Optimizing Maintenance Processes in a Pulp and Paper Mill

Learn how to optimize asset management and maintenance processes in pulp and paper mills to overcome some of the biggest blind spots, improve efficiency, and reduce downtime.

The Importance of Modernizing Maintenance in Paper Mills

Asset maintenance plays an integral role in the operations of pulp and paper manufacturing plants. It ensures that all assets are functioning safely and seamlessly, minimizing the risk of failures and production delays to boost your bottom line.

However, maintenance strategies built on a limited understanding of asset health often lead to unplanned downtime, costly repairs, and safety hazards. By digitally transforming your asset management and maintenance approach, you can overcome major challenges while extending the useful life of assets for reliable productivity and streamlined costs.

Identifying Common Maintenance Challenges in Paper Manufacturing Facilities

The pulp and paper industry is increasingly operating on narrow margins as aging infrastructure and asset failure threaten the production and profitability of mills. In addition to widespread industrial challenges, including high production demands and shrinking labor pools, paper mills face several maintenance blind spots that directly impact safety, reliability, and profits, including:

  • Unplanned outages: As assets age, the risk of failure increases – especially if asset health isn’t monitored properly. Majority of manufacturing downtime is caused by process and equipment failures.
  • Reactive maintenance: This approach is not only expensive, but it is also dangerous. Instead of fixing problems after they occur, mills should take a proactive approach to address potential issues before they happen and accurately prioritize maintenance activities for long-term reliability.
  • Excessive CapEx spend: A lack of full health visibility forces mills to invest more than budgeted to replace aging equipment. Unexpected capital decisions can put mills and workforces at risk.

The average manufacturer faces 800 hours of equipment downtime per year – equating to more than 15 hours per week. Unplanned downtime is extremely expensive, costing industrial manufacturers as much as $50 billion annually. These unexpected costs could force a mill to close its doors for good.

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For decades, mills have been making major CapEx decisions based on very limited and often inaccurate data. Traditional inspection methods are conducted manually, leaving a large margin of error when capturing, documenting, and interpreting the inspection data. Furthermore, manual methods only provide information about very select points of the asset, typically leaving 95% of the asset up to chance. 

Without the right methods and technologies in place, decision-makers are left to plan their next steps using data riddled with assumptions, biased inputs, incomplete information, and inaccuracies. Paper mills require better asset health visibility to ensure reliable operations – both today and in the future.

Utilizing Technology for a Predictive Maintenance Strategy

Paper mills can eliminate these blind spots and future-proof operations by implementing a predictive maintenance approach. Instead of waiting until a failure occurs or prematurely performing maintenance on a time-based schedule, predictive maintenance leverages deep data insights about an asset’s condition to help predict failures, determine priorities, estimate remaining life, and plan when action needs to be taken. 

According to a report from Deloitte, predictive maintenance increases productivity by 25%, reduces breakdowns by 70%, and lowers maintenance costs by 25%. Industry 4.0 asset management technologies are making this approach possible.

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Pulp and paper mills that leverage advanced technologies, including robotics and sensors, can collect robust amounts of high-quality data to create accurate, full-coverage health scans of assets. Robots continuously collect data as they move on an asset, capturing unprecedented amounts of data at significantly faster speeds. In addition to generating a comprehensive health record, continuous monitoring sensors can be placed in select locations to provide real-time corrosion and temperature data readings.

The raw data collected by the robots and sensors feeds into an asset management software platform to create useful dashboards and models with actionable insights. The platform integrates the collected data layers with historical maintenance records, operating conditions, OEM specifications, and other relevant information in one centralized location to generate actionable insights through fully comprehensive and accurate maps, models, digital twins, and prioritized repair plans.

Gecko’s Cantilever solution, for example, helped a paper mill save over $8 million on one asset alone. The mill leveraged Gecko’s advanced robotics platform and AI-powered software to analyze tank health data to determine the remaining useful life. The data revealed that a simple process change could extend the tank’s useful life by 10 years. 

Empower Your Workforce with High-Quality Data

Industrial asset management software platforms establish a single source of truth for your entire facility, empowering teams to understand, collaborate, and confidently make strategic decisions that will reduce unplanned downtime, eliminate reactive maintenance work, and streamline costs. Reliable data ensures your action plans are impactful so you can allocate your workforce to focus on the right value-added tasks that drive results. 

High-quality data acquisition and analysis gives the ability to make strategic decisions quickly, accurately, and confidently at all levels of your organization. Holistic visibility empowers your teams to eliminate potential disruptions and costs – strengthening your competitive edge for years to come. Create a culture of excellence and take your operations to the next level for a reliable, profitable future.

 

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