Pulp and Paper Canada

MODERNIZATION:It’s All ‘In the Bag’ for Tolko

October 1, 2001  By Pulp & Paper Canada

It has one of the most interesting histories of any mill in Canada involving government scandal, shady financiers/financing, bankruptcy and tangled ownership. (One columnist called the mill the “$100 …

It has one of the most interesting histories of any mill in Canada involving government scandal, shady financiers/financing, bankruptcy and tangled ownership. (One columnist called the mill the “$100 million mistake”.) But for Tolko Industries Ltd. and its mill at The Pas, MB, that’s all water long gone under the bridge. Since taking over the mill in 1997, the company has quietly gone about establishing a consistent and secure workplace for Tolko Manitoba’s 750 employees (that includes the adjacent sawmill). It has spent about $45 million on improvement, the latest being a new $12-million Valmet (now Metso Paper) Concept IV headbox, installed in June 2001.

The paper mill (Tolko Manitoba Kraft Papers) can produce 155 000 tonnes per year (t/y) of unbleached paper. Almost 90% of production is devoted to two grades: SPK and SPX.


SPK: Super Performance Kraft. This is a sheet that does not use the extensible unit that was installed on the paper machine in 1996. SPK accounts for 63% of production. Its main benefit is excellent cross direction strength. It is used for multi-wall shipping sacks (feed and seed bags for the agricultural industry and construction products such as cement).

SPX: Super Performance Extensible. This was the focus of a major mill upgrade in 1996 that included the installation of the extensible unit. It is micro-creped (i.e., compacted) in the machine direction. The increased stretch makes the paper stronger. Typical breakage rates are less than 1% and for Tolko the rate is typically below 0.25%. SPX is also used in shipping sacks but its main applications is in construction materials as well as dunnage bags. SPX accounts for 25% of the production.

General manager Greg Wazny said that cement bags are a big product for SPX export markets. In North America, agricultural products — corn, seed, root crops, grain — dominate demand. Tolko also supplies a large portion of the dunnage bag market in North America. Dunnage bags are used in railway cars and trucks to secure loads. The bags are placed between the stacked products and filled with air.

“Part of the growth we’re seeing now is for refuse bags because of the increased demand for organics to composting, away from plastics. This is a growing market.” The bags do not absorb water quickly. Over time, they begin to decompose. SPK has similar applications, but the superior strength of SPX means less paper is used per bag.

Other products include laminating grades used in a variety of applications such as post forming, countertop material and form, fill and sealed bags.

The mill’s fibre supply is entirely softwood, 800 000 m3/y. About 70% come Tolko’s adjacent sawmill, the rest from residual chips from area sawmills or logs. Tolko’s fibre strategy is to derive lumber value from the wood from its Forest Management License Area and deliver the residual chips to the paper mill. The paper mill buys chips and hog fuel from the sawmill, selling steam and power back.

The mill uses a kraft pulping process with five batch digesters. Each cycle is 120 minutes with 34 blows per day at an average of 17 t/blow. When the mill was built in the late 1960s, batch digesters were the norm, especially for a mill with no bleaching. The mill “toyed” with the idea of adding a bleachery. It went as far as buying some bleached pulp and doing some papermaking trials. But costs and the added environmental load put this idea to rest. “It’s not currently in the cards,” Wazny added.

The new headbox was installed during a 9-day shutdown in June. Other work done at the same time included a new primary pressure screen, upgrading the secondary pressure screen, larger motors for the primary and secondary fan pumps, a consistency profiling fan pump and filtration for the dilution part of the headbox.

The objective of the headbox project was to improve overall paper quality, allowing the mill to compete with European producers. The Concept IV headbox replaced the mill’s original air padded one that was not designed to produce high-performance grades. The new headbox will enable the mill to adjust the fibre orientation, resulting in a sheet that is less “floccy”. “Tensile strength will also be improved,” Wazny added.

Results in the few months since start-up have been impressive. Tensile has improved and formation has improved significantly. “We are able to adjust the MD to CD ratios to suit customers,” Wazny explained.

CD tensile was increased by 20% at similar or lower Gurley porosity levels. There has been reduced variation with respect to basis weight, moisture and formation. The mill achieved a 20 to 30% increase in CD tensile energy absorption (TEA). This translates into a 10 to 15% reduction in basis weight per ply. The mill can produce a sheet with similar tensile, stretch, TEA and tear in the CD and MD.

“Although we are still fine tuning, we have gained all we expected thus far. With fine tuning, we expect to exceed our expectations,” Wazny added.

A new Fisher Delta V distributed control system was also installed, replacing the Fisher ProVox system that was installed in 1984. The Delta V provides more automatic control, resulting in more consistent paper quality. It is integrated with the new Honeywell da Vinci quality management system. The system is very graphic with lots of information for the operators to monitor. One benefit is an enhanced ability to monitor and control basis weight and moisture profiles.

There is a steambox in the press section before the dryer, used for CD moisture control. Paper shrinkage is at its peak in the dryness range of 65 to 85%. Operators monitor moisture with the use of three scanners along the length of the machine. They need to know the moisture levels before and after the Flakt dryer to optimize stretch properties and dryness. They have the option to put more steam in before or after the dryer as it is also critical for the extensible unit for the web to be at its optimum moisture target. The new Delta V system has also helped the mill optimize its digester sequencing.

The new Noss primary headbox screen replaced five older screens. It was installed to reduce the effects of pulsation to the headbox. This was for quality improvement and to reduce pulsation to meet the headbox guarantees. Dilution control was added with a new Noss pump and screen, miniature versions of the headbox screen.

Other work in 2001 included replacing the Nipco control system for improved paper machine press control, installing a double doctor for doctoring the centre roll (4-roll, 3-nip SEW press), replacing the majority of bearings and gears in the dryer, making it a felt drive and adding a new tail threading system. Tolko also switched to Johnson stationary syphons from rotary ones in the dryer section.

A new rejects refiner means the mill does not have to re-cook knots. It can refine to feed forward. The refiner helped increase the yield of usable fibre per tonne of chips and improves the uniformity of fibre quality to the machine. Finally, the rejects refiner helped the mill run its high-consistency refiner at a higher load level, which allowed it to control tear, tensile and porosity at higher levels.

Comstock Canada handled the construction work while Sandwell was chosen as the consultant. Tolko’s Daniel Castonguay was the project manager

Continuous improvement

In 1998, the mill installed an O&E winder with digital drive controls and automatic roll build features. This was done to improve roll building. The original winder had limited controls for tension, nip load and torque. The mill also needed to control roll density. Maintenance issues also played a part in the decision.

With the new headbox providing more uniform paper, the winder can “run away” from the mill, with a maximum speed of 7000 ft/min, without affecting its runnability or roll quality.

The mill made a big move in 1996 when it moved into the extensible paper market. This involved the installation of a chip conveyor, twin roll press, high-consistency refiner and the extensible unit. The installation of the latter three pieces allowed Tolko (then Repa
p Manitoba) to enter the extensible market. “We can brush and curl the fibre more to improve strength properties in the refiner,” Wazny explained. “As a result, we get better inter-fibre bonding.”

The goal of the twin roll press is 35-38% consistency, the higher the better going to the high-consistency refiner.

The move to SPK in 1984 was the mill’s first major move into a high-performance sheet. At the time, the mill (known then as Manfor), installed four screw presses and four Frotapulpers, increasing its high-consistency refining capacity to 4500 hp from 2000 hp. These were replaced by the twin roll press and high-consistency refiner (14 000 hp) in 1996. The press configuration was also changed to tri-nip in 1984.

One original, but unique, part of the mill is the Flakt air borne dryer. Most often seen in pulp mills, Tolko’s air borne dryer is the only one in use in the kraft paper industry in North America. The process allows the paper to shrink evenly in the cross direction, which imparts a natural stretch, valuable for bag applications. The mill did make some market kraft pulp at one time, but not since 1986.

Lower basis weights

Reel weights run about 19 to 20 t. Each reel is tested using standard tests, including sheet colour. The unbleached sheet has an ISO brightness range of 19 to 20, which relates to good printability properties. A new OpTest formation tester was added in June. It looks at the contrast of light within the sheet, giving a measure of relative formation.

Basis weights range between 65 and 160 g/m2. The optimum for the paper machine is 90 g/m2, Wazny said. Anything less leads to speed restrictions on the machine. However, customers are looking for lower basis weights. “So,” Wazny added, “we may have to look at a paper machine speed-up in the future (two to five years) if the trend to lower basis weights continues and there are no indications it will change.”

Most of the mill’s paper goes out by rail (70-80%) to markets in the US, Canada and Mexico. The mill’s US market area stretches from the northwest to the northeast with the bottom tip situated in Florida. However, the Asian market is ‘developing” and the mill has customers in Europe, the Middle and Far East and Caribbean locations.

Tolko believes in customer surveys to build customer relationships and find ways to improve service and product quality. Customers look to Tolko to help them lower their costs and be competitive, similar goals to the papermakers themselves. They want product consistency and training in the manufacturing and characteristics of the paper they buy so they can make better bags faster.

They are also always looking for new products, Wazny added. “We are always looking for a niche, even for products that could be considered commodities.” In that respect, Tolko works closely with Paprican.” We rely a lot on Paprican and have good relationships with them,” noted Peter Scheuler, product quality and environment group leader. “They are very responsive to mill needs.”

Tolko also works with UK-based PIRA and has an in-house program. One project underway is the development of a low-porosity grade. This is being jointly developed with customers.

Odds and ends

The mill was ahead of its time in terms of effluent treatment. It installed a secondary treatment plant in 1979-80, so when the new federal effluent regulations came into effect in 1995, the mill was already in compliance. In 1991-92, it installed a state-of-the-art landfill for solid waste that includes a liner and leachate collection system.

Tolko devotes a lot of effort to predictive and preventive maintenance techniques. It structure is fairly de-centralized with maintenance crews reporting to the operation manager. Time efficiencies are good, the top quartile for this product line, according to Wazny. The mill averages less than one break per day on the paper machine.

The installation of new equipment in the last five years has helped although there are still some older pieces. The mill is looking more at predictive failures. It can now predict a bearing failure on the dryer three months ahead. There is a planned paper machine shutdown every four to five weeks. The recovery boiler goes down annually for four to five days. As the entire mill goes down at this time, other maintenance projects are also done.

There are a total of 325 employees in the mill; 250 are hourly unionized (CEP) people. There are also nine people in the Winnipeg sales office. Shift employees work 12-hour shifts. A study is looking at 10-hour shifts for some day workers.

Wazny termed Tolko a “typical” mill in terms of demographics. That is, the workforce is aging. The mill started up in 1970 with a young workforce, many of whom are now looking forward to retirement. Tolko is looking seriously at replacing about-to-retire-tradesmen with apprentices and supplementing its training programs to ensure succession in the operating areas.

Power struggle

The cost of energy is on every mill manager’s mind, Wazny admitted. Fossil fuel costs have almost doubled. More use is being made of alternatives such as waste wood. Tolko also makes maximum use of used oil and tire-derived fuel.

New mill processes are more energy intensive, which means a bigger electric bill for the refiners. Tolko is trying to “close up” the mill, conducting mass and energy balances. It is working with Manitoba Hydro to take advantage of any “power smart” programs. For example, it replaced chip blowers with conveyors, which also improved chip quality.

The mill has had co-gen since start-up. Now, a co-gen upgrade project is underway. A new steam driven turbine-generator is being installed. The mill will be 70% self-sufficient in electrical power once the project is completed in 2002.

The power boiler is run on 70% hog fuel. The lime kiln is now run on Bunker C oil and the challenge is to replace all or at least a good portion of the oil with an alternative such as used oil, as the mill did with the power boiler.

A vision fulfilled

Pardon Tolko if it stands back a bit to admire what it has accomplished, although by no means does it consider its job done at The Pas. “Our paper quality is among the tops in the world,” Wazny said. “SPX allowed us into offshore markets and is now strategic to our North American opportunities.” The company’s strategy has been to invest for quality first and then quantity.

“We went from a commodity mill dependent upon tariff protection to a world class competitor through quality investments.”P&PC

This is Tolko

Tolko is a private, family-owned company established in 1961 in British Columbia. Its first business was a planer mill and the company grew through acquisition in BC, buying numerous sawmills and plywood mills.

It wanted to be a billion dollar company, which led to its first move outside BC, constructing an oriented strand board (OSB) mill in High Prairie, AB. It purchased The Pas operations of Repap Manitoba in 1997. It recently announced a partnership with the Meadow Lake Tribal Council, Northwest Communities Wood Products and the Crown Investment Corp to develop an OSB mill in Meadow Lake, SK. Tolko will own 75% of the facility, which will be able to produce 600 million ft2 (3/8-in. equivalent) of OSB. The plant should be in operation by 2003. With sales reaching CDN$922 million in 2000, this new project should push the sales figures over the goal.

What brought Tolko into The Pas and the paper business? Growing the company through the solid wood business was its first objective. However, diversification is important and when company officials explored the facilities, they discovered that the paper mill fit the company’s vision of “being a leading marketer and manufacturer of specialty forest products.” Thus, the paper mill has become another “arrow in the Tolko quiver”.

Along with the solid wood potential and kraft specialties, the fibre supply also attracted Tolko to The Pas. The company established two autonomous business units in The Pas: the kraft paper mill being one and the sawmill, including woodlands operations, the other. The Forest Management Agreement with
the province comprises about 11 million hectares, of which 38% is considered productive. About 60% of the fibre is delivered by railroad from the woods. This helps improve transport economics, reliability and logistics.

Tolko operates as a very flat, de-centralized company. Each business unit manager (e.g., Greg Wazny) reports to corporate headquarters. The company gives its business unit managers a fairly free hand in running the operations as they see fit.

Now, about the name Tolko: The company was founded by the Thorlakson family. Take out every second letter in Thorlakson and see what remains.

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