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Intelligent solutions for papermaking

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Intelligent solutions for papermaking

February 06, 2011 - 14:00

BRUSSELS, Feb. 7, 2011 (RISI) -"Intelligent Solutions for Papermaking" what do we really mean; how powerful, fast, open, accessible, state of the art, etc, should the systems be to assist today's papermaker optimize his or her process ? In general it is exactly these kinds of aspects that are highlighted. However the question we really have to ask ourselves is this the "intelligence" the papermaker of today is actually looking for?

The answer is trivial, it is not the high tech solution that he or she is most likely interested in, it is also not the computing power or huge data storage, no it's mainly the intelligence that lies in the solution that assists them to understand, maintain and improve the process they are managing. Does that mean that the high tech solutions are not required? The answer to this question is no again, without the continuous enhancement of the technology, suppliers to the industry would not be able to help the papermakers to optimize their processes.

It is common knowledge that technology is moving faster and faster. Every month, new functionality is developed and released to the market. It is exactly this continuous enhancement of the technology that brings us one of today's major dilemmas; when and how to replace existing systems, when do we need access to the new solutions, required to improve the production process they are controlling.

In the measurement and control world, the industrial automations systems that are closest to the process, it is very common to install and do standard maintenance on a system for an average 15 years and then "upgrade" in a "rip and replace" method. The old, and very often obsolete, system is completely removed and replaced with a new state of the art system. This method of asset management has a number of disadvantages that in the end influence the process and with that the quality and output of the end product. Delays in necessary system replacement of three to five years are more an average than an exception. During this phase the system does may not fulfill its true potential effecting production and/or the paper quality and certainly does not provide the performance its younger successors would offer.

After the budget is approved the replacement project is at last launched and the long awaited system replacement can start, however the impact of such an operation is often underestimated. The general perception is that the existing system will be "upgraded", but the truth usually is that the so called upgrade is really a system replacement, as by now the existing system has become so old that very little can be reused. Mill or machine specific functionality can get lost, operators struggle with the complete system change and in some cases the actual production or quality suffers, also referred to as the "start-up dip".

A way to avoid these negative effects is the step-by-step approach. Why go through the agony of a steep learning curve that is accompanied with possible losses, when there are more intelligent solutions that allow you to gain from modern technology? With careful and timely planning papermakers of today can continuously benefit from the advantages new developments offer without suffering unnecessary down time or reduced production or quality.

For one to get full advantage of this step-by-step approach it is important that user and supplier carefully plan the lifecycle path of the systems being used, as a general rule of thumb it has to be recognized that the older the system is, the larger the effort, and with that the bigger the impact on the process and costs in upgrading. Although it is often assumed that system upgrades are expensive and hard to justify, it can easily be argued, if all the aspects of "rip and replace" are taken into account, upgrades are more cost effective.

System upgrades are often omitted based on standard accounting practices as it is not always easy to prove they fulfill today's financial requirements. However by not keeping the systems up to date users suffer hidden costs from the performance gap, they continue to run the existing systems accepting lower performance, higher risk and in the end have to accept bigger impact when forced to replace the system. By keeping systems up to date, users benefit from a good solid foundation allowing easy implementation of new and expanded functionality at minimum costs and minimum risk.