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Pacific Coast Branch Technical Mini-Conference has winning combination

One thing the Pacific Coast Branch isn't short on is enthusiasm. And unlike many of its counterparts, the division's attendance isn't coming up short, either. Roughly 90 people made their way from var...


June 1, 2005
By Pulp & Paper Canada

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One thing the Pacific Coast Branch isn’t short on is enthusiasm. And unlike many of its counterparts, the division’s attendance isn’t coming up short, either. Roughly 90 people made their way from various corners of North America to convene in Parksville, BC for the branch’s annual technical mini-conference, held in April. While rumblings about poor turnouts for meetings permeate most conferences of its kind, the Pacific Coast Branch seems to have beat the odds, attracting an impressive amount of delegates year after year. Although the mild climate, mountainous surroundings and abundant lilac bushes likely provide an added incentive, cost, content and location equal a winning combination, according to conference chair Graydon Hackett. “It’s a mixture of really good content, the cost is right and it’s informal, friendly. It doesn’t scare anyone away. The conference is a great place to meet new contacts and exchange ideas. It’s a great opportunity for younger engineers and technical people to meet close to home.”

The branch has enjoyed a fairly successful history, according to Hackett, who explained that despite faltering attendance in the early 1990’s, the conference has managed to keep its head above water and then some. “When attendance was starting to decline, the branch executive made a huge effort to revamp it and came up with a new format, an effort the current executive has tremendous appreciation for. In the last 10 years, we’ve watched it grow from 30 to 80 people,” he said. The event also attracts a melange of industry players; delegates come from mills, universities, research institutes, and supplier companies, something Hackett confirms is done intentionally, and adds a welcome component to the event itself. However, and as is true of most of the industry’s conferences, eliciting individuals from mills proves a constant challenge. “It’s great because this conference gives a chance for junior people in mills to get out, but we need more of them,” Hackett laments. “It’s hard to get them out here, but it’s something we’re working on.”

The branch has adopted a proactive approach towards encouraging young people to pursue careers in the industry as well, through its establishment of a relationship with BCIT, the British Columbia Institute of Technology. On average, eight to 10 students from the school’s Chemical Sciences Department attend the conference, and have done so for the past several years. This year, the branch donated $1000 to the department’s library foundation.

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Technical content

The conference opened with a workshop on organizing and running successful mill trials. Despite it being a first time offering, the event proved a tremendous success. “It was a great partnership with Martin MacLeod,” Hackett said. “Participation was excellent and the general comments coming out of it were really good.”

It was noted that the conference isn’t really for senior managers of mills, however, the content presented during the technical sessions demonstrated admirable innovative and progressive thinking, planning and research. This year’s winner of the Best First Time Presenter award and the Best Paper award was the work presented by David Welsford of Scott Paper and Pat Terfloth of Hercules Canada, entitled, A Novel Approach to Increasing Bulk and Softness in Tissue Paper. First acknowledging the conditions of the market and its highly competitive nature, the duo proceeded to outline the necessity for tissue makers to meet demands for an increasingly soft product, while maintaining strength. “Often the tissue maker has been forced to increase basis weight in order to meet both strength and bulk targets,” explained Welsford. The paper outlined how the addition of amphoyeric waxy maize to the refined furnish of a conventional dry-crepe tissue process was used in place of refining to maintain bulk and strength.

Winner of the Open Category award was a work presented by Paprican’s Laurie Frederick entitled, Using a Diagnostic Imaging System to Identify Damage Mechanism in Coastal Power Boiler. The research institute’s Boiler Diagnostic Imaging System was used to provide an assessment of the environmental conditions around the screen tube pups within a coastal power boiler during its operation. The imaging system was able to determine corrosion likely damaged the mechanism, as opposed to erosion, which was originally suspected. The tool further discovered that chlorine and sulphur might also have contributed to the problem. Frederick’s offered diagnosis was such that upgrading the tube metallurgy might be effective as an attempt to improve the service life of the mechanism.

Another well-received work was that presented by Ben McGuffie, a process engineer with the Elk Falls Division of NorskeCanada entitled, Desalination of Salt Laden Hog Fuel Using Counter Current Extractor -Multicontactor Technology. Particularly salient on the west coast, where the transportation of logs in salt water inevitably creates problems with contaminants, McGuffie’s work focused on a Hogwash Process Technology, designed to remove salt from hog fuel prior to combustion, thereby reducing the amount of chloride available for dioxide formation. A full-scale simulation of the technology effectively removed 94% of contaminants. McGuffie also highlighted the numerous payoffs the use of the technology would imply, such as a maintenance savings of $1.2 million a year, coupled by a potential for an additional equipment savings of $1 million per year. The technology also generates a fossil fuel savings of 1-3% of total mill demand. The Hogwash has already been patented and NorskeCanada and PWS Technology are currently investigating options for a full-scale plant.

Canadian industry overview

PAPTAC’s assistant manager of exhibitions Andrea Borrelli was guest speaker for the event, and provided delegates with an overview of the Canadian industry through an illustration of both its strengths and weaknesses, and the integral role PAPTAC plays in its positioning. Borrelli acknowledged the constant barrage of negative media attention the industry receives, contending that news reports tend to focus solely on closures. However, what is often ignored, according to Borrelli, are facts such as the U.S. remaining Canada’s biggest market, that over one million people in Canada are employed directly or indirectly by the industry and that although the past four to five years have played host to a 10% drop in mill employments, such numbers are by no means unique to the pulp and paper industry. “We have many strengths,” she said. “We have access to high quality fibre, natural resources and good research facilities. We’ve reduced our effluent discharge by 30% in the past decade and roughly 65% of our fibre comes from sawmill residues.” Borrelli also pointed out that despite international outcries over threats imposed by logging and clear-cutting activities, 47% of the country’s forests are either inaccessible, or designated parklands.

Not glossing over the challenges that indisputably remain, Borrelli cited the high Canadian dollar, the maturation of the North American newsprint market, unfavourable readership trends and an ageing workforce as a handful of the issues that remain to be dealt with before the Canadian industry can return to the state of profitability it once enjoyed. Although she outlined some of the multiple services the Pulp and Paper Technical Association of Canada provides to members, perhaps the biggest, was the ‘no secrets policy,’ meaning that the organization serves as an umbrella to members from all facets of the industry, where people can share information, attack problems together to find workable solutions and address common issues. “This organization was founded in 1915,” Borrelli said, “and became independent in 1998. We have 4381 members in 41 countries, but we still focus on what founder John S. Bates did: inclusion.”

The event marked the 59th anniversary for the branch, whose organizing committee is already busy planning for next ye
ar’s 60th celebration. Debbi Stanyer of NorskeCanda Powell River has stepped up from vice chair to replace Hackett as chair and although a definitive plan has yet to be set out, Hackett confirmed that ideas are already in the works and that ideas for the development of a new course are currently on the table. “We’re also hoping to invite the past chairs,” he said. “It would be a really nice way to celebrate our 60th anniversary.” Regardless of what the committee has in store, one thing remains certain: the conference is bound to be a success. As Andrea Borrelli pointed out, “this format works really well for them.”