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Pacwest 2005: Partners for a Progressive Future


July 1, 2005
By Pulp & Paper Canada

PacWest 2005 was dubbed Partners in Progress. Delegates from pulp mills, paper mills, research institutes, universities and supplier companies assembled in beautiful Harrison Hot Springs, BC, to prese…

PacWest 2005 was dubbed Partners in Progress. Delegates from pulp mills, paper mills, research institutes, universities and supplier companies assembled in beautiful Harrison Hot Springs, BC, to present and listen to technical papers, discuss and exchange ideas and learn about the various innovative processes being developed by supplier enterprises, all with the greater goal of understanding and overcoming some of the industry’s greater challenges.

“Is there still a need for conferences?” asked conference chairman David Flater of Kraft Solutions. The blatant question was met with expected silence. The approximate 300 industry players who had convened for the forum panel were reluctant to answer this query. Flater elaborated. “How many of your companies have research and development groups? How many of them are expanding?” The questions were met with sheepish chuckles. Instead of raising into the air, hands rested calmly over coffee cups or notebooks. “How many of your companies actively support Paprican? How many of you are aware of their recent cutbacks?” More silence. “There is a need for conferences,” Flater said. “These types of conferences are where we are provided with an opportunity to challenge ideas, look at ways to cut costs, improve value for shareholders. The sharing must continue after we return back to work, because without a clear return on intellectual investment, conferences like this will wane.” Flater likened PacWest to the “crown jewel” of all the assemblies of its kind, pointing to its balance of mill, supplier and research papers as a main selling point for attendance. “We need to sell management on going to this conference by bringing something back to the mills.”

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Working with the partnership theme, the forum panel’s moderator, Rob Wood, executive director of the Pulp and Paper Technical Association of Canada (PAPTAC) highlighted the increasing tendency towards affiliation in the industry. “More and more companies are seeking partnerships,” he affirmed. “These often take the form of joint ventures, where corporations can share potential risks, but there are many others available. We need to encourage active participation.”

It is exactly this assiduous participation that CEO of Paprican, the Pulp and Paper Research Institute of Canada, Joseph Wright is hoping for. “The forest sector is unique,” Wright acknowledged, speaking of the adversity that is particularly salient to the pulp and paper industry. “Our products are seen directly by the customer, unlike many others, but this should be an advantage to us. Where the challenge lies, is in the need to add value to our products and we need innovation to do this. We need to be innovative, we need to use our natural advantage.” Addressing the issue of eucalyptus and the myriad of pressures its expanding use in many other countries is placing on the North American industry, Wright pointed out, “Aspen can outperform eucalyptus, but we don’t have any large Aspen plantations. This is something we could, and should, be looking into.” Wright built a case for the critical need to infuse products with technological innovation and, as he delineated, this begets an opportunity for companies to avail themselves of the expertise of research institutes and organizations such as Paprican. “We’re focused, flexible and entrepreneurial,” he said. “As our clients, we can help you, what are your needs?” Wright outlined the process by which the institute embarks upon selective research projects, which is in large part defined by the member companies. Owing to constricted human and financial resources, companies have communicated a bona fide need to work on targeted projects. Flexibility is crucial, as time for long-term undertakings is a luxury most are unable to afford. Paprican is currently working on seven multi-member projects and is encouraging companies to reach out and establish partnerships that will prove beneficial to their bottom lines. “We need you to pull. We can’t just push technology down your throats. We can have all the technology in the world but it won’t move anywhere by itself. We need partnerships. Our industry is at risk. You can’t do it alone, we can’t do it alone, I can’t do it alone. We need to work together.”

The issue of governmental rigidity and its influence on Canada’s pulp and paper industry was also addressed. During the general discussion section of the forum panel, much of the exchanges focused on a mounting need for an industrial strategy that includes government support. The Finnish industry was held up as an example where such strategy has worked and worked well; the 80s were characterized by strong consolidation of the pulp and paper industry, and the panel was inclined to agree that such amalgamation is direly needed in Canada. Jukka Nyrola of Jaakko Poyry explained that although the Finnish government in fact owns 10% of Stora Enso, “it is still just a shareholder,” and does not attempt to guide the activities or undertakings of the company. It was pointed out that although eliminating the smaller players in order to fortify the survivors will in all likelihood serve as an impetus for job losses, weeding out the weak now, will ensure the veritable survival of the mills in question in the not so distant future.

The virtual freeze on capital expenditures in the Canadian industry was also touched upon. The glaring discrepancy between capital projects undertaken in North America and those being embarked upon in our Southern counterparts, namely Brazil, is growing ever wider. As Paprican’s Joseph Wright acrimoniously pointed out, “collectively we own this problem and we all have to do something about it. But we can’t be excited about running 40-50 year-old plants when people are driving BMW plants elsewhere.”

The forum panel served to offer up examples of the various partnerships available to those in the pulp and paper industry, while calling attention to potential affiliations that may not immediately come to mind. Parminder Sandhu of BC Hydro Power Smart spoke to delegates about programs the energy company is working on, and how working in conjunction with pulp and paper companies is something it is looking at closely. “The forestry sector truly deserves to be applauded in terms of its resource efficiency,” he said. “When a log comes in, every bit of it is used.” Sandhu articulated the strides the industry has made in terms of the 3 R’s of recycling, reduce, re-use and recycle, but pointed out that the fourth, recently added R, re-design, is an area in which the industry needs to focus. “The sector really lags here,” he said. “But the Power Smart programs we’re developing offer many incentives for efficiency projects, such as co-funding for energy studies.”

Brian Baarda of NorskeCanada provided an account of the partnerships his company has secured within its own divisions. “When new decisions are made, we get a lot of people involved,” he said. “Our five mills are all in close proximity of one another, and the company has managed to achieve partnerships in the forestry industry, with its people and its mills.” Although Baarda touted the benefits of forming affiliations, he offered several precautionary considerations that should be contemplated prior to partnering up with an organization, university or company. “A partnership is not an agreement, but a relationship built on mutual trust and respect,” he explained. “And so when NorskeCanada looks for a supplier company to fulfill a certain need, it looks for suppliers who embrace an injury free workplace, who know our business even better than we do, who are committed to high service levels and who relentlessly improve their own business.” On the flip side, Baarda confirmed that other companies in turn want to partner with NorskeCanada because of its impressive environmental record. Therefore, selecting an outfit to partner with should involve a consideration of that company or organization’s beliefs and goals to ensure there is a common ground.

Technical component

The technical component of the confe
rence addressed many of the pertinent issues currently plaguing the North American industry, namely fibre shortages and exorbitant energy prices, while introducing technological innovations. Chuck Doupe of Voith Paper presented a work on fibre-saving technology entitled, “The Cost-savings Solution for Fine Cleaning Systems,” which articulated the advantages of the company’s EcoMizer, which allows the user to control the reject rate at each cleaner. The technology was effective in removing 99% of sand during trials and has been implemented by Stora Enso, Tembec and an Eastern Canada TMP plant.

Chris Rapp of Metso Automation, presented a work on the Pulpexpert DCD, designed for brightness and colour measurement in a kraft pulp mill’s baling line. He explained that although dirt is typically classified by size, a mill can set up the system according to its needs. Rapp confirmed that Tembec Smooth Rock Falls installed a Pulpexpert in December and received “great results.”

CHALLENGES: The constant and the changing

Although attracting mill personnel to industry conferences remains a ceaseless challenge, conference co-chairman Doug Currie of Voith Paper contends the diversity of delegates from the supplier end of the spectrum is an important constituent of the event as well. However, working to try and engage younger engineers has become a primary focus for the PacWest organizing committee. “A really important part of the conference is trying to heavily involve mill people,” he said. “It can be difficult to get papers and speakers, as many mills simply don’t have the finances; they’re downsizing and there just aren’t enough people and resources. Yes, some mills have backed off, and there are some that will always stay involved.

What’s really important to us and to PAPTAC is to try and get these young engineers to write and present papers, because it’s a great opportunity for them,” he said. “Some of the most skilled technical people and engineers in the industry are here and have the opportunity to present their works to their peers and bosses and everyone listening has an opportunity to implement what they’ve seen and learned here. It provides an opportunity to expose new technology and to drive it down to the mill level.” Acknowledging that PacWest is viewed as a networking opportunity as well as a meeting of technical minds, Currie explained how the organizing committee strives to strike a balance between offering time for discussion and exchanging of ideas, as well as technical presentations; a balance that works to make the conference as successful as it is. “We’ve really paid attention to that, and we managed to secure some top quality papers this year.” A total of 30 technical papers were presented at PacWest 2005. Attendance was also up nearly 40 people from 2004, leading Currie to identify himself as being, “cautiously optimistic.”

Currie also called attention to the value of feedback, and the ways in which the organizing committee strives to directly implement information it gains this way. “At the mill manager’s meeting, we’re given very clear direction as to what we should be focusing on for next year. So when we sit down for our first meeting in September, we’ll know ahead of time where to go.” Currie listed power and energy-savings as likely hot topic candidates for PacWest 2006.

In terms of difficulty trying to secure papers for the conference, chairman David Flater acknowledged the tremendous amount of work that goes into preparing a presentation of that magnitude. “There are basically three elements of the presentation,” he said. “First is to come up with a hypothesis and to do trials, collect data, do the fieldwork. Then, and this is the most onerous part for engineers, you have to sit down and write roughly 3,000 consecutive words in a coherent fashion. Then there is the presentation itself.” In order to accommodate busy engineers, conferences have slowly started allowing for a bypass of step two, whereby presentations are given in PowerPoint, so the time-consuming task of writing a full-length paper can be avoided. Flater has reservations about this modification. “In a sense it demeans an audience’s ability to absorb complex ideas,” he conjectured. “My initial response to this idea is that I would like to keep the full format, because I think it helps to ensure the high technical content of the paper. However, we are leaving room for a few ‘trial’ papers of this nature next year.” Some conferences, such as the Midwest, have already gone the abridged paper route, Flater acknowledged.

According to Flater, the biggest obstacle for PacWest lies not in securing papers, but to effectively promote the event at a time where money is tight. “For myself and the mill executives, the biggest challenge is convincing our peers in times of reduced budgets that conferences like PacWest offer tremendous value and form a ‘virtual R&D’ group. I’m sure every mill attendee was exposed to ideas that could save their divisions hundreds of thousands of dollars. I view PacWest as a return on the investment that offers paybacks that can be measured in days.”

The PacWest organizing committee would have been hard pressed to find another theme more suitable for this year’s event than Partners for Progress. As guest speaker, former NHL hockey player Ryan Walter addressed in his talk, the industry does indeed need leadership, but to lead inevitably requires a recognition of the strengths of ones’ counterparts and an ability to make use of those strengths. If PacWest 2005 can be upheld as an example of the industry’s best offerings, then learning to make use of the abilities of fellow mills, research institutes, supplier companies and universities will only work to embolden the existing.

PACWEST 2005 PAPER AWARDS

H.R. MacMillan Trophy for Best Paper: Chip Moisture Testing: How Often is Often Enough? Presented by Don Olson, Cariboo Pulp & Paper, Quesnel

First Runner Up:

Application of Skewed Gas Flow Technology to Reduce Particulate Emissions and Increase Firing Rates at Two Pulp Mills. Presented by James Lockhart, Rick Higginson, Noram Engineering

Best Novice Paper:

Woodchip Optimization — Dynamic On-Line Woodchip Classification. Presented by Clinton Thomson, B&D Solutions

Best Supplier Paper:

Chasing out the Steam — Implementation of a Comprehensive Energy and Water Conservation System at Alberta Newsprint. Presented by Jim Wearing, Noram Engineering; Kimon Pierson, Alberta Newsprint


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