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5 Mar 14: Computerization 4: Ropes, the last frontier

I (Jim speaking) think that no later than 2030, we will operate pulp and paper mills without full time on site operators. There are only two reasons why we are not doing this now.


Reason 1 is that we have not adopted high enough standards of reliability.


Reason 2 is that paper machine threading still has a manual element, even in the most automated of machines.


A pulp mill could be operated without humans right now if we would adopt the standard of maintenance and reliability demanded of aircraft.  Face it, airplane pilots and co-pilots do little now.  They exist by regulation and for the public relations' comfort their presence gives the passengers. Should we choose to adopt the same standards of reliability and maintenance required of aircraft, there is no reason to have any operators, at least full time, in a pulp mill.


Papermachines are a bit more difficult.  There are breaks, and the machine has to be rethreaded.  This does not mean that these tasks cannot be automated, it just means they have not been automated.


Barriers to adoption of these operating parameters are tradition and return on investment.  When operators become more costly than full automation, full automation will happen.  I think it will happen in the next fifteen years.


Any comments?  Let us know by sending an email to [email protected] with "LGMI Frontiers" in the subject line.




We had some feedback on last week's topic, I don't care:



Your note regarding mill supervisors who, because they are profitable and/or making budget, decide to avoid testing in innovative cost-saving alternative is, sadly, a testimony to our ability to motivate folks beyond mediocrity or at best, their comfort-level.  All of us managers have for so long rewarded budget-achievers as 'excellent' performers that  it may well have become truth as they see it.


Profitability and/or making budget is expected performance level, no more.  "Excellent" and "Outstanding" performance levels need to be awarded to those who have achieved quantifiable performance beyond expectations.  In that environment, employees who want to grow faster will seek ways to achieve at these higher levels.


In short, the situation you described in the LGMI note was created from a serious Performance Management System problem.


Edward A. Turner





Does the resistance to take risk come from the mill level managers or from the people above them? Managers above the local level rarely reward or facilitate the plethora of smaller, non sexy, often inexpensive improvements that are nearly guaranteed to have great returns. Reality is any manager is more likely to support what their boss is interested in or understands. Therefore lots of paint and signs are purchased with ease but getting a proper shower water supply is a huge challenge.

Techniques to facilitate such projects are simple.


Bruce Jeffery






This is an oversimplification. However most mill managers are asset managers and mills are operated as cost centres rather than profit centres in the strict sense of the word.The reasoning is that mill management competence is measured on how effectively they use resources to produce product.They have no control over sales price of the product.Improved operating efficiency is normally closely related to compensation.This does not encourage a mill to try unproven concepts.


Jim McLean  






Not sure what product was being sold but if I were leading a 24/7 operation, I would focus my attention on projects and priority metrics that have been established. Maybe it is maintenance oriented this year or operating cost reduction or a debottlenecking project. With fewer labor resources to apply to new projects, many worthwhile ones get overlooked. It might behoove the supplier to find out what the metrics for this year are and then to harmonize their product or to get into the planning process for future project priorities.   


Joff Cowan   






Regrettably, that seems to take place a LOT more than one might think. Even when most agree that something is better and can save them money, no one wants to step up and be the one that recommends the solution.  


Steve Mills    






I agree. It can be perceived as a comfort zone for managers not wanting to exit. Proven technology can be compared to using carrier pigeons over electronic devices in delivering messages. It works but there are alternatives.   


Rick Monsigneur 






This used to be the rule, not the exception. However, I'm finding today that a lot of mill managers are more than willing to look at alternatives if the goal is to improve efficiency, productivity, or allow them the ability to make profitable grade changes. I've seen a lot of changes made today that would never have been considered in the past. I believe that we are coming into a slight renaissance in papermaking! 


Tom Duffy 




LGMI Design Practices
As always, your comments will be appreciated.
Think light!


Brian Brogdon, Ph.D.
Executive Director




Jim Thompson

Send us your comments by emailing Brian Brogdon
or Jim Thompson!

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