Pulp and Paper Canada

Taking The Pulse Of Process Control

March 1, 2009  By Pulp & Paper Canada

Refining is one target for process control improvements.

PPC: What developments in the area of process control have you focused on in the past year?

PPC: What developments in the area of process control have you focused on in the past year?

Brad MacDonald, marketing manager, and Sachin Jari, sales manager, ABB: Specifically in process control for pulp and paper, last year we introduced a new QCS scanner called the Network Platform, as well as a broad suite of services and tools that enable customers to more cost effectively ensure the best performance and highest reliability of their assets. The new platform can coexist with the existing Smart Platform on the same machine and doesn’t require modifications to the existing QCS.


Sylvain Renaud, sales director for North America, Andritz Automation, Ltd.: We focused on advanced model predictive control in 2007-2008. We had great success on lime kiln control, bleach plant, and kappa control. Model predictive controllers (MPCs) have been used for 20 years in the mining, glass and food industries, but are really just starting in pulp and paper. MPCs are used to control non-linear and complex processes that cannot be controlled with standard PID. Our MPC, BrainWave, stabilizes complicated processes, which allows the user to decrease set point for saving energy or chemicals. While it has been deployed in more than 10 pulp and paper mills in North America, the current pulp and paper market condition has prevented a deeper penetration of these solutions.

We have also focused on system integration using standard PLC. These control-based systems replace old manual controls and improve process control. These kinds of upgrades are focused on reducing the workload for operators, improving process control, and decreasing energy costs. Many mills in North America are trying to eliminate old, energy consuming refiners by improving low consistency refining, which typically demands less energy.

Steven W. Schoenborn, product specialist, industrial process applications, Optek: In the past year, our primary focus for instrumentation into the pulp and paper industry has been measuring turbidity of white liquor in a way such that fouling of the sensor’s optical windows does not interfere with the reliability of the measurement.

Steve Glover, integrated architecture marketing, Canada, and Kevin DeWitt, global process technical consultant, Rockwell: The PlantPAx portfolio is the next step in our commitment to help customers achieve process automation excellence. It unifies our core capabilities and technologies with those of our market leading partners.

In a challenging North American industry, how important is process control research and development in a quest to remain competitive?

Rockwell: For mills to be competitive in today’s economic conditions, research and development are very important, not only in product development, but also on how the machines are set up to run. The product grades the machines are running and how to reduce the amount of scrap and waste rejects is also important. Knowing what the specific issues are and finding how to eliminate them can potentially save the mill a significant amount of money, which is necessary to survive in the paper industry today. Sustainability (doing more with less) also plays into the formula and mills need to figure out how to reduce waste and work more efficiently. This usually starts in the research and development process with an initial study to reduce cost of manufacturing and downtime, and produce product more cost effectively.

ABB: R&D is critical to the long-term survival of process control suppliers. We continue to leverage our position as the market share leader in controls systems for a tremendous war chest of R&D funds. ABB is unique in the world of process control suppliers in that we have industry-specific business units devoted to development, sales, installation, and service. In a challenging environment our customers find comfort in knowing that we understand their business.

Andritz: The industry has focused on mechanical upgrades for a decade without always looking at ways to improve control of existing equipment. Now that many types of equipment have reached their peak mechanical performance, it is essential to look at improving control of that equipment. It is critical for mills to look at ways to improve control and this is typically achieved through R&D but also through partnerships with suppliers who have readily available control solutions. It is unfortunate to see mills trying to reinvent the wheel using outdated technology.

Have your relationships with Canadian forestry, pulp, and paper firms changed in terms of increased expectations and requirements in the face of economic downturns?

ABB: Our customers are doing more with less and with fewer people. We recognize this and have recently improved our technical offering to enable us to put an expert in every mill using remote access capabilities. We can respond with our best experts almost immediately. This helps our customers reduce downtime and increase production.

Optek: Of course, a difficult economic environment could preclude a mill from becoming as efficient as possible in terms of controlling their processes. But given the industry’s tendency to lag behind technological innovation by preferring to “wait until someone has tried this first,” it is no surprise that the pulp and paper industry has minimal expectations. Quite frankly, this is the attitude that presently separates the mills that are viable and somewhat profitable, from those which are struggling or already closed.

Rockwell: Our relationships with customers is always changing in the forestry industry. With downturns in the industry, this can be challenging. The key for automation solutions vendors is to know who has the authority to make key decisions on purchasing cost-effective solutions. Most manufacturers can provide a solution, and the challenge is to fully convince the customer that we can provide a comprehensive solution that will meet their goals and needs. Expectations are higher now than they have ever been, since capital and money in general has become a challenge.

Andritz: Our relationship has always been excellent with all the pulp and paper players. The economic downturn is more challenging and has brought more innovative ways to approach project execution and justification. A good example is our BrainWave Model Predictive Controller, which we offer at no-risk to mills, meaning the mill only pays if they see benefits.

What advice do you have for pulp, paper, and forestry companies who are trying to differentiate themselves from their competitors, while carving out niche markets for themselves?

Optek: That is the advice — look for niche markets and products and get away from the commodity newsprint, copy, and other uncoated freesheet type products. In addition, touting the expanded use of recycled paper in their products will appeal to the “greens” of the world.

ABB: Niche markets require flexibility and adaptability. This in turn requires that process control systems be in peak condition. If a customer made a good investment in world-class control systems, then they need only focus on getting the most out of these systems.

Andritz: Improve your process control: that is often an untapped sector where mills make very little investment. After working for many years in Europe, I can comment that Scandinavian mills have invested much more in process control than North American mills, which resulted in a lower cost per tonne and improved process performances.

Rockwell: In any mill, you need to meet the challenges of global competition, higher production costs, and increasingly strict environmental standards. That means streamlining manufacturing processes while minimizing water, energy and material costs, improving product quality, productivity and capacity, while reducing downtime. Executing real-time control and maintaining critical process parametres means you
can respond to diverse customer demands.

Being able to use one platform throughout a mill allows you to have all the information at your fingertips when required. This saves time by not having to go through multiple systems to get the basic operational performance of the mill. Dashboard type displays are popular as they collect a large amount of data and the end user can look at one single screen. Similar to a car dashboard, the information is easy to read and understand.

Hiring an external company that remotely monitors the operational equipment in the mill is another available solution. This lets the mill know about problems with a machine before it goes down, and so it can be shut down and fixed before it becomes a much larger problem. This can be a very cost-effective tool.

If I Had A Million Dollars

PPC: If a mill has a budget of less than $1 million, what process control improvements would you suggest it make?

Andritz: For a kraft mill, I would suggest focusing on improving controls on the digester, lime kiln, recaust area, and bleaching. Those areas provide very good potential for energy and chemicals reduction. There are readily available solutions for all those applications using advanced process control. Simply looking at control strategies, often dating from the mill start-up, can provide real opportunities as well.

In a TMP application, improving high consistency refining control can substantially reduce energy costs in a market where electricity is limited and expensive. Reducing load variation in order to reduce load set point is usually a sure investment. In some mills, improving performance of low consistency refiners can decrease the number of refiners. Many projects consisting of removing refiners have been executed in the last few years, providing very good return on a minimum investment. Investing in process control is a permanent improvement that will provide savings year after year.

Optek: From our point of view, we want mills to upgrade their ClO2 monitoring (both in solution and as a scrubber gas) and to begin monitoring their turbidity of white liquor. Each instrument can be purchased for $20,000 per measuring point, increasing their profits while reducing down time.

Rockwell: Customers need to be aware of their aging infrastructure and reduced human resources. Many times, equipment can be upgraded and productivity gains can be realized. Gains can be made with a better view by business systems, faster grade changes, and increased up-time. Deciding between various strategies isn’t easy; that’s why proper planning is essential.

Well thought-out migration solutions are instrumental to your competitive position. They help you achieve productivity gains, lessen the risk of maintaining legacy equipment, and allow you to migrate at a pace that is comfortable for the company.

ABB: Most process control systems are being underutilized. A mill with less than $1 million to spend would be best served by having a company like ABB come in and evaluate the status of their control system to propose an improvement plan. We call this a “finger print.” It provides both a benchmark and an improvement plan. ABB’s recommendations from a fingerprint also include an ROI estimate. This ROI has both an estimated cost to fix the problem and an estimate of the return. Most recommendations have less than a one-year return. P&PC

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