Future is clear for Portucel after PM 4 investment

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Future is clear for Portucel after PM 4 investment

February 24, 2014 - 05:28

Ana Nery, working in corporate communications for Portucel Soporcel, stands beside promotional paper cubes, which convey the group’s commitment to paper as a viable sustainable material. Says Nery, “Our management team is gaining recognition on the world stage as a leader in sustainability. We are committed to continuous improvement at all levels and facets of our business.”

Over the past decade, the Navigator brand from the Portucel Soporcel Group has taken the premium office paper segment by storm. The 1,600,000-tonne/yr output from Portucel Soporcel’s mills in Setúbal and Figueira da Foz, Portugal, finds its way to more than 110 countries, and many consider Navigator to be the world’s leading office paper brand.

The new PM 4 machine in setúbal mill is impressive. It is 11 m wide and can operate at speeds to 1,800 m/min. The industrial operations, PM 4 itself, and the large, automated converting operation are so unique that Portucel Soporcel Group set up a special subsidiary called about the Future (ATF) for the operation.

The success of the Navigator brand, a fitting name for a product that travels the globe, proves itself daily on office machines all over the world. a series of functionality tests are done routinely to observe quality of printing and runability of office machines.

Known for having a smooth surface, the wide grammage range, the Navigator family has a reputation for excellent printability. By improving toner adhesion and absorption, Navigator maximizes print results – yielding more printed sheets from the same cartridge. In addition, the smoother surface means lower toner consumption and reduced abrasiveness, improving the lifetime of office equipment.

Navigator paper delivers high performance imagery and crisp text, and proudly claims to achieve a 99.99% level of jam-free performance. however, for ATF and Portucel Soporcel Group, this is not enough of a target. Management is seriously committed to the three pillars of sustainability: economic, environmental, and making a positive contribution to the communities it serves.

Paulo Barata, production manager at ATF, explains, “We maximize the properties of Eucalyptus globulus to get the best paper. We maximize our supply chain to support our customers and the thousands of people who earn a living from our company. This way, our shareholders have a reason to continue to invest.”


To achieve these sustainability objectives, one core focus is to extract the full value out of the Eucalyptus globulus fiber which serves as the furnish for Navigator. “The heart of our operations is refining and enhancing the fiber,” says José Luis Matos, process engineer. “By gently refining Eucalyptus globulus and eliminating the need for expensive softwood, we deliver high value at a good price. The way we refine our fiber is very special as it also increases PM 4’s efficiency. All this contributes to the lowest possible production cost.

“Once you understand papermaking, you realize that the heart of the operation is refining. When you optimize the fibers in the refining stage, you have opportunities to excel in all the steps that follow,” Matos adds.


Matos notes that ATF’s creative ideas for lowering energy consumption without affecting fiber quality have their origins as far back as 2005 at the Soporcel facility in Figueira da Foz, where refining trials were directed by Carlos Bras, now mill manager at ATF.

The early trials with Finebar® refiner plates not only demonstrated improvements in fiber development, but also led to higher throughput through the stock prep refiners at the same energy consumption levels. “The direct result of this was that we were able to operate with fewer refiners online, significantly lowering our energy bill,” Matos says. “We are following a similar strategy here at ATF in Setúbal.”

At the Setúbal mill, the two-stage stock refining process was initially equipped with 48-in. refiner plates from the OEM. These large diameter patterns had a cutting edge length (CEL) of 167 km/rev and consumed no load power of 240 kW.

After the new stock preparation plant met its performance guarantees, the mill wanted to move to single-stage refining to save energy. Says Matos, “We wanted to reduce the number of refiners in operation to save energy, but we certainly needed the same hydraulic capacity as with all the refiners operating.”

Matos and his team worked with Aikawa Fiber Technologies (AFT), supplier of Finebar® plates, to try several different patterns. They quickly settled on an ultra-low intensity Finebar® pattern with 44-in. plates and a CEL of 328 km/rev.

Building on its earlier success at Figueira da Foz, ATF streamlined its stock refining down from eight to three refiners. “When you turn off five 1200-kW motors, energy savings are considerable,” Matos says. “Low-intensity, consistent refining with the Finebar® plates gave us this possibility.”

The 44-in. plates have proven successful for single-stage refining of 100 L/sec and a motor load of about 1.4 MW. This corresponds to net specific energy consumption of about 74 kWh/t.


Says Claus Grunow, applications specialist for AFT, “In addition to achieving excellent formation and low curl, stiffness is essential to avoid copy machine jams. The Finebar® plates are laser-cut and diffusion-bonded to achieve very fine bar patterns. This enables the refiners at Setúbal to run at ultra-low intensities. The gentle refining action fibrillates the fiber’s exterior, increasing its surface area for improved bonding and strength. Fiber length is preserved and fiber collapse is minimized. This reduces loss of bulk and gives the paper the stiffness it requires to avoid copy machine jams.”

The plates at ATF Setúbal are delivered in a MiniSegmentTM design. The idea behind this is that a customer only has to replace the working surface of the plates, according to Grunow. AFT provides an adapter plate that attaches to the refiner plate mounting surface through the existing bolt holes. Each MiniSegment, which weighs a fraction of an entire plate, is bolted to the adapter plate. No modifications to the refiner are necessary.

According to Matos, plate changes are much easier and safer. “One person can position and bolt the MiniSegmentTM to the mounting surface without assistance.”

Now that the streamlined stock prep refining process is working successfully, ATF is working to optimize the refiners for 100 L/sec. Matos says on the refiners will require some optimization of the plate geometry. Since the Finebar® manufacturing process allows for great flexibility, this will not be a problem according to Carlos Bayarri, AFT’s representative in Iberia.

“To help ATF Setúbal achieve higher throughputs, we can move to an even finer plate pattern,” Bayarri says. “The bar width will be about one millimeter. Our team has already studied the situation at the mill and has run trials in our pilot plant to arrive at a good solution.

“Our patented manufacturing process gives us an advantage. Our plates have very high bar edge lengths, which contribute not only to excellent fibrillation, but also high flow capacities. In addition our material selection and low-intensity aspects lead to very long plate life.”

Says Matos, “Seeking improvements in every aspect of our operations is why we are successful. Continuous improvement is in the details — sometimes very, very small ones. We have learned that when it comes to refiner plates, for example, one millimeter can make a big difference.”


It is no exaggeration to say that ATF’s PM 4 is an industrial wonder of Portugal, and global papermaking. ATF from the onset was an idea with a destiny — employing local sustainably managed forests and local people to deliver a premium product from Portugal to the world. Over 400,000 small privately owned plantations are essential to fueling the 1.6 million tonnes of annual output from the ATF paper machines and the paper machines within the group. Much attention goes to educating children about protecting forests, and the role of paper as a sustainable medium of communication in a modern society.

Located on the Sado River just south of Lisbon, the mill co-exists with a thriving tourism industry. Close by to the mill dolphin watching is popular between the Arrabida Nature Park and Troia, home of many resorts, and formerly an ancient factory for the production of garum, a fish/oil/salt delicacy shipped to Rome. Historic castles, wine estates, hidden beaches, nature walks through Mediterranean like vegetation, characterize a visit to the area.