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Pacesetting strategies for the Paper Industry

It is no secret that the industry has not been returning its cost of capital and has been under close scrutiny by the investment community to improve its performance. There have been many responses by...

January 1, 2006  By Pulp & Paper Canada

It is no secret that the industry has not been returning its cost of capital and has been under close scrutiny by the investment community to improve its performance. There have been many responses by the industry at the corporate level to this pressure:

* Industry consolidation through mergers and acquisitions

* Narrowing of corporate focus through divestitures of non-strategic assets


* Capacity rationalization through closures of non-competitive operations

* Decreased capital spending to levels under depreciation

* Significant cost-cutting, including efforts to address productivity through reductions in staffing at the operating level

Yet, performance is still not at the level the industry is seeking.

Meeting the challenge

The pulp and paper industry would benefit by looking at what other process industries have done to meet similar challenges. By leveraging their investments in electronic technology at the operating level, the pacesetters in industries like oil and gas, chemicals, mining, and the power utilities have been able to drive significant improvements in their operating results. They have improved their performance and reliability while reducing costs and meeting regulatory compliance and safety standards.

Getting started: Operational model

The effective integration of five key components of asset health prediction and management, process health prediction and optimization, visualization and decision support, and abnormal situation support all tied together through universal connectivity, provides the foundation for achieving a step change in operating performance. The Operational Model.

So let’s take a look at each of the areas in the model.

Asset health prediction and management

Maintenance practices in the paper industry have moved through the first generation approach of reactive maintenance or “fix it when it’s broke” to the second generation approach of preventative maintenance or “fix it before it breaks.” This strategy is based primarily on a set of rules concerning maintenance frequency. There is a balance to be struck between preventative maintenance costs and increased availability. In practice, many organizations use a preventative maintenance program for critical equipment while other assets are allowed to run to failure.

Advanced data analysis techniques are now available to determine the health of assets. These tools allow monitoring applications to identify patterns in the data that are often precursors to a variety of common equipment faults. Once detected, appropriate users are alerted to the developing abnormal conditions and can take appropriate actions to prevent them from escalating into serious events. With the availability of data and critical information regarding the health of important assets, companies have begun to move to the third generation of proactive maintenance or “fix it when it needs it.” With intelligent condition monitoring and condition-based maintenance, you can identify the beginnings of performance degradation in key equipment and schedule downtime for repairs according to your schedule. Condition based maintenance (CBM) is an approach where maintenance is applied to an asset based on;

(a) the current condition or health of the equipment and

(b) the impact of poor performance on business and operational goals.

Under this model, maintenance is planned and delivered to those assets that are under-performing and which have the most significant negative impact on the business. This ensures that maintenance is applied where the greatest benefits will be received while simultaneously avoiding maintenance where it is not required.

For instance, the upstream oil and gas industry has developed performance monitoring centres where a group of senior personnel are tasked with optimizing production across a region or around the globe. Multiple systems monitor the performance of the wells and alert personnel when faults or performance degradation is detected. With the necessary information at their fingertips, they can effectively troubleshoot complex problems remotely and assist with critical production optimization decisions in the near term.

The pacesetters in the power industry are leveraging the predictive technologies to give them a real-time look at the critical parametres around their key operating assets, the turbine generators. Any issues are analyzed and instructions sent to maintenance personnel via wireless handheld devices. The jet engine industry has changed the maintenance model for airlines by providing remote monitoring of jet engines in the air via satellite. The engine suppliers provide maintenance as needed to maximize safety and minimize costs.

Many of these pacesetting techniques can be directly applied to the paper industry.

Process health prediction and optimization

Over the past 20 years, the process industries have invested heavily in automation and plant information systems. The paper industry is no exception. The current opportunity is to leverage those investments and deliver a step change in results.

In the control area, the first step is to stabilize the process using good control fundamentals. The focus is on reducing variation and making the process more predictable. The foundation of any automation strategy has to be built on sound field instrumentation, a well-managed control system and a plant process data historian to collect process information. Once the processes are stable, drive those processes to their operating constraints using advanced control technologies. This has been done for many years in the refining industry using Multivariate Predictive Controls (MPC) to maximize plant throughput.

Advanced analysis tools like MVSPC (Multivariate Statistical Process Control) are used to understand the key variables in the process and advanced modelling tools are used to speed up the implementation of the MPC’s. As the implementation effort proceeds, lock in the results using advanced predictive technologies (for example, such as Matrikon’s ProcessDoctor). By linking processes as they are brought under control, the work of managing the plant is reduced, which allows operators to manage larger areas of the operation. The use of advanced tools to track operator interactions and alarms is fundamental to understanding process issues and minimizing the direct interaction of operators. Once the stabilized processes are linked, process modeling technology and continuous performance management tools are used to predict the health of the process to tell the process manager if degradation is occurring. In fact, many pacesetters are moving the management of the processes to remote sites or asking their partners to monitor performance for them. They are leveraging the skills of their internal process experts and supplier partners through centres of excellence or in some cases, virtual centres of excellence.

The end result of this rigorous structured process is a dramatic change in the way processes are managed and work is done. New technologies are introduced, new skills are developed, work processes are changed, and managers rethink the way they manage. All of these factors illustrate the value of integrating a formal change management process into the technology effort.

Universal connectivity

The work required in the IT arena is no less rigorous. The successful integration of IT infrastructure and process control networks is crucial. The traditional gap between the transaction approach of business IT and the real-time requirements of process control must be bridged. The pacesetters of the process industries have been successful in that effort through a planned design and management approach.

The creation of a technology master plan and a gap analysis between the current state and the objective is a comm
on starting point. Network design, data models, application connectivity, cyber security, plus the need to connect the many different systems in a typical plant must be considered, keeping in mind the goal to leverage existing technology, not replace it. The overall intent is that every piece of business and process data is entered once, preferably automatically, is validated for use and is then reused over and over again where needed in the system. By using the same data, all team members share the same view of the plant.

Establishing reliable connectivity to plant floor systems has traditionally been one of the biggest challenges, since most control system vendors have their own proprietary data interface. Fortunately, there is a solution. “OPC” or “OLE for process control” is an open connectivity standard designed to bridge the gap between Windows-based applications and process control hardware. OPC enables a consistent method for accessing data from plant floor devices, regardless of the type or source of data. This technology greatly simplifies the process of establishing and maintaining connectivity between different systems.

The value gained by the pacesetters in creating this integrated technology environment becomes clearer as you think about the role of the process manager, who is now required to manage much larger areas of the process. The information needed to make decisions must be delivered in an easily accessible, intuitive manner. They need the ability to “right click” and get all the detailed information needed without searching for it. In fact, the pacesetters are “pushing” this information to the people who need it, wherever they are, using wireless technologies.

Visualization and decision support

The amount of data generated by plant operations has increased by an order of magnitude over the past two decades. At the same time, the number of engineers and operators has decreased dramatically. Thus, the visualization layer becomes a critical element in the effort to leverage technology by presenting the right information to the right people at the right time. The information created by effective analysis of the data must be available to all who need it throughout the organization. In addition, they can’t be switching between systems and presentation tools to find the required information. The industry pacesetters have adopted web-based visualization and collaboration technologies to address this need. This allows access to the information from anyone’s desktop, with the appropriate level of authorization, using only their Internet browser. The presentation of key performance indicators “KPI’s” through a digital dashboard is one example of the capabilities of a web-based approach.

The true power of the visualization layer is in its ability to present large volumes of performance data in a manner that allows users to quickly evaluate individual items that are having the biggest impact on performance. Then to allow easy “right click” access to the detailed information associated with the specific equipment or process they are focusing on.

For pacesetters, the presentation of the information is not sufficient. To deliver full value, the meaningful knowledge that is generated must be acted upon. This requires that the systems interact with the plant’s work flow processes. For example: A plant’s CBM (condition-based maintenance) system senses a problem with vibration in a piece of equipment. It passes this information to the CMMS system which writes a work order. The work order is delivered by wireless technology to the field mechanics’ handheld device. In addition to the work order, the mechanic is sent the SOPs for evaluating the vibration on that specific piece of equipment. All other essential information is available, such as the specifications for the equipment or the history of vibration readings.

Abnormal situation support

As the pacesetters move to a proactive management approach through the implementation of a condition-based maintenance environment and a predictive process environment, the frequency and magnitude of upset conditions is significantly reduced.

The addition of automated work flow approaches, such as automated start-up and shutdown systems, as well as automated recipe and grade changes, decreases the number of direct interactions that the process manager must take. This gives process managers the ability to operate much larger portions of the operations. However, it also means that the operators need more help when a process is operating outside its normal state.

To address this issue, pacesetters are implementing alarm management technologies that allow the operators to understand why a process is operating abnormally. These systems will eliminate all non-critical (nuisance) alarms, allowing the operator to concentrate on the alarms that need to be dealt with. The system then presents the process manager with an easy to understand picture of the situation and a set of operating choices to address it. Where appropriate, the system will take additional actions including requesting support from other plant areas or from a centralized database resource.

Alternatively, advanced training on dynamic process simulators like those used by pilots, is another approach that may be taken.

Work in this area, like that in all of the other technology arenas, is continuing to develop. Working with a technology partner who is actively involved in the ongoing developments in these fields keep the pacesetters where they want to be: in front of the competition.

Becoming a pacesetter

A staged approach to reaching pacesetter performance levels is needed. To get there will require all of the functional areas of the company to work together toward a common goal. Co-ordinated optimization needs to take place in all areas, including operations, maintenance, IT, process control, and the business.


The first step requires an understanding of your business and operating goals. From there, the current status of your IT and automation infrastructure and processes should be assessed. A review of maintenance technologies and practices should also be included.


The main goal in this step is to identify the areas that can be addressed quickly for the greatest gains, relative to the strategic and operating goals. After reviewing the improvement opportunities in the systems and processes, a ranking to determine the order in which issues are to be addressed should be done. At this time, the key performance indicators (KPI’s) should be determined and tracking begun. You should also be able to determine key benefits and determine rough ROI’s.


In this step, broad functional requirements, application descriptions, architectures, and conceptual designs are created for all proposed improvements. This includes a detailed, prioritized implementation plan. An important aspect of the planning step is ensuring that all stakeholders, including management, have reviewed and approved the plan. Without buy-in from the organization, it is difficult to achieve significant results, particularly when change is required. A staged approach to implementation planning is very important here. Sequencing of projects to gain value is essential. Considerations for change management should be included in the planning stage. Business process changes must be integrated.


In this step the functional requirements and conceptual designs are transformed to detailed designs ready for implementation. This step usually includes a front-end engineering design document which outlines detailed scope and service requirements. The implementation is a staged approach where progress and results are tracked throughout the execution effort. Change management efforts should be done as part of the implementation process, including changes to the associated business processes.


This critical step shou
ld be done throughout the implementation process to ensure expected results are achieved. The master plan should be compared to the actual work being completed, the changes in KPI measured and an analysis performed on the expected, to actual ROI.


The NA paper industry is facing enormous pressure to improve its financial performance in the midst of an ever-increasing cost environment and global competitive pressures. We have the opportunity to learn from other process industry pacesetters that have successfully leveraged their technology assets and improved operating results. The goal of the paper pacesetter is a step change in operating performance of 3-5%. To become a pacesetter will require hard work, plus the ability to execute and change. We must learn to walk before we run, so a staged approach is needed. Working with your technology partners will be essential. A well-planned roadmap and a drive to implement the vision are key to how a pacesetter delivers operational excellence.

Chris Rogers, PE, is the Director, Global Pulp and Paper Vertical at Matrikon, Inc.

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