"The Furnish Improvement Tool (FIT) is the most important tool in our technical service portfolio", says Esko Pekuri, Metsä Fibre's Technical Customer Service Manager.
The FIT tool is used daily for benchmarking pulp grades used for base paper making, as well as for reforming existing base paper furnishes and simulating new paper and board grades. It can also be used to conduct precise cost studies, and investigate and compare the cost structures of simulated products.
FIT has replaced time-consuming laboratory tests and the manual analysis of results. A well-functioning simulation model may even provide more precise results than individual laboratory tests.
"The tool speeds up comparisons and development work considerably. For example, a beating comparison of ten different pulp grades in our database can be performed in a couple of minutes. Optimisation of the final product can take a few days. Before the introduction of the tool, the implementation of a corresponding study might take up to six months", Pekuri says.
The improvement of the simulation process is based on an advanced model, an extensive pulp database, the artificial intelligence included in the software and specialist expertise.
"FIT directly suggests the ten most affordable simulation options found in the database, based on the quality criteria provided. This significantly speeds up the work. From these options, our experts select the ones that function best, and start finalising the mix option manually", Pekuri says.
Simulation expertise offers an important competitive edge
Development of the FIT tool was started in cooperation with GloCell Ltd in 2008. At the same time, Metsä Fibre started building its own pulp database, suitable for comparison and simulation use. Currently the database now includes hundreds of pulp furnishes.
To start with, GloCell collected pulp beating data in a single system to facilitate the comparison of beating curves and creating new mixes. The result of application development spanning more than a decade is that the tool has evolved into a comprehensive modern SaaS service.
"Through long-term cooperation, we've learned to make use of the FIT tool effectively and in a variety of ways. Now, its simulation capabilities and our extensive pulp database provide us with a significant competitive advantage", Pekuri says.
From paper to board and tissue simulation
The development work has considerably increased the properties and applications of the FIT tool. In the field of papermaking, pulp fillers and floating basis weight, among other things, have been included.
At the beginning of the last decade, the development of a more challenging multilayer model was started for the tool to enable simulating liners and multilayer boards. Today, it can be used to simulate all the board's structural and strength-related main properties. The impact on production costs from changes in board furnishes can also be calculated precisely.
"The last stage of software development for board simulation was completed last year. We added properties related to the tensile strength and stretch of fibre networks to the model to enable the simulation of the folding endurance of board. In addition, models for the burst and compression strength properties, important for liner product makers, were completed."
"The model now also makes use of differences between individual board machines in addition to the raw material used. The simulation of the final product takes machine-specific differences into account in addition to the raw material, thereby decreasing the number or test runs needed during the testing phase", Pekuri says.
Now that the paper and board models have been introduced in commercial use, GloCell, Metsä Fibre and Metsä Tissue are developing the FIT tool for the needs of tissue production. A model that can be used to study the impact of base paper creping on paper strength is being researched.
"We're currently in the feasibility study phase regarding creping. Our goal is to create a preliminary model during 2020", Pekuri says.