Whether continuous or batch, the processes involved in forestry as well as the pulp, paper and board manufacturing industries are anything but simple. They must reconcile wide raw material variances and variables with precise though changing customer demands. It takes a singular approach to control the seemingly uncontrollable and focusing on the effective and realtime modelling of production complexity is one way of getting there. Another lies with looking after assets to maximise ROI in these capital-intensive industries.
The growing of timber and its processing is characterised by decade-long production cycles at one end of the spectrum – and paper being churned out at 60 km/h at the other. The business of forestry includes extended growing cycles and yields based on time series. This requires the formulation and tracking of extended and staggered financial 'years' that synchronise with sapling yields as well as the management of growing patterns to provide the required fibre type.
'This is all very remote from the far more predictable environment of discrete manufacturing and requires a production approach that can model this environment to make it dovetail with the requirements of downstream processes,' says Ian Huntly, Business Development Manager at Futuristix-Wonderware. 'Forestry is a highly labour intensive industry that uses a great deal of expensive, mobile machinery. Since it is the source of the pulp, paper and board manufacturing chains, it has little tolerance for uncontrolled overheads and costly machinery downtimes. This is where condition-based monitoring of operating plant can reduce the maintenance bill significantly by scheduling maintenance based on actual performance rather than simple time intervals.
'Pulp manufacture is considered a low value-add process operating at low margins and that has little leeway for errors, yet it is one of the most complex processes to control. It involves raw timber handling, the management of complex chemical processes, the accurate control of specific processes (eg Kraft and neutral sulphide semi-chemical) as well as extensive recycling procedures (eg cooking liquor, catalysts, bark). Pulp processing also needs the ability to handle inverted bills of materials where a single input can yield multiple outputs.
Managing all this complexity requires a production system that can accurately model the process while actively monitoring its realtime status. It is also vital that this same production system be able to integrate seamlessly with the company's business systems in order to reconcile production with customer demands.
'On the plant side of things, the pulp processing industry is characterised by lots of large, heavy and expensive machinery working under adverse and corrosive conditions. Here, once again, realtime condition-based monitoring can help cut down on the unnecessary decommissioning of productive plant for maintenance purposes.
'Paper manufacturing is a highly capital-intensive industry that has to cope with cyclical competitive activity from overseas competitors while reconciling the quality consistency of a huge variety of paper types with forecasted customer demands rather than orders. Managing this diversity requires, among many other things, effective batch control and flexible production planning management that can cope with the complexities of the processes involved as well as changes in business needs. This can only be done with systems designed with this sort of thing in mind.
'There is no doubt that the high-speed and expensive machinery used in paper manufacture can benefit from the condition-based approach to maintenance since this ensures optimised ROI by only scheduling maintenance as and when necessary. A 'must' in these high-productivity and capital-intensive environments.
'Board manufacturing involves ensuring high consistency on a large variety of end-products and products made-to-order while maintaining high production volumes at the lowest possible cost. Once again, an inverted bill of materials is the order of the day while effective batch control will contribute towards a smoother operation while condition-based maintenance will help optimise the use of expensive machinery in adverse environments.'
In all the above industries, complex manufacturing processes have to consistently deliver predictable results in less-than-predictable environments while constantly contributing to the bottom line. This needs solutions that were purpose-built to deal with process manufacturing and that can cope with its unique requirements – both on the production planning as well as on the asset management fronts. These same solutions must also integrate with existing and planned solutions both at the plant and at the business levels. Only in this way can manufacturers in the above industries safeguard their existing investment in infrastructure while integrating solutions designed to help them handle the unique complexities of their manufacturing processes.
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