis that the 6” Control Valve (CV) was capable of allowing a flow rate about 40% larger that the 975 TPD operating point. This would mean the mill could go to almost 1400 TPD on that CV. The BM did not believe me;
2) I next determined that the Control Valve was driven to move too slowly and analyzed why this was so. The Air Feed Spool valve was too small and I informed the DM. He informed me that he had written s Work Order to install new a 10-inch Fisher Control Valve (FCV). I saw the writing in the wall. . .None of the people knew anything about Flow Control . . .The Instrumentation Technicians did not object to this;
3) To prevent that things got out of hand I performed some speed test on the FCV that was ready to be installed in the next Night Shift’s Regular Shutdown. I calculated that the flow rate capacity of the FCV was almost 3 times larger that the 6” CV Plus the fact that it opened at a slower rate. At the required flow rate the FCV would only be 10% Open. . .A good control point for the type of valve that was used is to be ~50% to 60% open. I made some sketches and showed some calculations on my test results and confronted the DM: “The Response this FCV @ 10% -open to a calculated larger flow rate requires the vale to move to about 30% open and that will take about 3 seconds. The ¼ Cycle time of the level swings is about 1/2 a second. By the time this 10” FCV has moved open enough the required distance to increase the flow to prevent the pump to run dry on the level down-swing the pomp will Trip in ½ a second, and on the level up-swing the basement will flood in about ½ second because the FCV will take 3 seconds to shut off the flow. With this 10” FCV the Chip Chute Pump will shut down in no longer than 1/2 second after you try to start it up. These figures demonstrate that this will be the case. . . . All that is needed is that I arrange for installing larger Spool Valve in the CV Air Drive so that it will open and close faster. Its low operating speed is the The Problem”.
4) The DM said finally: “By God, you have convinced me!. . I will cancel the Work Order immediately. Go ahead and arrange whatever needs to be done to speed op that 6”CV and we have it corrected in next week’s regular Shutdown’
5) I ordered to have a new Spool Valve to be made up with a ¼”hole instead of an 1/8* hole. This would make the CV move approximately 4 times faster!;
6) After the installation of the new Spool Valve, which took about ½ hour, the mill was started up with unchanged DIP- adjustments I has it optimized for. The Level Control worked perfectly with the level swinging within an acceptable range. Early in the morning I tweaked the PID controls a bit more. . . and I was able to reduce the Chip Chute Level to an almost constant level to a swing range of about 10% of the full scale chart range at which formerly the system tripped out;
7) At 8:30 Am the DM came in to the control room an after checking the Operation he came to see the level response of the Chip Chute. . .He stared at the Red Trace on the Controller Chart . . it had a with of no more that 9 mm and exclaimed: “If I had not seen this with my own eyes, I would not have believed if I was told about this! The mill is nor running at 1050 TPD. . .This is Magnificent!!! We can now see how far we can push this Baby towards 1200TPD . . .which is our goal”
Some time later when we had finished our assignment at the Mill I inquired and I was told that they had achieved the 1200 TPD.

I wanted to share this with you.
CLH Winkelman
Vortex Engineering
The Netherlands

Posted July 5, 2013 05:57 PM

Kenneth West

I am trying to contact the paper pulp mill in Grande Prairie,Alta. I would like to contact Andrew Perotta in "waste and water" at that mill. I can be contacted @ maynard712@yahoo.com.

Posted October 4, 2011 03:21 AM

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