Managing fibre from above

To help keep an accurate count of fibre inventory, Zellstoff Celgar’s Northern Softwood Bleached Kraft pulp mill invested in an automated drone system
Andrew Snook
January 23, 2018
By Andrew Snook
Managing fibre from above
Photo: A. Snook
Jan. 23, 2018 - Nestled in the West Kootenays of British Columbia alongside the Columbia River in Castlegar lies Zellstoff Celgar, the first pulp mill built in the B.C. Interior.

Originally built in 1961 with an annual production capacity of 160,000 air dried metric tonnes (ADMT), Zellstoff Celgar has grown to become one of the largest modern single-line Northern Softwood Bleached Kraft (NBSK) pulp mills in the country. Thanks to several major investments — including an $850-million rebuild and modernization in 1993, and approximately $180 million in additional capital improvements by current owner Mercer International — the mill’s annual production capacity has grown to 520,000 ADMT. The pulp produced at the mill is sold across the world and is used in the production of printing and writing papers, board products for packaging, and hygiene products.

To keep up with annual production, the Celgar mill requires upwards of 2.7 million cubic metres of wood. The fibre used in pulp production at the mill comes from 10 different softwood species found throughout Western Canada: Engelmann Spruce, Subalpine Fir, Lodgepole Pine, Ponderosa Pine, White Pine, Western Hemlock, Grand Fir, Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar and Western Larch.

To obtain this fibre, Celgar pays out more than $100 million to various forest operations across the region. The Castlegar location manages approximately 200 truckloads of chips into the mill on a daily basis. Keeping a close eye on such a high volume of fibre can present significant challenges to any operation, especially since the fibre is stored in various locations across the mill’s property in the form of wood chips piled in a designated storage area, pulp logs stacked in the log yard, and additional pulp logs organized in bundles floating throughout the Columbia River & Arrow Lakes.

To help keep an accurate count of the available fibre at the mill, Zellstoff Celgar invested in a Kespry automated drone system. Mitch Dunlop, accounting manager for Zellstoff Celgar Limited Partnership, says the investment has already improved the mill’s inventory reporting processes.

“We bought it for inventory reporting and management because we were using a third party [quarterly] that was expensive,” he says, adding that by leasing the drone, his company was able to perform monthly flights and generate monthly reports for fibre inventory in the yard for less than it cost to outsource volumetric surveying to a third party on a quarterly basis.

By moving from quarterly to monthly inventory, the company is able to more accurately assess the amount of fibre within the Castlegar property. Celgar now has control of when they receive the reports, which helps the financial statement close process. Previously the report could take a few days, potentially delaying the time-sensitive financial statements. Now, Dunlop goes out with the drone pre-programmed, flies it for 15 minutes and generates the report the same afternoon.

“The report is robust enough to use in our financial statements. Because we are a publicly traded company, our inventory methods must meet strict auditing requirements,” he says.

Photos courtesy Zellstoff Celgar

Additional applications
Currently, the drone can only be used for mapping fibre on the mill’s property due to flight restrictions, but Dunlop says the company also hopes to expand its flight permit to allow the drone to help manage log inventory on the Columbia River and Arrow Lakes. Dunlop says the drone could save significant amounts of time being used for this application. Currently, employees go out on boats and manually count the number of log bundles on the water in an annual inventory count.

“Inventory management can be a real challenge for the logs on the water, since they can be floating hundreds of kilometres away,” Dunlop says.

The Environmental department at Celgar is also using the drone for surveys of the hog fuel piles and some waste management monitoring that was previously contracted out.

Mill mapping
The company is also utilizing the drone to generate a base map of the Celgar mill property for use in a geographic information system (GIS).

“We’re currently employing Esri’s ArcGIS platform to integrate layered GIS mapping into our site-wide asset management strategy,” explains Leslie Rowe, a network administrator and GIS professional at Celgar, adding that the detailed electronic mapping of resources such as underground utilities will be a very useful tool for Celgar’s Engineering and Maintenance departments.

The mill is aiming to integrate the GIS with its Enterprise Asset Management System to contribute to mill performance by optimizing maintenance schedules, finding efficiencies in work order planning and improving resource utilization.

A community leader
With 410 employees, the Zellstoff Celgar mill is the main employer in the Castlegar area.

The community-supporting company and its employees donate to various causes in the area on a regular basis, including community enhancement projects, nonprofit associations and charities, and sports and community events. Some of the more recent projects include the construction of the Celgar Pavilion, a multi-use facility in Castlegar’s Millennium Park, the Celgar Drive-In, Drop-In launching ramp at the Bike Skills Park, and a new activity bus for Stanley Humphries Senior Secondary School, and the BE SEEN pedestrian safety campaign. The company also awards annual scholarships totalling $4,500 to qualifying local high school graduates.

By optimizing its inventory management practices, Zellstoff Celgar is helping to ensure its continued success, creating stable employment to hundreds of local residents while helping out the surrounding community.

This feature was originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of Pulp & Paper Canada.

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