Most pulp and paper companies are experimenting with digitalization – harnessing the massive amounts of data produced by their machines to drive process performance improvements. However, concerns about data security and third-party control of their production processes mean that this kind of activity has been limited to small-scale projects.
Typically this involves developing a static algorithm based on data collected from a single paper machine, with the aim of improving performance based on its current inputs. But what if there is a change in these inputs, or the output needs to change to accommodate new requirements further along in the process? What’s needed then is a dynamic model that constantly adapts to changing process data throughout the production process.
Modern paper machines are highly automated and produce a lot of good-quality data. The ability to use that data – all of it, from every process stage throughout the production line – provides valuable business benefits, from the ability to avoid downtime with faster troubleshooting and proactive maintenance to identifying opportunities for efficiency improvements.
There are so many variables to consider, and they all affect each other, so you need to have a deep understanding of the whole process in order to make the data actionable.
Kemira’s KemConnect™ platform does just that. It constantly gathers data, providing insights that support smarter process management and better decision-making. “We’re not only looking at the paper machines, but the entire process, starting with fresh water and ending with waste water. If a paper machine isn’t working properly, it’s not enough to analyze only that machine’s data; we also need to analyze data from the pulp mill to understand the full picture,” explains Antti Pirneskoski, Director of Applications and Marketing at Kemira. “This allows us to properly understand the value of the different kinds of data from each process stage. There are so many variables to consider, and they all affect each other, so you need to have a deep understanding of the whole process in order to make the data actionable,” he continues. “Anyone can collect data, but it’s the one who can truly understand the value of that data who will come out on top.”
KemConnect uses constantly evolving models to analyze the data. All that’s needed is an internet connection between the customer and Kemira. The platform is already in use at around 400 sites and produces about 40,000 data points a minute, and these numbers are growing rapidly. “Typically, customers approach us with a specific challenge,” Antti explains. “They might know that there’s a problem with a certain process stage and need help pinpointing it, or they might need help with overall performance improvements based on concrete facts. Whatever the case, we always start by analyzing the data and interviewing our customers’ experts.”
It’s clear that harnessing the power of data through process digitalization is the future for most industries. For Kemira and our customers alike, this means preparing for and investing in this future today. For us, this has meant investing in technology, creating new networks and ecosystems, and putting digitalization at the heart of our company culture. We have invested in more analytical power and a digital hub to accelerate digital projects, and formed new partnerships with machine manufacturers and third-party experts.
As well as building up in-house expertise, there has also been a focus on new ways to ideate with customers and wider stakeholder groups. “We’re big believers in failing fast to innovate fast,” says Antti. “When working with a customer or external partner, we give ourselves eight weeks to create a minimum viable product, be it a smartphone app or a new algorithm. Eighty percent of these ideas don’t make it past this stage, but that’s great because we can then focus our efforts on further developing the 20% that show potential to add value for our customers.”
Antti believes that five to ten years from now many paper machines will be remotely operated, from control centers on both the customer and Kemira’s side. Data from the entire process will be gathered and analyzed in real-time and adjustments made automatically based on continuously evolving models and algorithms. These models will learn what has caused process breaks and so be able to prevent the same set of circumstances occurring in the future. With a more comprehensive understanding of how the chemistry and the paper machines work together, better planned, more efficient shutdowns and maintenance activities can be scheduled. Operations will be far more intelligent and decisions more fact based. “To put things into perspective, in a large paper machine, a 1% efficiency increase can lead to savings of 1.5 to 3 million euros,” Antti explains.
Customers typically realize savings of around 5 to 10% as more accurate process control leads to more efficient use of chemicals, which in turn reduces the amount of broken and re-pulped paper or board.
Kemira’s digital hub makes taking the first step on the digital journey easy for pulp and paper producers. Nothing is required from the customer apart from some historical data, which can be quickly and easily gathered using an established procedure. Once we have analyzed this data, a one-week co-creation workshop is held to determine the value of the possible cooperation.
If the value for the customer is not high enough the project ends there and then. “But this rarely happens,” says Antti. “Based on our experience with KemConnect to this point, customers typically realize savings of around 5 to 10% as more accurate process control leads to more efficient use of chemicals, which in turn reduces the amount of broken and re-pulped paper or board. What’s more, it also means less pumping and therefore decreased power consumption. The time for standing on the sidelines and watching the early adopters is over,” Antti believes. “To stay ahead of the competition, companies need to jump head first into digitalization – today.”
The article was first published in the Professional Papermaking magazine.