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How to Achieve Data-Driven Process Optimization in Pulp and Paper

Updated: Jan 10


Elliott Bell - Global Head of Pulp and Paper with Radix
Elliott Bell - Global Head of Pulp and Paper

Applying the power of data to the pulp and paper (P&P) industry is a game-changing approach towards potentially driving profits and minimizing downtime. The Pulp and paper industry is historically an industry that boosts production by increasing operational utilization rates. Need more output? Buy more wood, put in more machines and vats and presses, add another work shift – and repeat as needed. 


The challenge with this approach is that the processes being used have a lot of variability, and machines degrade and wear out quickly. While digital technology, automation, and analytics can move P&P away from this “brute-force” roots, like many manufacturing fields, P&P faces new and additional challenges when incorporating IT into its operational technology (OT). 


For example, one of the main challenges stemming from the addition of new technologies, like the Internet of Things (IoT), is the added data and complexity that ultimately slows production and often creates operational confusion. 


The P&P process is multi-variant, that is, there are numerous steps to go from raw wood to finished product, and each step has its own process, with its own performance characteristics, tolerances, etc. Operators and engineers, though, often look at each step on its own. For instance, if I’m running a digester, it’s just from raw wood to pulp. Yet from an organizational perspective, the view leaders often need goes from raw wood to final sellable product. The result is a much larger, more complex process than users often see or plan for.


Another challenge in this industry is the fact that many, long-established industrial companies, including pulp and paper, don’t necessarily have all the data they need to crunch through multi-variant analyses. This come from a history where plants were all standalone and not connected to any main system for a long time. 


Step One: Open the Data Envelope


Companies that lack the data they need to improve operations need to start by capturing the data for future analytics. Finding the disparate data sources and utilizing the proper data management is essential for any integration of technology, to bring innovation to a digital transformation effort.


If you do have the data, you want to use multi-variant analytics to remove the impact of time from the process – remove time from troubleshooting, or remove time from dwell times, for instance. It may be in small segments, but anything that shortens the manufacturing process is a gain.


Then the same kind of multi-variant analytics can be applied to each step of the end-to-end process, for instance during mechanical pulping and chemical pulping, to identify where small incremental improvements are possible.


With this caveat: each time one small piece of the process is adjusted and improved, it is likely to create new bottlenecks, upstream and/or downstream. If the pulping process is streamlined, just a little bit, then more wood needs to be brought in (upstream) and/or more capacity is needed at the cleaning stage (downstream). 


Partnering with an organization like Radix that shares a deep history in Pulp and Paper helps address these and other challenges. Radix provides data-driven guidance to execute these small adjustments, identify their ripple effects, and find the adjustments that are needed to smooth out those ripples.


Radix can also help align all stakeholders - from senior leaders who need to be aware of the data insights and optimization results to better act on the information, to plant managers who need to make data-driven decisions and work with the operations team and the maintenance team to improve data-driven decisions. 


You have to open up the data envelope, have it accessible to everyone with a role in the end-to-end process, not build it into a cloud where very few people have access to it. To learn more about how Radix is leveraging data to drive operational value for our customers visit www.radixeng.com


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