Papermaking at Abitibi-Consolidated’s THOROLD DIVISION
June 1, 2007 By Pulp & Paper Canada
Abitibi-Consolidated (ACI) defines itself as a global leader in the production of newsprint and commercial printing papers. The company is additionally a major producer of wood products, serving clien…
Abitibi-Consolidated (ACI) defines itself as a global leader in the production of newsprint and commercial printing papers. The company is additionally a major producer of wood products, serving clients in approximately 70 nations from its 45 operating facilities. Recycling stands as a cornerstone of the company’s commitment to the environment and with 1.9 million recycled tonnes annually, Abitibi is one of the largest recyclers of newspaper and magazines in all of North America. ACI ranks first in Canada with the highest total certified woodlands. Building on this foundation, the corporate vision of being ‘the leading forest products company — supplying the world with papers for communication’ should come as no surprise. With prestigious clients such as the Chicago Tribune, Toronto Sun, Toronto Star, Dallas Morning News, Newsday, Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun, the operation’s location, workforce, and the quality of its product are its proudest assets.
Headlines in 1997 & 2007
On May 29, 1997, the company made headlines with news of a merger. Abitibi-Consolidated, as it became known on that day, represented a merging of Abitibi-Price and Stone-Consolidated, two Canadian giants in the forest products industry. Both companies were seeking growth opportunities to expand further into the global marketplace. Their marriage created the world’s largest producer of newsprint and uncoated groundwood paper, and one of the industry’s premier corporations. At the time, over 99% of the companies’ shareholders approved the deal.
Growth opportunities continued in 1998 with a joint venture partnership with Norske Skog of Norway and Hansoi Paper of South Korea. In 2000, Donohue, another major Canadian integrated forest products company, was acquired. This venture added to ACI’s strength in the manufacturing and sales of newsprint, speciality papers, market pulp and wood products. The company has enjoyed steady growth since 1997.
The company dominated headlines once again on January 29, 2007, when it announced a definitive agreement to combine in an all-stock merger of equals with Bowater. The merger is expected to close in the fall after acquiring the necessary approval from competition regulators on both sides of the border.
Role of Newsprint
ABINews is what ACI’s newspaper products are called, and as the company states, they play a highly significant role in the story behind the headlines at major newspapers. Holding the position of the single largest newsprint producer in North America, the company employs approximately 4,500 people at its 11 newsprint paper mills and associated recycling facilities. Thorold Division represents one of its leading operations. Situated on the Niagara Peninsula, it capitalizes on an optimum location near both a fibre supply and a large population base. With 395 employees, including 75 staff, the production capacity of 420,000 MT per year is impressive.
“There is a very special work ethic here, and many have more than one generation who have worked here,” said Henry Peters, technical manager. Peters, a native of St. Catharines, ON, has been at the mill for 30 years, and sees the operation as a continuing source of innovation. “As part of the war effort in 1942, alcohol was made from the sulphite liquor. Later, vanillin, a synthetic vanilla was produced for the food industry. We have always thought along innovative lines, and this makes me especially proud. I was involved in the flotation deinking plant set-up which was the first in North America,” he added.
It was started in 1987 and increased deink content to 45%, thus eliminating sulphite. General mill manager Rob Martin added, “In terms of recycling, we produce 100% recycled newsprint and have the largest drum pulper in the world.” The Thorold mill is the single largest user of recycled fibre in Canada, and one of the highest yield recycling plants in the industry, approaching a dry fibre conversion efficiency of 90%. While the data speaks for itself, it is “the people who make the difference,” added Martin. “I have discovered a group that is proud, sensitive, and completely dedicated to ensuring the continued success of the mill.”
The city of Thorold has a population base of over 18,000 and spreads over an area of approximately 8,498 hectares. The original township of Thorold came into existence in 1788 when surveyor Augustus Jones laid out the area in 100-acre lots to provide land for Loyalist refugees and disbanded soldiers following the American Revolutionary War. Known as “Canada’s Canal City,” Thorold’s connection to the Welland Canal dates back to 1824, when the first canal was built. The fourth and present Canal was completed in 1932 and continues to lift ships to the top of the Niagara Escarpment (350 feet above sea level) on their journey to the Great Lakes.
The mill traces its roots back 95 years when in 1912, Robert McCormick founded the Ontario Paper Company on behalf of the Chicago Tribune Newspaper. Two Pusey and Jones paper machines, operating at a speed of 560 FPM formed the foundation for the paper mill operation. By 1921, three other machines were added, which remained in service until 1982. In that year, high-speed PM6 and PM7 designed for 3,150 FPM launched the next era of operation for the Thorold mill. Ontario Paper Company then became QUNO, which was acquired by Donohue in 1996.
It was into this environment that Rob Martin arrived in October 2006. “The mill has a strong foundation with a perfect layout, a perfect location and a product that is environmentally green. What I do is to continue to challenge people to think creatively about how to positively effect production costs,” he said. Often seen wearing a baseball cap and denims, Martin admits that his ‘love for the papermaking process’ gets him down to the floor of the mill regularly.
Jol Gagn, operations manager, has been at Thorold for three years and sees Martin as having his roots in operations and “this is why he has a natural connection with people in the mill. With him, we sense that we are all working in the same direction.” Although new to Canada, Martin is no stranger to the industry, having spent 17 years in mills in Sheldon and Lufkin, TX, and another three years in Snowflake, AZ. His background is diverse, having served in the capacities of cost analysis, process engineer, maintenance manager, production manager, and superintendent. His varied background provides him with a solid foundation for making decisions that blend “good science with good business,” added Peters. Innovation is a buzzword often heard on the lips of Thorold employees, and this is illustrated further by current work on a new project.
Thorold cogen project
The Thorold Cogeneration project’s initial development began in 1997, and in October of 2006 came to fruition. Construction is currently underway. Ironically, the facility will be located on the spot where the mill’s first paper machines were situated. The project consists of a natural gas fired 305 MW cogeneration facility, which is capable of burning high and low pressure natural gas, as well as landfill gas. The project, known as Thorold CoGen LP, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Northland Power Inc. and provides efficient electrical generation with a higher efficiency rate than Ontario Power Generation’s existing thermal plants. For ACI, it offers operating cost savings and an exciting opportunity for the mill to retire its older boilers while improving the reliability of its steam supply.
For a man “in love with the process of papermaking” Rob Martin has come to the right place at Thorold, for it appears that many at the mill share his commitment, dedication and drive.
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Thorold Division FACTS
Key consumption and usage statistics:
* Recycled fibre close
to 500,000 MT annually.
* Electrical energy 1100 MW-hours per day.
* Natural gas 220,000 m3 per day
* Landfill gas 20,000 m3 per day – expanding to 60,000 m3 per day
* Water 48,000 m3 per day
Thorold Division AT A GLANCE
* 2 paper machines 7.7 m wide (300″)
* Operating speed 4200 FPM
* 395 employees including 75 staff
* Unionized workforce represented by six union locals
* ISO 9001 certified
* ISO 14001 certified
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