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May we introduce a better performing pulp mill?

Surely, it would be easier to run the paper and pulp mills, which are so important to Finland, if all those involved in the work had a common picture of the current situation of the mill. Most of the time, however, there is no such common picture. Yet, we have the technology for it.

Reception of wood, debarking, cooking, washing, causticizing, lime kiln, evaporation, bleaching, drying, storage, power plant, water treatment, paper and board machines are all separate but interdependent process components. At present, one component usually does not have a real-time picture of the situation at another component – for example, whether there is a problem that could potentially cause disruption to other components. The walls between the various components are unnecessarily high and thick.

Presumably, however, all those involved want to run the mill efficiently, that is, so that it generates as much money as possible, and with it jobs, taxes and affluence in general.

In the current situation, the production lines or departments and their managers have their own targets, KPIs and budgets, as well as incentives based on these. This results in sub-optimization. And when neighboring departments do not know each other’s situation, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve the optimal production process flow. On the other hand, if we could minimize imbalances between the mill departments, this would eliminate quality variation due to the shutdown and ramp-up cycle. As is well known, discontinuities always cause quality deviations and at least higher costs.

First aid is obtained by visualizing the same snapshot for everyone. It allows people to make better decisions for their department right away. Often, they will also be able to support the activities of a neighboring department, which is beneficial to all. In this way, you can achieve small victories at first, which encourages people to make bigger changes.

Gradually, there will emerge a readiness to move to joint proactive planning of operations. Everyone will benefit from the smooth running of the mill, reduced shutdown and ramp-up cycles, more uniform quality, higher yield, more timely maintenance, and so on. End customers, on the other hand, will praise the improved delivery reliability. We are dealing with a process of change in which the way people work must change. This requires active and encouraging leadership. Change can be effectively promoted by paying attention to the metrics of activities.

In certain cases, a common snapshot of the situation can lead to decisions being made at a lower level in the organization. Continuous production, which is typical in the process industry, also means the need for 24/7 decision making. For example, a work shift team may have extensive knowledge and the ability to make the right decisions quickly, also at night and on the weekends, as long as they have a common snapshot at their disposal.

In a highly competitive global environment, measures to increase production efficiency, such as a common snapshot, can have a major impact. Maybe the winner in this competition is the company that first dares to take advantage of the competitive edge that is on offer.

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