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Canfor Pulp Cuts Maintenance Costs by 20%


September 1, 2007
By Pulp & Paper Canada

The pulp and paper industry is under pressure. As the paperless office becomes more practical, paper consumption is down in some areas and the global market is flat. With intensifying competition from…

The pulp and paper industry is under pressure. As the paperless office becomes more practical, paper consumption is down in some areas and the global market is flat. With intensifying competition from hardwood pulp producers and the huge commodity mills in Asia, high exchange rates and fibre costs and increasing energy costs, Canadian producers have particular pressures that have forced some mills to close.

Canfor Pulp Limited Partnership (CPLP) is demonstrating how to work through these adverse conditions and keep its energy costs low by generating power from bark and sawdust which would otherwise have been wasted. An unexpected ally has also appeared, in the form of the mountain pine beetle. An infestation of these beetles is killing mature pine trees, halving the costs of local fibre. This in turn has significantly increased the level of harvesting and CPLP is taking advantage of this short-term opportunity to invest in sustainable business improvements.

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CPLP (50.1% owned by Canadian Forest Products Limited) is the world’s fourth largest producer of bleached northern-softwood kraft pulp and a leading producer of fully-bleached, high performance kraft paper. The company operates three mills in Prince George, British Columbia, which have developed relatively independently and have their own working cultures. CPLP wanted to facilitate the sharing of best practices and introduce consistency to the asset management across its mills.

In January 2004, when Canadian Forest Products owned 100% of the mills, the company embarked on an asset management improvement program with Shell Global Solutions. When the program started, Chris Smith, central maintenance manager for CPLP, received some cautionary feedback. Smith says, “Some people initially asked what a member of the Shell Group, normally seen as an oil industry specialist, knew about the pulp and paper industry. But, not coming from our industry was actually an advantage. All industries, like companies, have their own cultures, and we all have our own challenges. The refining industry, in my opinion, has some of the best maintenance and reliability practices, and we have benefited greatly from its external perspective.”

Like refineries, pulp and paper mills operate continuously, are highly asset and energy intensive, and use lots of rotating equipment and pumps. There is, however, an optimal way to maintain this machinery and to manage its maintenance. CPLP’s vision for its improvement program is to develop a world-class asset management system and best-in-class practices, and the cultural changes to sustain and improve these practices.

Smith continues, “We had planned to increase our mill turnaround interval from 12 to 18 months. Some regulatory and operating issues concerned us, and we wanted to make sure processes were in place that would enable us to sustain this longer interval. Some of the processes in the improvement program are already well established, but the asset improvement management program brought focus and discipline to the exercise and challenged the way we worked — forcing us out of our comfort zone. We were also exposed to a risk-based approach by introducing us to the risk-based inspection and reliability-centred maintenance processes and the use of the risk assessment matrix for decision-making.”

The changes implemented at CPLP have helped improve reliability at the mills and to detect elimination processes, which have in turn facilitated product quality improvements. Minor failures do not necessarily result in lost production, but can upset a plant and influence product quality. Reducing these minor disruptions has made quality control easier and resulted in production of more high-value products.

Total maintenance costs have also been reduced, partly by extending the turnaround interval. Smith says, “We cut total maintenance costs by 20% in 2005, relative to the 2003 baseline. Doing the right work at the right time is important. By critically reviewing everything we do and asking whether the work is required and whether it can be done during plant operation or an area shutdown, we have reduced the volume of work undertaken in the turnaround. We can now set accurate duration targets for turnarounds and meet them.”

Pump maintenance is a good example of the change in working practices. People want to do a thorough job, and the previous tendency was to dismantle pumps to see if anything was wrong with them. But pulling a good pump apart unnecessarily can increase the risk of failure. Now, the maintenance engineers look at the pump’s performance and ask themselves what the likelihood and consequences of failure are before deciding whether the work is required.

Experience and expertise in the refining industry were a key element to finding solutions for the processes and operations at the CPLP plant. Although new to the pulp & paper industry, Shell Global Solutions have established a quality asset management improvement methodology.


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