MRO Magazine

Paper Chase

Preventive maintenance made Quebec's Belgo mill a benchmark facility. Ongoing work involves modifying or correcting many things: work methods, maintenance methods, using creativity in eliminating inefficient maintenance practices, and reducing...


June 1, 2004
By Carroll McCormick

Preventive maintenance made Quebec’s Belgo mill a benchmark facility. Ongoing work involves modifying or correcting many things: work methods, maintenance methods, using creativity in eliminating inefficient maintenance practices, and reducing big failures by catching the small problems.

Visiting a production floor for the first time is fun and sometimes eye-opening — like Christmas morning. But at the Belgo paper mill in Shawinigan, Que., the discussion of maintenance programs, the tidy production flow diagrams and the not-quite real numbers did not even vaguely prepare me for the roar, steam and scream of over 90,000 pieces of equipment working in mysterious concert to produce 1,035 metric tonnes of paper a day, 365 days a year.

Massive hydraulic cylinders tip whole tractor-trailers on their tails over a hole that gulps their loads of wood chips, which, along with more input from rail cars, are stored in a silo reaching halfway to the sky.

The chips feed three thermo-mechanical pulp lines: Wailing motors; screeching vacuum pumps and centrifuges; refiners; forests of fat stainless steel piping hiding hot, crusty, elephant-sized equipment; vats; tanks and who knows what else perform unimaginable mechanical and chemical tasks in a flow with no obvious beginning or end, shaking the concrete floors over complexes of steel girders big enough to build a major bridge.

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The lines churn out enough pulp to keep two, 200-tonne tanks full — just six to eight hours worth of food for four paper machines that are 6.7 metres wide, 6.7 metres high and 91.4 metres long apiece; they would stuff to bursting any normal-sized plant, but in this cavernous process building, “normal” quickly scales itself up, way up.

At one end of the paper machines, atomized pulp sprays through the air onto screens that disappear inside for a hidden journey that, for the oldest paper machine, has been travelled since 1926. At the other end a perfect, endless sheet of paper — peach-coloured today — spins off to make a 15,455-kg roll every hour and a half. These are cut, re-rolled and marched off to robot-operated wrapping machines and trundled on conveyors up a hill to the shipping department.

Of the 555 employees in the Abitibi-Consolidated Inc. Belgo Division, which occupies about 223,000 sq ft over three sites for processing, shipping and secondary water treatment, 155 work in maintenance. The maintenance teams are divided into three groups: The mechanical group, which includes welders, hydraulics and vibration specialists, lubrication analysts, and pipefitters; the electro-technicians, who are electricians and instrumentation specialists; and the service group, which covers the building maintenance trades.

There are 53 mechanics, 12 technician-mechanics, 22 pipefitters, 10 machinists, 10 welders, 44 electro-technicians, one building technician, one carpenter and two tinsmiths.

Belgo has a $20-million annual maintenance budget for man-hours and material.

The mill used to hire specialists; e.g., welders or pipefitters, who under the old collective agreement were forbidden to work outside their specialty. But starting about six years ago, Belgo stopped hiring people with specialized job titles, but rather, selected multi-skilled mechanical technicians or electro-technicians.

“When we hire a guy, he has to have two diplomas, say, instrumentation and electrician,” says Claude Dupont, Belgo’s maintenance superintendent for services and prevention. Parent company Abitibi-Consolidated of Montreal works with schools to develop multi-trade programs that fit with its workplace needs.

The production schedule is 24/7/365, except June 24 and December 25, when market conditions permit. Full maintenance and repair teams do big maintenance tasks by day, Monday to Friday. A team of two mechanics, two electro-technicians and a lubrication specialist responds to emergencies and equipment problems as they crop up.

Maintenance uses a CMMP (computerized maintenance management program) module that is part of an Abitibi-wide corporate system from J.D. Edwards. It has about 90,000 pieces of equipment entered in it, although this is not all of the equipment in the mill.

“Our system has an annual clock that establishes a frequency for our inspections routes; for example, daily, weekly, monthly, tri-monthly, every six months, yearly. A guy leaves on his route with a list of equipment to check in a particular sector. There are prevention inspections and condition reports. Some of the guys do small repairs as they go,” says Dupont.

“Every Thursday the planning department prepares the next week’s maintenance and repairs, based in the route reports that come in from each sector of the mill.

“Our priority here is the preventive maintenance inspections under the inspection routes, which eliminate unforeseen breakdowns. Our next priorities are repairs, then the improvement of equipment, processes or work methods. This has been our motto at Belgo for the last 10 years or so.”

There are many route types; e.g., a vibration route on critical equipment, or routes for quality systems that follow ISO requirements; e.g., a certain piece of equipment has to be checked twice a week to ensure it is producing to specified quality standards. There also is a pump route, a paper rolling machines route, lubrication routes, and daily fire prevention systems routes.

As well, there are routes that are done every five or nine years; e.g., the disassembly of the 25,000-hp GE Canada motors.

On one route, electro-technicians use a thermographic camera to check critical electrical systems for hot spots. Thermographic condition reports, which contain photos, values and other data, rate hot spots as either medium, high or serious, and offer recommended actions.

There has been a heavy emphasis on improving the reliability of the refining line equipment, as problems here can slow the pace of the paper machines. “We always face the challenge of maintaining the refining lines in good condition, while keeping the pulp reservoir levels high enough to feed the paper machines,” says Dupont. He has to time the closure of a refining line so that the reservoirs will not run out of pulp before the line is reopened.

“Before, five or six years ago, it was necessary to reduce the speed of the paper machines to do maintenance on the refining lines. Now it is not necessary to reduce the speed of, or shut down, a paper machine,” he explains.

Belgo has become so good at preventive maintenance (PM) that Abitibi chose the mill last year as its benchmark facility for PM. “Our production has risen with the same equipment because of our PM. We have seen [improvements] in the equipment durability and reliability. The equipment breaks down less often and is reliable for longer [periods],” says Dupont.

The maintenance team has also tightened up its maintenance planning and executes its maintenance tasks more efficiently. “We have eliminated the difference between the amount of time scheduled, say, eight hours, and the actual amount of time it used to take to do the repairs, say, nine and a half hours,” says Dupont.

Belgo has several workshops, which are divided into sectors: pulp, paper and service. There is a repair shop for forklifts, a room where paper rollers are balanced, welding shops, well-equipped machining shops with plenty of hoists … the list goes on.

“We do most of our maintenance here,” says Dupont. “But for repairs, or re-covering of the paper rollers, we send them out; for example, to GL&V (Groupe Laperrire & Verreault Inc., Trois-Rivieres, Que.) or GE (General Electric Canada, Montreal).”

There are many support companies for the pulp and paper industry in Quebec and Ontario, though most exterior work is done locally.

For example, the big motors go to GE in Montreal. Refinery parts are sent to local firms in Quebec and Ontario specializing in repairing equipment manufactured by Sunds Defibrator of Sweden. Vacuum pumps on the paper machines are sent to Nash Engineering Co. in Montreal.

Belgo stocks about $4 million worth of spares, and uses Canadian Bea
rings in Montreal as an integrator to do the parts purchasing for Abitibi’s 27 mills. “Canadian Bearings negotiates with every equipment supplier and is responsible for supplying the parts we need,” says Dupont. Wesco Distribution Canada Inc., a Canadian Bearings partner, is responsible for the electrical spares side.

Belgo has a busy training department with programs based on the needs of each department. Belgo might send workers out for training, or buy courses and hire trainers to come to the mill to satisfy the continuing need for education.

The maintenance team faces many challenges, including upkeep of a facility built of structures upon structures, the oldest of which dates back to 1901. Some of the equipment is decades old; e.g., paper machine No. 9 was installed in 1973, but the other three date to the 1920s.

Doing more with the same is also an ongoing challenge. “No. 8 is the biggest and highest-producing paper machine we have. A year ago it was operating at 77% efficiency,” says Dupont. “This year we have increased [this] to 84%. A one per cent increase reduces the cost of a tonne of paper by $4.

“We achieved this by modifying or correcting many things: work methods, maintenance methods, creativity in eliminating inefficient maintenance practices, and reducing big failures by catching the small problems.”

The planning team targets more than machines for continuing improvements. Recently, the cleanliness of the mill environment was targeted, with the goal of improving worker pride, workplace satisfaction and ultimately, productivity.

Belgo has also had to respond to market pressures to produce more and better products with the same equipment. In 2002, the mill began making value-added paper, and now 100,000 tonnes a year of the production is value-added, including paper for books and coloured paper; the other 275,000 tonnes is newsprint.

The maintenance team has worked hard to improve machine reliability and add processes. “We had to modify equipment, fabricate new pieces and add pipe work, all without the help of a supplementary budget and without buying any new equipment,” explains Dupont. “We used all of the knowledge, creativity and all the resources of our maintenance team.”

Montreal-based Carroll McCormick is a senior contributing editor for Machinery & Equipment MRO.

Friendly but focussed

Afriendly, patient man in the company of people, Claude Dupont goes through a subtle transformation on the paper mill floor to something resembling a general reviewing his mechanical troops. With eyes narrowed and face slightly hardened, it is clear that he is constantly sifting through the sights and sounds of tens of thousands of pieces of machinery for any hint of trouble.

“I know every corner of this place,” says Dupont, born and raised in Shawinigan and a 31-year Belgo employee. He came to the mill in 1973 with a machinist’s diploma from the Institute Technologie Shawinigan. “I began at the bottom, filling caissons with four-foot lengths of pulpwood,” back when pulpwood was ground into chips on site.

A year later he became a paper man on the paper machines and five years later applied for a maintenance job as a pipefitter. He worked at that for eight years, then became the pipefitting superintendent.

Then he took the multi-disciplinary position of project supervisor, then “contre-maitre” supervisor, then coordinator. His job for the past six years has been as one of the three mill superintendents, responsible for mechanical maintenance and planning.

“It is a pleasure to work here. I never get tired of working here. It is pleasant work because of the diversity. It is not monotonous.

“The mill is old, the machinery is old, so you have to be creative and use your resources. The time passes quickly.”