While a few challenges are good exercise, if enough economic and technical issues pile on fast enough, they can quickly become overwhelming. Such are the difficulties tossing, turning and transforming the world's pulp and paper manufacturers, which are facing shrinking paper demand, retirements and a smaller labor pool, and production markets shifting to developing economies.
Luckily, an array of high-tech solutions and services are available or in development, and many are riding to pulp and paper's rescue and revival. Several of these innovators and insightful end users detailed their solutions and experienced at the latest Pulp & Paper Forum on the opening day of Automation Fair in Atlanta.
"There's a revolution coming in materials that's going to hit the pulp and paper industry right in the bulls eye, and manufacturers will have to be willing to get involved and make changes," said Sean Ireland, vice president of business development, FiberLean Technologies Ltd., a recent joint venture of Omya and Imerys.
"There's a revolution coming in materials that's going to hit the pulp and paper industry right in the bullseye, and manufacturers will have to be willing to get involved and make changes." — Sean Ireland, vice president of business development, FiberLean Technologies"For example, the mill I was working at awhile back had a paper machine with a DCS that needed to be replaced, but I thought we might be able to take it out and put in a ControlLogix controller. I learned we just needed to do a couple of things to make it happen. We needed redundancy and an HMI that could run like a DCS interface, so I asked Greg Ring at Rockwell Automation. They agreed to work with us, and have been developing this technology ever since."
Ireland added that curiosity and persistence can drive all kinds of innovations, and they'll be a big help in these changing and challenging times. "Technology is available everywhere in the world, and people want to expand their use of it, especially in many developing countries, where people are living longer and consuming resources," he added. "Water and food are becoming increasingly precious resources, and nanotechnology will be one way to stretch them further."
Tiny fibers, big gains
How does this relate to pulp and paper? Well, one of the most promising, stable and safe materials for making nano-scale (less than 100 nanometer) items is micro-fibrillated cellulose (MFC), which is made by processing and applying acid to cellulose to create increasingly tiny fibers and pure crystal cellulose. Ireland reported that minerals are added along the way to make MFC and other flexible and capable materials, and eventually, beneficial products.
"Co-grinding pulp to MFC in the presence of minerals can be done by industrial, onsite equipment using a minor side stream in a pulp mill to produce FiberLeans's MFC/mineral composite," said Ireland. "This is the kind of manufacturing that others can do, but they have to do some things differently. They must also deal with the underlying physics or they're likely to make the wrong assumption. At quantum scale, if we make something from the same material but with a different shape, it will act differently. If the pH or temperature is off, we'll be making a totally different product, so monitoring and cybersecurity are even more important, especially in the future, when we have three people managing 30 plants.
"It's more important than ever for us to open our minds, and see new ways to manufacture these new materials. And, if process control engineers in the pulp and paper industry feel like they're not being included in sessions like this, then they need to ask their management to include them. You might as well, because if your management uses bad assumptions to make a bad decision, then you're probably going to get bitten anyway, so you might as well get involved now."
Following Ireland's futuristic presentation, several other innovators described their efforts to aid pulp and paper users and their processes.
James Clark, owner of system integrator and fabricator CPM-LLC, reported that many pulp and paper machines, applications and facilities are rapidly decaying at the same time that 30-50% of the industry's workforce is over 50 years old and retiring.
"Both of these problems must be solved at the same time, but this can't be done by warning of disasters," said Clark. "Company leaders need compelling reasons to invest, and supporting stories about world-class performance gains driven by new technologies running processes, applications filling gaps, and operators controlling abnormal situations and running successfully beyond typical capacity. We can offload 60% of our typical operations demand today, and this is story that we need to sell."
Daniel Lee, vice president of operations at Global Process Automation, added that his system integration company recently worked with an end user in the process industry to convert multiple legacy DCS platforms and PLC5 hardware to upgrade automation on a recovery boiler and paper machine. "The paper machine needed a major redesign and rebuild executed concurrently with a DCS upgrade, but we were able to reuse 1,771 I/O, and convert only the application," said Lee. "As a result, we decided to use PlantPAx because it had so much support at the local level, rapid tech support, troubleshooting tools, and electrical and instrumentation (E/I) troubleshooting tools including I/O status displays. We also used PlantPAx's ability to bulk import and bulk manage code, which helped us complete the whole upgrade in just 11 months."
To improve operating efficiency, reduce costs and help Verso Corp. remain competitive in a challenging market, Jay Capelle, senior project engineer, reported that he and his colleagues recently used a phased approach to upgrade the drive controls on one of two coater systems on a tandem machine at their paper mill in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. Finished in August 2016, this first coater upgrade is part of a larger capital project planning process to upgrade Verso's operator interfaces, drive controls, and AC/DC drives on both coaters. So far, upgrades to the interfaces and controls for one coater have been completed.
The team's efforts on the coaters have been aided by several Rockwell Automation solutions, which were able to be implemented in stages with a low level of reengineering at each phase, while keeping remaining legacy equipment functioning. For example, upgrades to the first coater included:
• RSView32 and original PanelView 1200 applications to a common FactoryTalk View SE client/server application;
• Original digital reference controller (DRC) application with I/O to a ControlLogix controller and 1756 chassis model with appropriate I/O modules;
• Original Data-Highway+ communications between the DRCs and ControlLogix to Ethernet because all controllers in present drive system are ControlLogix with Ethernet modules; and
• Migrated individual Allen-Bradley/Stromberg drives from point-to-point SAMI protocol communications to/from DRCs to remote-I/O protocol communications via upgraded TBX modules to new ControlLogix controllers.
Requiring just a four-day, paper-to-paper downtime period, Capelle reported that the coater drive control system upgrade didn't experience any wiring errors or additions to scope. This was because the project team completed and used up-to-date documentation of all wired devices and control code diagrams, and also developed transition wiring documents that describe existing and future termination locations of wiring and signals. Likewise, the coater's reference logic needed little modification, which enabled the project engineers to focus on loop tuning.
Capelle added that benefits of the coater drive upgrade included:
• Better access to view drive operations;
• Displays bridging drive controls and coater operations controls;
• Drive-by-drive and section-by-section replacements;
• More available spare parts for other mill equipment;
• Improved diagnostics and trending, and drive system troubleshooting; and
• Improved start-up control of sheet tension, overall sheet tension control on individual coater, and sheet tension control during tandem operation, which helped stabilize legacy coater tension control..
The editors of Control and Control Design are on site at the Rockwell Automation Fair to bring you breaking news, innovations and insights from the event. Once Automation Fair 2016 is over, the editors will be putting together an Event Report featuring the top news. Be among the first ones to receive the full report by pre-ordering it today.