Huge hydraulic cylinders tip whole tractor-trailers on end as their loads of wood chips slide into a hole and equipment sorts and stores chips in an enormous silo.
The chips -- 850 tonnes a day -- feed three thermomechanical pulp lines but the gradual turning of wood chips into pulp has to be taken on faith. Despite wailing motors, screeching vacuum pumps and centrifuges, refiners, forests of fat stainless steel piping hiding hot, crusty, elephant-sized equipment, vats, and tanks, the mechanical and chemical tasks occur in a flow with no obvious beginning or end, shaking the concrete floors over complexes of girders sized for a major bridge.
The TMP lines churn out enough pulp to keep two 200-tonne tanks full -- six to eight hours worth of food for four paper machines, each 6.7 metres wide, 6.7 meters high and 91.4 meters long. They would stuff to bursting any normal-sized plant but in the cavernous process building, "normal" quickly scales itself way, way up.
At the hot ends of the paper machines atomized pulp sprays through the air onto fourdrinier's forming wire that disappears inside for a hidden journey that for the oldest paper machine, has been traveled since 1924. At the cool ends a perfect, endless sheet of peach-colored paper spins off, growing a 15,455-kilogram roll every hour and a half. They are cut, re-rolled and marched off to robot-operated wrapping machines and trundled on conveyors up the hill to the shipping department.
Belgo occupies about 223,000 square feet over three sites -- processing, shipping and secondary water treatment and the main street into town squeezes up against one of the mill building walls. Of the 555 employees, 155 are involved in maintaining the equipment and buildings.
The maintenance workers are divided into three groups. The mechanical group, which includes welders, hydraulics, vibration specialists, lubrication analysts, and pipefitters; the electro-technicians, electricians and instrumentation specialists; and the service group, which covers building the maintenance trades.
There are 53 mechanics, 12 technician-mechanics, 22 pipefitters, 10 machinists, 10 welders, 44 electrotechnicians, one building technician, one carpenter and two tinsmiths. Belgo has a $20 million annual maintenance budget for man-hours and material.
In the past, Belgo hired specialists such as welders and pipefitters. About six years ago, Belgo began hiring only multi-skilled mechanical technicians or electro-technicians.
"When we hire a guy he has to have two diplomas, say, instrumentation and electrician," said Claude Dupont, Belgo's maintenance superintendent for services and prevention. Abitibi works with schools to develop multi-trade programs to fit its workplace needs.
The production schedule is 24/7/365, with the exceptions of June 24 and December 25, when market conditions permit. Daytime maintenance and repair teams complete big maintenance tasks from Monday to Friday. A team of two mechanics, two electro-technicians and a lubrication specialist responds to emergencies and equipment problems as they occur.
Maintenance uses a CMMP module that is part of an Abitibi-wide corporate system from J.D. Edwards. It has about 90,000 pieces of equipment entered in it but this is not all of the mill's equipment.
"Our system has an annual clock that establishes a frequency for our inspections routes; for example, daily, weekly, monthly, tri-monthly, every six months, yearly. A guy leaves on his route with a list of equipment to check in a particular sector. There are prevention inspections and condition reports. Some of the guys do small repairs as they go," said Dupont. "Every Thursday the planning department prepares the next week's maintenance and repairs, based on the route reports that come in from each sector of the mill.
"Our priority here is the preventive maintenance inspections under the inspection routes, which eliminate unforeseen breakdowns. Our next priorities are repairs, then the improvement of equipment, processes or work methods. This has been our motto at Belgo for the last 10 years or so."
There are many route types; e.g., a vibration route on critical equipment, or routes for quality systems that follow ISO requirements; e.g., a certain piece of equipment has to be checked twice a week to ensure it is producing to specified quality standards. There is a pump route, a paper rolling machines route, lubrication routes and daily fire-prevention systems routes. There are routes that are done every five or nine years; e.g., the disassembly of the 25,000 Hp GE Canada motors.
On one route electro-technicians use a thermographic camera to check critical electrical systems for hot spots. Thermographic condition reports, which contain photos, values and other data, rate hot spots as either serious, medium or high and offer recommended actions.
There has been heavy emphasis on improving the reliability of the refining line equipment, as problems here can slow the pace of the paper machines. "We always face the challenge of maintaining the refining lines in good condition, while keeping the pulp reservoir levels high enough to feed the paper machines," said Dupont.
Dupont has to time the closure of a refining line so the reservoirs will not run out before the line is reopened. "Five or six years ago it was necessary to reduce the speed of the paper machines to do maintenance on the refining lines. Now it is not necessary to reduce the speed or shut down a paper machine," he explained.
Belgo has become so good at preventative maintenance that Abitibi chose it last year as the benchmark for PM. "Our production has risen with the same equipment, because of our PM. We have seen [improvements] in equipment durability and reliability. The equipment breaks down less often and is reliable for longer," said Dupont.
The maintenance team has also tightened up its maintenance planning and executes its maintenance tasks more efficiently. "We have eliminated the difference between the amount of time scheduled, say, eight hours, and the actual amount of time it used to take to do the repairs, say, nine and a half hours," said Dupont.
Belgo has several workshops that are divided into sectors: pulp, paper and service. There is a repair shop for forklifts, a room where paper rolls are balanced, welding shops, well-equipped machining shops with plenty of hoists and the list goes on. "We do most of our maintenance here," said Dupont. "But for repairs, or re-covering of the paper rolls, we send them out, for example, to GLV, GE."
There are many support companies for the pulp and paper industry in Quebec and Ontario and most exterior work is done locally. For example, the big motors go to GE in Montreal. Refinery parts are sent to local firms in Quebec and Ontario specializing in repairing equipment manufactured by Sunds Defibrator of Sweden. Vacuum pumps on the paper machines are sent to Nash Engineering in Montreal.
Belgo stocks about $4 million worth of spares and uses Canadian Bearing in Montreal as an integrator to do parts purchasing for Abitibi's 27 mills. "Canadian Bearing negotiates with every equipment supplier and is responsible for supplying the parts we need," said Dupont. Wesco, a Canadian Bearing partner, is responsible for the electrical spares side.
Belgo has a busy training department with programs based on the needs of each department. Belgo sends workers out for training, buys courses and hires trainers to come to the mill to satisfy the continuing need for courses.
The maintenance team faces many challenges, including upkeep on a complex of structures-built-upon-structures, the oldest of which dates back to 1901. Some of the equipment is decades old; e.g., paper machine No. 9 was installed in 1973, while the other three date to the 1920s.
Doing more with the same is also an ongoing challenge. "No. 8 is the biggest and highest-producing paper machine we have. A year ago it was operating at 77% efficiency," said Dupont. "This year we have increased [this] to 84%. A one percent increase reduces the cost of a tonne of paper by four dollars. We achieved this by modifying or correcting many things; work methods, maintenance methods, creativity in eliminating inefficient maintenance practices and reducing big failures by catching the small problems."
The planning team targets more than machines for continuing improvement. Recently, the cleanliness of the mill environment was targeted with the goal of improving worker pride, workplace satisfaction and ultimately, productivity.
In 2002 Belgo began making value-added paper and now 100,000 tonnes a year of the production is value-added, including paper for books and colored paper; the other 275,000 tonnes is newsprint.
The maintenance team has worked hard to improve machine reliability and add processes. "We had to modify equipment, fabricate new pieces, add pipe work, all without the help of a supplementary budget and without buying any new equipment," explained Dupont. "We used all of the knowledge, creativity and resources of our maintenance team."
The Abitibi Consolidated Belgo division paper mill, located in Shawinigan, Quebec, with three thermomechanical pulp lines and four paper machines, produces 1,035 tonnes of newsprint and specialized paper a day. Belgo sells 10% of its product to Canadian customers, exports 70% of its newsprint to the US and sends the remaining 20% overseas.
Belgo celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2001. Near the end of the 19th Century La Banque d'Outre-mer de Belgique was looking for a site for a paper mill. Drawn by the cheap hydroelectric power produced by the Shawinigan falls, Belgian financiers signed a deal to buy 15,000 Hp of power and in 1900 chartered the Belgo-Canadian Pulp Company, Limited.
The mill's first newsprint, produced in 1904 at a rate of 19 tonnes per day (TPD), was exported to England, Australia and South Africa. Output rose to 80 TPD by 1908 and a mill expansion after World War I boosted production to 400 TPD.
Originally, 13-foot logs were run on the Saint-Maurice River to log ponds, where they were cut into four-foot lengths and moved by aerial cable to the slasher mill. An aerial photo shows a mountain of cut logs, or "pitounes", as the raftsmen called them, that dwarf the mill. Today logs are chipped elsewhere and brought in by truck and railcar.
During World War II Belgo produced chemical pulp in sheets for the munitions industry and corrugating board for shell cartridges. Belgo was also involved in the manufacture of tank turrent components, condensors and steam engines for warships and bagging machines for packaging cement and flour.
In the 1950's Belgo started evaporating cooking liquor residues to yield a yellow powder called copacite, which it sold for the manufacture of products such as linoleum flooring. After an explosion in 1957 the mill stopped producing copacite. Belgo added a de-inking facility in 1992, which produces 220 tonnes a day.
Environmental mitigation processes include a water treatment facility and burning oil, bark and other wood residues instead of coal.
Paper machines one through five were decommissioned between 1940 and 1989. Today the mill has four machines:
- No. 6, commissioned in 1924 and renovated in 1986 and 1995, produces 625 m/min - 205 tonnes/day;
- No. 7, commissioned in 1928 and renovated in 1989, produces 550 m/min - 185 tonnes/day;
- No. 8, commissioned in 1928 and renovated in 1982, produces 900 m/min - 300 tonnes/day;
- No 9, commissioned in 1973, produces 810 m/min - 260 tonnes/day.