Metsä Fibre’s technical services help the company’s customers get the most out of Botnia Nordic pulp by fine-tuning production processes and machinery for optimal end-product quality. With more than a decade of experience studying the refining process, Metsä Fibre can look back on dozens of examples illustrating the benefits of optimisation.
“Refining is one of the main ways in which customers can process their fibre. With longfibre softwood pulp, this means controlling the strength of the end product. Our studies seek to optimise the customer’s refining process until the full fibre potential is realised, and they almost always lead to some suggestions for improvement,” says Metsä Fibre Technical Sales Manager Tuomo Niemi, who is stationed at the company’s branch office in Wiesbaden, Germany, where he participates in customer technology projects and often conducts his own refining analysis work.
Tuomo Niemi, Technical Sales Manager, Metsä Fibre
Niemi finds that refining is often overlooked when increasing production volumes or making other adjustments to manufacturing on older paper machines. However, this is the precise moment for seeking enhancements by analyzing the refining process.
Strength and energy consumption
Metsä Fibre’s Botnia FORE (Fibre Optimisation and Refining Evaluation) concept is specifically useful when investigating issues in refining. The software developed for this service enables us to review alternative refining approaches and fillings, identifying the optimal combination for each situation.
“In practice we have two ways of analyzing a refining process. We can either do an analysis based only on process data calculation, or we can combine this with a further stage of actually taking samples from the customer’s processes for subsequent laboratory analysis. The process performance verified on this basis is then compared with the calculations to reveal the true process performance,” Niemi explains.
The most common way to improve the refining stage on a production line is to adjust the consistency of the pulp or change the refiner fillings.
“Typically a customer may be seeking greater product strength from the pulp and lower energy consumption. Our services are useful for realising these aims, as we review the entire operation with a view to minimising the energy required for optimal output.”
Energy savings aside, Niemi explains that Metsä Fibre primarily brings added value to the customer by helping to ensure that the fibre delivers its full potential.
“Long-fibre softwood pulp is the most costly raw material component used by a manufacturer of paper or board, so ensuring that this component can be used most efficiently without compromising the quality of the final product is an important financial consideration.”
Consistent quality is crucial
Another important tool of technical customer service is the Botnia FOX (Fibre Online Index) quality index that illustrates the strength potential of pulp. This method is closely linked to RFID tracking technology that labels each pulp unit with an electronic tag. Customers can use the RFID tag to check the deployment date of the pulp unit and consult the FibreOnline tool to find the Botnia FOX value.
“It is important for us to have an effective indicator of consistent quality that allows genuine real-time access to the actual process. Measurements were previously made less frequently and results were slow to emerge, but there’s no way to overstate the importance of consistent quality from the customer’s point of view,” says Esko Pekuri, Fibre Technology Manager at Metsä Fibre’s Kemi mill.
Esko Pekuri, Fibre Technology Manager at Metsä Fibre's Kemi mill.
Pekuri is similarly involved in quality index testing of various customer processes. For example, pulp is very highly refined when making certain speciality papers, compared to tissue paper manufacturing at the opposite extreme. The aim is to continue using Botnia FOX to monitor changes in pulp refinability with even greater precision.
“We have already managed to identify a correlation between the quality index and pulp refinability, as higher FOX values mean that the customer needs less refining energy. The quality index delivers added value to the customer not only by ensuring consistent quality, but also insofar as the impacts of a high FOX value enable furnish or refining energy optimisatio,” Niemi explains.
Pekuri says that the Botnia FOX index is currently a reliable guide to the in-house manufacturing process at Metsä Fibre, and the next stage will be to turn it into a genuine customer application that would ideally enable adjustments to be made directly on the paper machine to optimise refining.
Trial runs conducted at various paper mills in autumn 2015 and last spring yielded favourable results in terms of how closely the quality index reflects changes in refinability. A clear link has been identified between Botnia FOX and paper runnability in all production settings.
“Immediate and accurate information on pulp refinability would enable the customer to adjust the pulping process to compensate for any variation in end product,” Pekuri says.
Even though Niemi believes that we are already in a position to talk about the benefits of Botnia FOX in general terms, the company must continue reviews of individual customers with a view to identifying more precise correlations in specific processes.
“Obviously the feedback that we have obtained is essential for improving the system. With sufficient experience we shall be able to determine such questions as whether a customer has some critical minimum quality index threshold at which effects start to become unfavourable,” Niemi adds.
Comprehensive fibre expertise
A detailed analysis of factors that affect the customer’s manufacturing process and the interplay between these factors can enable technical customer service specialists to propose considerable performance enhancements. Both Pekuri and Niemi believe that it is this kind of profound fibre expertise above all that gives Metsä Fibre an edge over its competitors. Few specialists can offer a comparable range of technical services.
“Obviously as a pulp manufacturer we are highly
familiar with the properties of our own products and how various fibre
types should be refined and treated in various processes. Working with
our customers, we can fine-tune the pulp recipe to ensure maximum value
and performance,” Pekuri summarises.
A PIONEER OF ELECTRONIC FORESTRY SERVICEAs Superintendent at Metsä Fibre’s mill in Äänekoski, Sami Ristiluoma finds that the Botnia FOX quality index plays a key role in daily operations, with the target pulp standard and any momentary rises and falls easily visible on the process monitor.
“Process attendants benefit in particular from the quality index level, which is continuously displayed at the pulping, oxidation and bleaching stages as a real-time readout in the control room. By clicking on some point of the trend curve, for example, you can display the specific parameters underlying the quality index value, enabling swift investigation and correction of the reason for any quality anomaly,” Ristiluoma explains.
Sami Ristiluoma, Superintendent at Metsä Fibre's mill in Äänekoski.
One clear advantage over previous quality assurance practices is that it is now possible to intercept a defective pulp batch resulting from a malfunction before it is prepared for delivery to the customer. Ristiluoma feels that the quality index is an excellent instrument for ensuring a more consistent quality of pulp.
“We know that the process is close to optimal when the quality index is high,” Ristiluoma explains.