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Feature

Everywhere Man

As a sought-after expert in the arcane field of chemical delivery systems, Marc Lafrenire could easily write a new version of the 1959 Geoff Mack hit "I've Been Everywhere," a song popularized by Joh...


As a sought-after expert in the arcane field of chemical delivery systems, Marc Lafrenire could easily write a new version of the 1959 Geoff Mack hit “I’ve Been Everywhere,” a song popularized by Johnny Cash. He’s seen Alma, Candiac, Chicoutimi and Cape Breton, Kapuskasing, Temiscaming, Sudbury and Lab City. Over 20 paper mills and mines have his company’s phone number on their speed dial and plastered to their equipment.

His company, M.L. Pro-Tech, in St-Boniface, QC, goes where maintenance departments prefer not to go, says Lafrenire. “Given a choice, maintenance people do not want to do chemical jobs. They don’t know enough about the chemicals that are used and they don’t know enough about the systems. With all the staff cuts, they have too many other jobs to do, so they cut in the areas they are afraid of.”

A mechanic and electrician by training, Lafrenire learned about chemicals and delivery systems during his eight years in charge of field services for Ciba’s Toronto office. When Ciba shut down its equipment division in 2001, he immediately formed Pro-Tech and used his connections and experience to rapidly grow his business.

Working out of a 2,000 sq-ft (186 sq-m) shop and well-stocked 13,000 sq-ft (1,207 sq-m) warehouse, Lafrenire and his three employees, who have mechanical, welding and PLC control programming expertise, maintain, repair, modify, design and build systems.

Recently, for example, Lafrenire spent four days at Kruger’s Crabtree tissue products mill in eastern Quebec. It was annual maintenance time, which included doing internal pump inspections and calibrations; calibrating the make-down units, which perform very accurate mixing to within 0.1%; general electrical inspections; fixing leaks; and bigger jobs, like emptying and cleaning hoppers and tanks.

“Between shutdowns, mills usually do not do minor repairs and maintenance. They normally just leave that for my visit during shutdowns,” Lafrenire says. Too, a lot of chemical delivery systems are owned by chemical suppliers, not mills. “Companies do not want to invest energy in learning how to service equipment they see as someone else’s responsibility,” he adds.

In addition to planned maintenance, there are, of course, emergency calls. Since, however, it can take hours just to drive to some of the local mills, Lafrenire explains, “I tried to coach mill staff on the phone on how to fix problems temporarily and restart the process. Then, if necessary, I can visit the mill in the following days to do a complete job.”

Maintenance departments also prefer to contract out equipment modifications. For example, Lafrenire says, “We modify systems for receiving a new chemical. Maintenance departments won’t know the new chemical or how to manage it. Is it high-shear mixing or low-shear? Is it mixed at 0.2% or 5%? Is the product acid or base? Is it abrasive or shear sensitive?”

This past February, Lafrenire was in Tembec’s pulp mill in Temiscaming, QC, modifying equipment built in Finland that is used to prepare a type of clay. He took an older, manual-speed Italian model of a motor reducer, modified it with a North American standard motor reducer, added an electronic speed controller and modified the electrical system to make it all work.

“If the mill had had to take this project in hand, they would have had to put an electrician, instrumentation specialist and mechanics on the project, find the right motor and controller, study how the system works and plan out the job. By involving Pro-Tech, they just had to supply a welder for few hours. I guaranteed them that I could do the job and restart the mill within eight hours,” Lafrenire says so.

Lafrenire trolls paper mill fire sales — fortunately, Canada’s many mill closures in recent months and years have an upside to his business — for used equipment to refurbish. “The pulp and paper mills don’t have money, so they are interested in used equipment. We find and buy old equipment, fix it up and rent it to the mills,” Lafrenire says. “Sometimes mills need equipment fast for adding a chemical to fix a problem in their process. We have some for sale, in stock, ready to ship.”

His shop is well-outfitted for repairing and refurbishing equipment: welding gear, drill press, a five-tonne press, lots of tools and mechanical equipment, a laptop computer for PLC programming, an electrical tester, a test bench with a pressure transducer, flow meters, a booster pump, tanks, a printer and more.

On a road trips, Lafrenire and his staff carry a fairly basic suite of tools: electrical tester, laptop, hand-held programmer, safety equipment and tools.

A common shop repair job for his clients is repairing pumps worn by time or chemical attack. Or, sometimes a plant will reduce production and swap out its chemical delivery system for a smaller one. “When you remove a chemical delivery system, it is often dirty and broken. We will fix and modify it as required,” Lafrenire explains.

Among other projects on Pro-Tech’s to-do list, in May the shop had a polymer make-down system in from SNF Canada to be modified from 200 VAC to 575 VAC. “We will change the motors and control panel, modify the system so it can receive a 750-kg bag and add a ladder and platform for access,” Lafrenire says.

Manufacturing companies’ maintenance departments vary in their ability to design and build new equipment, but Lafrenire finds that on the chemical side, there is generally too much to deal with for in-house projects.

“We have to consider the processes like capacity, pressure, flow and target. For example, in a paper machine, you want to deliver a certain number of grams of clay per tonne of paper, or deliver chemicals to achieve a certain clarity of water. There is a lot of stuff to know, and maintenance departments do not know what they have to know,” Lafrenire explains.

Montreal-based Carroll McCormick, an award-winning writer, is the senior contributing editor for Machinery & Equipment MRO.

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