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Papermaking just got REALLY interesting

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Papermaking just got REALLY interesting

October 16, 2011 - 23:42

BEIJING, Oct. 17, 2011 (RISI) -It is not often that something really big happens in the pulp and paper industry - something that sends ripples throughout the whole industry. But it looks like Metso's new paper machine range, OptiConcept M (OCM) is going to do just that.

PPIwas invited to the global launch of the new offering which was held at Metso's offices in Beijing last month. This was probably the perfect location to launch the new concept as the company has calculated that some 80% of its new capacity builds have come from China over the last five years - of course this also includes large pulp projects as well as numerous paper and board machine deliveries and installations.

It is the burgeoning paper and board business in the region that Metso is attacking with the new launch, and this it is doing with a renewed vigour and energy via a divisional restructuring, new appointments throughout the organization and even a new segment name: Metso Pulp, Paper and Power, to be launched in January of next year. All this behind the scenes action is obviously signalling the importance of the synergy between all three activities in relation to pulp and papermakers. The company also has a new message for the industry, it plans to be "No 1 in Pulp, No1 in Paper, and No 1 in Bioenergy". Pasi Laine, president of the existing Metso Paper and Fiber Technology as well as deputy CEO of the Metso group, said at that launch of the OptiConcept M: "We have excellent technology in all three of these areas and we want to combine this with best lifecycle services close to customers, this allows us to reach the goal of being number one in all these areas".

What is needed from a modern paper machine?

So what exactly is the OptiConcept M? Basically the ‘M' gives most away about the new concept as it stands for "Modular", which is the key factor in the appeal of the range. In essence this means that in the future, papermakers can virtually buy the machine they need for the grade they are making in an "off the shelf" kind of way as opposed to having the whole machine tailor made, or purpose built. But ultimately, what benefits will this bring? Jari Koikkalainen, Metso's president of the China region explains: "It is extremely valuable to our customers that they get their investments into production as soon as possible. If they can buy the whole machine, from headbox to reeler and all the automation in one go and from one source, we are of the firm belief that we can halve the project installation time".

Metso's Jari Koikkalainen, "It is extremely valuable to our customers that they get their investments into production as soon as possible."

Papermakers do not need to be told that time is money, and in an increasingly competitive world, the ability to get up and running in as short a time as possible, particularly, for instance, when taking an opportunity and entering a new lucrative market, speed is essential. And this is the key to the appeal of the concept; the opportunity of getting the paper machine up and running and making saleable product as quickly as possible. Koikkalainen continues: "A six month average project time has a big impact on economy and cash flow of a mill. The installation of a paper machine usually takes about four months, but we reckon we can get that down to two, allowing the machine to start up and begin paying for itself much more quickly".

But it is not just about quick start ups, Metso has spent a long time consulting with customers and finding out just what they need out of a modern paper machine. Initially, the machine wire width of the new machines will go from just below 5 m to 7.25 m. Koikkalainen says: "The ‘M' in the OCM concept also stands for ‘Medium sized'. We took a long hard look at the market at the outset of the development, and found that the benefits of a medium sized machine outweighed the benefits of say a million tonne/yr machine. Smaller, modular machines are much better for operating in market conditions where changes in grade can happen frequently.

"There were three major areas of target that we went for when designing this machine; economy of investment and operation; safety and usability; and the reduction of environmental impact in manufacture as well as in use," Koikkalainen continues. "Take just one example of the economy of operation: the machine is built so that felt and wire changes can be handled by one person which releases resources during shut downs to carry out other tasks and maximise production up-time".

What are the benefits of modular?

Modular designs are nothing new outside of the paper industry, for instance a printing company can buy any number of units for a printing machine, be it 4,5,6,8 or 12 colours off the shelf, and ready to install at short notice. But in the paper industry this is a relatively new idea. Will it work, will it make that much difference? Jyrki Huovila, Metso's general manager, technology for the paper business line has been working on the OptiConcept since the outset around three years ago. Huovila explains: "There is an economy driven trend in all industries to move from the single tailor made products to repeatable standard products. OptiConcept M is executing this trend which for buyers means safe and cost efficient investment through proven solutions, and a move towards the "plug and play" type of operation which will greatly reduce the lead time. For the whole industry this represents a new step resulting in improved competitiveness against competing industries in packaging and media".

Metso says that the OCM range will be a lot more efficient due to the latest technology being applied to the machines, including new screening and refining technologies in stock preparation, new low friction cover and runnability components resulting in less vacuum use as well as improved steam technology and heat recovery systems. Huovila continues: "Due to the new advances in technology in components and systems, we reckon the OCM range is up to 20% more efficient than conventional machines."

The modular approach also means that adapting to market conditions and bringing in new grades has become that much easier. Huovila explains: "The fact that the machine is built of modules makes changing and adapting a lot easier than on a tailor made machine. Naturally some changes are easier to make than others, for example a single layer headbox can be changed to a two layer headbox making it possible to produce light testliner grades. Modifications needed in grade changes between fluting, woodfree uncoated and newsprint are also possible with changes in the forming, sizing and calendering modules.

"The modules can also be used in used in older technology rebuilds where time really is money".

The "belle of the ball"

Going by looks alone, and if paper machines could ever be described a beautiful, then it appears that Metso has got itself the "belle of the ball". A lot of work has gone into the aesthetics, user friendliness and safety elements of the new range, for instance there are no curves or bends in the walkways, there is no climbing into the machine when changing felts or belts, and the whole wet end housing can be covered in glass for maximum visibility as well as sound proofing. This first launch in Beijing is also the first of a series of launches that Metso says will be ongoing as the concept is developing all the time.

In conclusion, the OptiConcept M may sound and look good, but the real proof of the pudding is in the eating. Metso is installing the very first machine, PM 6 at Fujian Liansheng in China next spring. The machine, with a wire width of 7,250 mm will be running fluting and comes complete with Metso's DNA system, quality control and specific drive controls and there is no doubt that the whole industry will follow its start up progress and ongoing runnability aspects with real interest.