The only way to increase productivity is to work smarter – and that means working together, not separately. SCA’s Östrand pulp mill will be the first such mill in the world, for production of softwood kraft pulp, to use an automation system to control all of the processes in the entire mill.
Running a pulp mill is no simple enterprise. Several processes need to function on their own, but they also have to collaborate in a chain that should progress as faultlessly as possible.
“Roughly speaking, even though Östrand is a relatively modern pulp mill, we have several factories within the factory,” says Ingela Ekebro, project director for the Helios project at SCA.
“At the same time, the most competitive producer over time is the one that has the smoothest production that consistently operates at maximum capacity in all areas.”
This is the background to one of the largest investments in Swedish industrial history. SCA started reconstructing the pulp mill in Östrand in 2015, and the goal is for construction to be finished by June 2018. The project, which is called Helios, will cost a total of SEK 7.8 billion. Upon completion, production capacity will double, and the production line for bleached softwood kraft pulp will be the largest in the world.
However, being the largest is not necessarily the same as being the best – the different parts also have to work together.
“The technical level of our control is already good, but it has not been fully integrated,” says Alf Eriksson, who is the electrical and automation function manager in the project.
“We naturally purchase the best machines, but our competitors can do the same. Whether we only manage to do a good job or we are the best depends on how we run and optimize our plant.”
When planning the reconstruction, SCA decided to delay the individual parts and instead begin a procurement process for the automation system. ABB’s Ability System 800xA automation system was selected.
“This is a strategic issue. The control system is the cornerstone that affect how all parts of the factory works, which is why it was important for us to have all the different pieces in place as early as possible,” says Alf Eriksson.
However, it is not only the fully integrated automation that is new. The physical control room environment has also changed. The various processes are currently run from five different control rooms placed in different locations throughout the mill area, which is one square kilometer large.
“We have wanted to gather our personnel into one common operations center for several years,” says Anders Rönnqvist, project manager at the operations center at Östrand.
“Even if the current control rooms allow the operators to work close to operations, daily communication between the operators and with their immediate supervisor is not as close and instantaneous,” says Anders Rönnqvist.
As a result, SCA has decided to gather the control rooms for wood handling, fiber line and energy & chemical recovery into a common operations center that is centrally located in the mill area.
“Taking this step will lead to several positive effects,” says Ingela Ekebro.
“The operators will be closer to their supervisors and their colleagues, which will result in better communication and better opportunities to learn from one another. The daytime organization will also be gathered at the same place, which means communication with each other and with operations will be easier, and colleagues can help each other across department boundaries. This will in turn lead to increased understanding and knowledge of the different processes in the mill, which in the long run will lead to improved operations.”
The operations center will also be fitted with equipment from ABB.
“We liked how ABB was able to integrate the control system with the operators’ working environment,” says Anders Rönnqvist.
“It is the employees who are to perform a good job, and they have to be given the optimal conditions to do so.”
The control rooms will be fitted with ABB’s Extended Operator Workplaces (EOW), which are fully integrated operator solutions that provide both process overview and the possibility to adapt ergonomics and the work environment to the individual for everything from working posture to sound and lighting. To enable the greatest amount of operator support possible, SCA has also chosen to implement functions for advanced process control for all the process segments, integrated in the operator environment. This will provide operators with decision-making support in real time for optimal operation of the mill, at the same time as ongoing control and history are displayed.
“We are creating a modern, high tech workplace where focus is on productivity, technology and constant improvements, as well as a workplace that will continue to be appealing and attract the best possible operators in the future,” concludes Anders Rönnqvist.
(ABB Asea Brown Boveri Ltd)