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MODERNIZATION: The Gamble Pays Off for Papier Masson


July 1, 2001
By Pulp & Paper Canada

Just about 100 years ago, in 1902 to be exact, the James Maclaren Company built a groundwood pulp mill in Buckingham, QC. The pulp produced was sold as wet lap to various paper mills.In 1930, to diver…

Just about 100 years ago, in 1902 to be exact, the James Maclaren Company built a groundwood pulp mill in Buckingham, QC. The pulp produced was sold as wet lap to various paper mills.

In 1930, to diversify and expand the company’s operations, a newsprint and sulphite pulp mill was built in Masson, 6 km downstream on the Livre River. This mill is today Papier Masson Lte. Now, leading the company into its second century is its new TMP plant, featuring the world’s largest refiners, Metso Paper’s (formerly Sunds Defibrator) RGP CD 82 model. Papier Masson is the first single pulping line (two-stage) one paper machine mill (Pulp & Paper Canada, July 1999). This is the latest in a series of innovations that the mill has implemented. It is why management believed a one-line, one paper machine mill was feasible.

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Just eight months after start-up (July 2000), the mill set a world record for TMP production, 2277 tonnes of newsprint grade TMP over a three-day period (beginning March 27, 2001). Design capacity of the mill is 740 tonnes per day (t/d). In the record run, the mill averaged 760 t/d of pulp and made 2081 t of paper. In the future, Andr Legault, vice-president, operations, said 800 t/d is a possibility. Newsprint production is 225 000 t/d at a speed of 1200 m/min.

The results were not a total surprise. “We had ambitious expectations,” Legault said. These were met by a “fantastic” start-up in all respects: quality, uptime and efficiency. Start-up production was 550 t/d. The mill started to increase production in September/October. However, although it could bump the tonnage up, pulp strength was not where it should have been. “We realized we had to do a lot of plate development,” Legault said. “Don’t forget that these are the first CD 82s.”

A task force was set up that included mill personnel, Metso Paper and NLK Consultants Inc., the engineering consultants for the entire project. Legault described the plate development program as “intense and aggressive.” About three to four weeks before the record was set, the mill saw its hard work begin to bear fruit. Therefore, although the record is nice to have, the results are what the mill expected. “But what we accomplished from October to March has been outstanding,” Legault stated.

The mill switched from a furnish that, depending upon the customer, could be comprised of groundwood, ultra-high-yield-sulphite (UHYS), purchased kraft and/or deinked pulp (DIP). Now, it runs 100% TMP except for a specific newsprint grade that requires DIP in the furnish. On an annual tonnage basis, it works out to about 3% of the furnish.

“We have a lot more tensile strength with the TMP,” Legault explained. Tear is adequate, but the mill does add kraft from time to time. However, Legault called it “overkill” and Papier Masson hopes to eliminate it totally by autumn.

Although the operators only have one pulp to worry about now, TMP operations are still being optimized. There are still a lot of stops and starts. The operators had the previous “recipe” of pulps down to a fine art. Therefore, although it is not easier for the staff to run the new pulp mill yet, it soon will be. Uptime is over 95%, but stops and starts are still an “adventure”, Legault said. The operators and maintenance personnel were “put through the wringer” and have worked hard over the last year, Legault added. At times, plates had to be changed twice a week.

For the paper machine operators, there is less mixing and matching of pulps so the system is less complex.

The chosen

From the beginning, Papier Masson knew it had to select the right people to run the new TMP plant. Running a one-line pulp plant with the largest refiners ever built left virtually no room for error.

Sylvain Bussire, the pulping manager and the person responsible for the overall TMP plant operation, opted for the train the trainer approach. Four hourly employees were identified as being the best qualified and were taken from the mill in May 1999 and set up in the on-site training centre.

Papier Masson also employed outside training consultants; one helped the chosen four map out the process and taught them how to train the operators. Another, Gerry Trudel, an industry veteran with many years of TMP start-up experience, was used to vet the training program and as a “guest lecturer” to talk about TMP qualities and properties. Finally, with Metso’s help, a process simulator was developed. This was an important tool in helping the operators understand the process.

The TMP operators represent a cross-section of staff from the entire mill — woodyard, groundwood, UHYS and finishing. From a process point of view, the nearest thing to TMP was UHYS. To most of the others, “The notion of control was non-existent,” Legault said.

The selection process began in early spring 1999. A typical test (those chosen were tested regularly during training) was made available and those interested in staffing the new TMP plant had to pass this test to be considered. Many wrote; not all were successful. The company did provide tutoring between April and August. The final exam was in late summer. Some who didn’t pass the first time were successful in a subsequent try. Selection interviews were then conducted with these successful candidates and, at this point, seniority became a consideration.

Practical training began in January 2000. Papier Masson chose 20 people — 15 regulars, five spares — to staff the new TMP plant. Classroom participation was a must for the 20. They were also tested weekly. “It was a very interactive process,” Legault added. “It was not passive, not just classroom lectures. The onus was on them to pick up the material and ask questions. If we had taken a passive approach, we would not have the success we’ve had.”

After March 2000, more time was spent on the process simulator. The next step was the development of lock-out procedures. This was done by the operators as were the check-out and flush-out procedures. This was one way for them to learn their equipment and processes. They also did all the piping identification as a way to reinforce what they learned.

Finally, operators did the commissioning. This was vital step in acquiring experience with the system. For some, it meant using a distributed control system (DCS) for the first time.

No lingering

Commissioning began May 1, 2000. The first pulp was made on July 9. Pulp trials were done in parallel with the existing pulp mills. The TMP ran for four to five hours and then it would be blended with the other pulps. This only went on until the official start-up on July 25. Papier Masson did not want a “lingering” start-up, nor did it want the operators to have a “crutch” with the other pulps.

The closure of the woodroom, groundwood and UHYS plants meant job losses for 150 people. This was unavoidable and expected. From 452 people in the mill, Papier Masson has gone to 303. Three people can run the TMP process, from chip arrival to high-density storage before the paper machine. It takes only 21 people per shift to run the entire mill, down from 39.

Unlike many other Canadian mills, the issue of age at Papier Masson is not as serious as it is elsewhere. Therefore, few took early retirement. It was offered to those who had reached 55 years and the window is being kept open until 2002. However, only 22 were eligible and 20 took advantage of it.

Automation and reclassification committees were established to negotiate the details of the bumping and manning issues. Bumping occurred throughout the mill. This was done on paper from October 1999 until February 2000. Reclassification was the second stage. Legault said there was excellent cooperation between the company and union in an effort to help workers develop new skills and find new jobs. Legault praised Jacques Thriault, manager of human resources, who led the Reclassification Committee, for his work in making the difficult process of lay-offs as smooth as possible.

Legault also noted that the communication program that the mill started in 1994 when it began explaining the need for a TMP plant and what the conseq
uences would be was a key to the success of the project.

Once the staffing for the new TMP plant was determined, Legault explained that up to 35 temporary workers were in the mill while those who were to be laid off were on leaves of absence to allow them to try new jobs. Temporary workers were also use during the training period. Thus far, more than 90% of the people laid off have been able to find new employment.

Despite all of this, Legault said the mill had an excellent start-up. Another key was the commitment of the people. “We really had as close to 100% understanding as possible as to what was going on. In the construction period and under all the other circumstances, we were able keep 90%+ efficiency on the paper machine.”

The technical side

Although the new TMP plant started up using 100% softwood chips, Papier Masson has since been able to introduce poplar into the mix, about 8%. The separate chip handling facility for the hardwood chips was opened in February 2001. The mill uses about 220 000 t/y of chips that come various sawmills in the region, mostly Nexfor-owned Norbord mills.

An automated Rader chip dumper was installed. It operates on a drive-through principle and is fully automated. The truck driver inserts a credit card device into a reader that “tells” the conveyor where to send the chips. Trucks are weighed before and after dumping.

The two softwood chip piles are divided into low- and high-density species. The former includes white spruce, balsam fir and “southern” black spruce. The latter is made up of black spruce chips from the Norbord mills. The mills mixes the chips in a 65:35, high-density:low-density ratio.

Metering screws under each pile discharge chips onto a common conveyor, carrying them to the top of the screening building. Acrowood supplied the various screens used to separate overs, high-density material and fines. Fines are sold to OSB mills; the high-density material is landfilled on site. The hardwood poplar chips are controlled by using front end loaders that push the chips onto a stocker bed, which transfers the chips onto a metering screw. These chips are delivered to the mill in trucks with travelling floors.

The TMP process used at Papier Masson was described in the July 1999 article in Pulp & Paper Canada. There are three CD 82 refiners, powered by 43 000-hp GE motors. There is one primary, one secondary and one rejects refiner. Three parallel, low-consistency JC-04 conical refiners (Conflo) provide tertiary refining. The large production units allow the operators to focus on achieving efficiency, Legault said.

The mill uses Metso’s Thermopulp process, designed to save energy. All stages of the high-consistency refining process are pressurized for efficient high-pressure steam recovery. The Andritz-Ahlstrom heat recovery system can generate two-thirds of the mill’s steam needs. Two power boilers provide the rest of the steam.

The extensive Metso screening system after refining, coupled with the high quality of the chips, preclude the need for pulp cleaners. After bleaching with sodium hydrosulphite, the pulp passes to one of two high-density storage tanks, 14 hours total capacity, prior to being pumped to the stock prep area of the paper machine.

Papier Masson chose the Foxboro I/A DCS for the new TMP plant. Although performing well, Legault said this is the next area to optimize. “The DCS has done well. It is well configured for the operators, very visual.”

Foxboro’s marketing manger, pulp and paper, Roger Evans, said the screens have a 3D effect, giving a much sharper image than with older systems. The TMP system is NT-based. Although that for stock prep and the paper machine is UNIX-based, Evans said the two will be tied together. There is an opportunity for advanced control on the system and Evans added that this will be the focus of future work.

There are three Metso Pulp Quality Monitors integrated into the DCS where operators can measure from seven points in the process for things such as shive content and fibre length. Legault said that there is still a lot of manual control in the process. This will change as more loops are integrated into the process. “This will minimize upsets when starting and stopping.”

In May, the mill installed a Spoc Technologies’ blowline consistency transmitter. “We’re hoping for an accurate measurement of blowline consistency,” Legault explained. Previously, it was only a calculated value. “Our aim is to control it and thus minimize quality upsets.”

The size of the TMP building is about 60% that of a conventional TMP mill. Legault believes the single-line concept saved the mill about $20 million. Total cost of the project was $150 million, including training, consultants, retirement packages, TMP equipment, paper machine modifications and upgrades to mill services (electrical, steam, white water). Legault noted that there was quite a bit of work required on the electrical grid and distribution into the mill. As he pointed out, the mill is 70 years old.

More than 200 000 hours of engineering and management work went into the project. Papier Masson’s Terry Osborne was the project manager while Bal Sandhu was NLK’s project manager assisted by many other NLK staff. Metso representatives were also part of the project team.

Sandhu said the challenge came from the new TMP plant being the largest single line: “There was nothing to refer back to.” Care had to be taken in designing the various aspects to ensure the plant design at least met its intended objective

The paper machine needed only minor modifications to accommodate the new pulp. These changes included a secondary fan pump, improved cleanliness around the wet end with new mist elimination system, a new dry end gauging system and a new CD caliper control system. Work was also done on the save-all system, white water and fines recovery.

In the finishing end, the roll tracking and inventory management software was replaced with a Wrapmation system. A robotic roll label applicator was installed.

Clamp trucks equipped with scanners take the rolls from the line to storage or load them directly onto trucks or rail cars. The scanners provide the mill with an extra roll tracking capability. The mill built two extra truck bays bringing the total to four. The mill does not have a lot of storage space so inventory is kept to a minimum. About 70% of production goes out by truck, 30% by rail.

Customer feedback on Papier Masson’s new sheet has been positive. One of the chief objectives of the project was to increase opacity. This has been done, up to 94.9%, which is better than the industry average. Formation has improved as well. “It prints well,” Legault said. “Runnability has improved but it wasn’t a problem before.”

Environmentally, the new pulp plant reduced the mill’s effluent volume by 25%. The BOD loading was also reduced.

For maintenance, Legault said the paper machine has a planned maintenance shutdown every three weeks. This is down from every two weeks. There are 18 shutdowns per year, a total of 180 hours. The TMP plant is shut once a week but the company would like to stretch this to every two weeks. As noted, high-density pulp storage capacity is 14 hours. The TMP plant is down weekly because of plate development and “process evolution”, Legault said.

Papier Masson uses centralized maintenance planning. There is a strong emphasis on planning. “We do most of our maintenance in a planned mode, versus breakdown. We’ve been at it for at least six years. It’s essential if you’re running a one-line mill,” Legault added. When changing refiner plates, maintenance crews can go pulp-to-pulp in six hours.

The new TMP plant had been in the works for many years at Masson. If the mill was to survive, it was not a question of if, but when. Legault, who has been at the mill since 1984, said a comprehensive plan — technical and human resources — had been prepared when Maclaren still owned the mill. (The new owners bought the mill from Nexfor, Maclaren’s parent, in December 1998.) All this planning paid off for a fast track approach when the project finally received board
approval in March 1999.

The goals of the team that established Papier Masson were to improve paper quality, streamline operations and improve working conditions. One can say that these objectives have been met.

The immediate concern is consolidating and stabilizing operations to improve efficiency. After that, there is a lot of potential, according to Legault. This includes a paper machine speed-up, quality improvement and perhaps even a grade change. Still, the workforce has much to be proud of. First, they demonstrated the viability of a one pulp line, one paper machine concept. And, Legault added, “We’ve taken a 70-year-old mill and turned it into a modern, efficient site. We are well positioned from a cost and quality viewpoint.”

Who helped

Besides the major suppliers mentioned, there were numerous other companies who contributed to the Papier Masson project. Falk supplied speed reducers for the Metso equipment. GE Industrial Systems supplied the 32.5 MW, 43 000 hp TS Series 9000 synchronous motors for the refiners. The motors have a remote rotor temperature monitoring and protection system. GE also supplied two 45 MVA transformers, Multilin relays and a GE Fanuc PLC in GE ESP1 field excitation panels. In the finishing end, Papier Masson installed a Wrapmation TRAQ Manager Roll Tracking System. Loading rolls onto trucks and rail cars is managed by wireless radio-controlled computer terminals installed on the clamp trucks.

Matrikon provided process management optimization services. Other suppliers included Ahsltrom Pumps, Andritz-Ahlstrom, Alfa-Laval Thermal, Allen Bradley Reliance Electric, B.I.D. Canada, Canadian Stebbins, Contro-Valve, Enerquin Air, Henderson Barwick, Kvaerner Pulping, Rader Canada, Rosemount Instruments, Siemens Canada, Toshiba International, Continental Conveyor, Blenkhorn & Sawle, ITT Gould and Hansen.


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