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Back to basics: doing rebuilds the right way.

It is no secret that the asset base of many paper mills--including many in North America--is well past its prime. The average age of paper machines in North America is now over 40 years, and in many cases only minimal capital has been spent to keep these paper machines competitive. It is perhaps ironic that as our aging workforce of papermakers approaches retirement, their paper machines also seem to be ready for retirement.

However, unless paper companies are prepared to move all their manufacturing to places other than North America (which is highly unlikely), there will be many paper machines in North America and other regions that will be rebuilt over the next few years. In this article, we will examine the key factors involved in a rebuild, including:

* Benchmarking the machine to establish competitive strengths and weaknesses.

* Establishing a sales and marketing plan

* Evaluating current process operating parameters and limitations

* Establishing project costs, goals, and scope

* Process and equipment selection

* Communicating these factors to all levels

Any evaluation should start with benchmarking--the process of evaluating the asset (in this case the paper machine) against other competitive machines to determine where it falls in ranking. Benchmarking is vital to determining your competitive standing, which is the first step to understanding the need for change as well as the goals or objectives of the rebuild. For example, if your machine is still using hard-nip calendering while the upper tier of competitive machines have better printability because they have soft-nip calendering, then one goal might be to improve printability. Note that I did not say the goal is to put a soft-nip calender on your machine. That may very well be the way to reach your goal, but it might not be the only way.


Although this article cannot cover the full benchmarking process, there is an excellent paper on the benchmarking process entitled "Benchmarking Your Paper Machine," by Don Bridges, from the 2001 TAPPI Papermakers Conference Proceedings (TAPPI Product Code: PM0164). This paper will serve as a basis for understanding the benchmarking process. Another useful document is TAPPI's Technical Information Paper (TIP) 0404-47 "Paper Machine Performance Guidelines." This TIP allows you to evaluate your paper machine performance against industry standards for such things as paper machine efficiency, press section efficiency, and TAPPI drying rate. (Note: For information on ordering TAPPI TIPs or articles, see the "Additional Resources" box on the first page of this article.)


Paper machine recapitalization projects often start at the mill level. That is because paper mill management is often in the best position to understand the limitations of the aging assets. Also, if your job depends on your paper machine remaining competitive, you have a strong incentive to keep your machine technologically up to date. On the other hand, manufacturing personnel have, in the past, taken the position of "build it, and they will come." That philosophy has led to overcapacity in certain grades.

Any rebuild must start with a clear set of marketing and sales goals--and simple survival of an asset is not a marketing plan. In North America, the current question from sales, upper management, and Wall Street is, with little or no increase in demand in North America for many grades of paper, why would we want to add new capacity by upgrading a paper machine? The answer is that, like it or not, paper companies are in the business of making paper, and preservation of the manufacturing assets is essential to long-term company survival. Asset preservation means remaining competitive.

While remaining competitive in the global market is clearly vital, many companies find it difficult to justify new production capacity. If this is the case, what is the basis for a marketing plan? One factor to consider is quality improvement, which is required to compete against more modern paper mills. Another approach is to retire older assets while upgrading other machines to take on the retired production capacity--but at a lower operating cost and a higher quality level.


Many mills take the wrong approach to capital upgrades by viewing the paper machine as a set of disconnected pieces. For example, a mill might believe they need a new headbox or a new press section without looking at the total paper machine system. A new headbox might be purchased to improve sheet formation, only to find that forming section limitations prevented the expected results.

So, an important part of any upgrade project is a complete evaluation of current operating parameters and limitations. There are several key steps in this process:

P & IDs: The evaluation process starts with a good set of piping and instrumentation diagrams (P & IDs) for the entire paper machine. Many older mills do not have a good set of drawings for their paper machine, or if they do, the drawings are out of date. Step one is to bring all drawings up to current practice.

Operating parameters. Along with current P & IDs, a mill must have complete data on operating parameters for each major grade. That includes machine speed, headbox flow and consistency, press moisture, drying rate, size press pickup, etc. Again, TAPPI TIPs are the main source for information on how to gather these data. With good operating data, you can determine production limitations by grade.

Ultimate limitations. Every paper machine has an ultimate limitation that will prevent any further production increase (at least with any reasonable return on investment). Many paper machines are space limited to the current configuration of the dryer section due to lack of room at the end of the reel and lack of room in the basement for auxiliary dryer systems. In other words, if you can't add additional drying capacity, you can only increase speed by increasing sheet solids out of the press section. Once the press section has been upgraded, the machine is limited to paper that can be dried on the current dryers.

Drying rates. Calculating drying rates is another critical measurement. A particularly useful TAPPI TIP is 0404-07 "Paper Machine Drying Rate" and the associated grade-specific drying rate curves (0404-08, 0404-09, 0404,12, 0404-15, and 0404-16). Once you calculate your drying rate for each major grade, you can determine how that drying rate compares to other machines in the industry. If your drying rate is low, there is an opportunity to improve productivity on dryer limited grades by improving drying efficiency.

Drying rate data can also be used in other ways. By assuming a drying rate from the appropriate curve, you can solve for paper machine speed. This gives you a reasonable expectation for the greatest speed and therefore greatest production rate that might be expected given your current press solids and dryer arrangement. You can also change the press solids number to simulate a press section upgrade and determine what the new production rate might be.


A major (and frequent) mistake made in paper machine rebuilds is that mill personnel are pushed to give an early estimate of the project scope and cost. This "guesstimate" is often made before any benchmarking or process review has been undertaken, and the scope of the project is largely unknown. This early guess of project cost then gets passed to upper management and incorporated into budgets or long-term planning as the actual cost of the project. Invariably at this early stage, the scope of the project is wrong and the cost is off by a factor of two or three.

Establishing a true cost for a project is a lengthy undertaking. Remember that a project cost estimate must include unforeseen as well as expected costs. Some often overlooked items are structural and foundation considerations and such mundane items as the capacity of the overhead crane to handle new equipment. Even a phase one engineering estimate (+/- 30%) should be viewed with caution because the true scope of the project has likely not been finalized. It is quite common for a project to have "something" added, but no additional money added to the project because the project funding had already been approved at the corporate level. The project then goes over budget, or "something else" is deleted which keeps the project from meeting expectations.


Establishing the project's goals and scope is an ongoing process that starts early in the project but which must be firmly set before final project costs estimates are made. Scope changes are the main cause of project cost overruns. Some scope changes are unavoidable, but many occur due to lack of understanding of the "final" goals and project scope across the various management levels. Often, engineering, manufacturing, and management have very different views of what the goals of the machine upgrade are, and therefore, what the scope of the project should be. You can solve this problem by making sure everyone is involved in the decision-making process, and that decisions are fully communicated to all levels in the mill.

Establishing the goals of the paper machine upgrade usually starts as a wish list, including improved quality, increased production, better total machine efficiency, etc. The benchmarking and process evaluation phases produce more realistic project goals. Benchmarking tells you where change is needed to remain competitive, and the process evaluation tells you what is needed to eliminate process limitations and what can be accomplished. For example, if the benchmarking process has identified the machine as a high-cost producer, an original goal may be to increase machine production by 30% in order to reduce manufacturing costs. However, in the process evaluation phase, a final limitation is discovered that will allow only a 20% production increase with reasonable return on investment.

As the process progresses, goals and project scope become more defined and fixed. At some point before the final project is submitted to upper management as a capital or appropriation request, the goals and scope must be finalized. If changes are made after the final appropriation request is made, the project will be in trouble. Again, communication between all levels inside and outside the mill are the only way that you can hope to keep the final project scope and cost from changing (or worse yet, being changed).


After benchmarking and process evaluation, you can set reasonable goals. However, the project scope depends on determining how to achieve the goals. For example, if you are dryer limited does it make more sense to upgrade the press section or to improve the dryers?

Process selection depends on understanding the alternatives, and this is a good place to enlist the services of an outside engineering firm. Equipment manufacturers are also a good source for process and equipment selection information. However, remember that a given equipment supplier has a vested interest in selling the equipment they produce.

During the process and equipment selection phase, be bold and assume a reasonable level of risk. No one has ever moved ahead of their competition with a "me too" attitude. For example, a few years ago it was somewhat risky to choose a single-nip shoe press section over more conventional double shoe presses or cluster press sections. However, choosing a leading-edge technology can produce competitive advantage--provided the risk factor is carefully explored.

Managing the risk factor means doing your homework. Mill visits to similar installations are one way to understand the equipment that you might purchase. Another is to conduct trials at the equipment suppliers' facilities. In the end, the more you know about the process and equipment alternatives, the more likely you are to make the best decisions.

Paper machines that are 20 years or older need to be upgraded to meet the demands of a more competitive global market. The process of upgrading a machine is both complex and time-consuming, as seen in the steps outlined above. These steps might not proceed in the order listed, and many steps will loop back as additional information becomes known. Mills that do the best job with all these steps will have the most successful upgrades.


Jim Atkins is president of Atkins Inc., Flemington, New Jersey, USA. He is a member of the Solutions! Editorial Board and is the author of several TAPPI information products. Contact him by phone at +1 908 806-8689 or by email at




* Reasons to consider rebuilding a paper machine

* The key factors involved in planning and executing a rebuild

* Why communication among all levels in the mill is critical to a rebuild's success


* TAPPI TIPS: There are several TAPPI TIPS mentioned in this article. These documents are available for a fee from TAPPI (members receive a discounted price and have a limited number of free downloads each year). To access these documents, enter the TIP number in the search field on, or call TAPPI Member Connection at 1 800 332-8686 (US); 1 800 446-9431 (Canada); +1 770 446 1400 (International).

* "Great rebuilds: A practical guide," by Alan Rooks, Solutions!, March 2004. TAPPI Product Code: 04MARSO21

* "Justifying paper machine rebuilds," K.C. Brian, 1997 Papermakers Conference Proceedings. TAPPI Product Code: PM971223. Member Price: $10.00, Non-Member Price: $15.00

* "Benchmarking your papermachine," by Don Bridges, 2001 Papermakers Conference Proceedings. TAPPI Product Code: PM0164. Member Price: $10.00, Non-Member Price: $15.00
COPYRIGHT 2006 Paper Industry Management Association
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Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:PAPER MACHINERY
Author:Atkins, Jim
Publication:Solutions - for People, Processes and Paper
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Previous Article:Xerium moves to North Carolina.
Next Article:Three elected to TAPPI Board of Directors.

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