Kraft Paper Mill Improves Efficiency with Collaborative Production Management

April 2, 2015
Inefficient operations with very little visibility drove KPAQ Industries to upgrade its production planning/tracking system, achieving significant benefits in efficiencies and decision-making capabilities.

Lacking visibility and efficiency from the legacy operations management system inherited through decades of changes in both ownership and production lines, KPAQ Industries began searching for a system that could get its kraft paper mill in St. Francisville, La., back on track. They wanted a system that was configurable—something that could handle the inevitable changes.

What KPAQ decided on was a collaborative production management (CPM) system from ABB, which the automation supplier announced has been successfully integrated into KPAQ’s existing ERP system, various production systems and accounting systems to help with sales/order management, production planning, production management, decision support and product tracking.

Originally built by Crown Zellerbach in the late 1950s as a joint venture with Time Inc., the mill has been through a few incarnations, even getting shut down completely from 2007 to 2009 before being reopened again in 2010 as KPAQ Industries. It’s gone from being a four-machine mill with lines designed for coated products to having two machines making relatively straightforward virgin unbleached pulp and paper products.

All of this affected the difficulty with which the mill approached operations—using a legacy Honeywell OptiVision system that had been highly customized for a very different product line and work environment many years before. “The mill had made a lot of changes, and we didn’t know where we were going next,” said Jeff Rake, who took over as KPAQ’s president and CEO in February after more than two years as mill manager and COO. “We wanted a system that was configurable, not customized.”

KPAQ was looking for a system that would let them grow while continuing to work on cost, said Rake, who detailed the challenges and benefits of the changeover during ABB’s Automation & Power World last month. “Having a system that was able to do more than the previous system was very important to us.”

A key benefit of using ABB’s CPM system is that KPAQ can streamline its entire operation, handling all mill functions in one comprehensive system to have a single point of access to all production data. The system will also be able to efficiently scale to correspond with KPAQ’s production growth and potential expansion.

This is a considerable change from what the plant had been facing. “We didn’t know squat about what was going on in the mill because we didn’t have easy access to information. We had no good forecasting or management tools. Simple things like yield were even difficult to pull out of the legacy system,” Rake said, explaining the very customized nature of the legacy system. “It was very designed for coated products. It was not designed for the relatively straightforward approach of making packaging papers for domestic customers.”

In fact, according to Honeywell, the owners of the paper mill at the time the legacy system was put in place specifically requested that the machines not communicate with one another so that they could separate out the lines in the future. That arrangement didn't suit KPAQ's needs once it took over the mill. “We had to do a lot of things based on gut feel," Rake said. "Being an engineer, it’s very hard to do that. You like to have facts in front of you.”

So better visibility on plant floor to track product quality was an important consideration, and KPAQ decided that the CPM system was best suited to meet its needs, Rake said. “We knew every day we were losing money with the lack of visibility in our system.”

Now KPAQ is able to get data out of its system easier. “From day one, we started gaining visibility very quickly,” Rake said. “We’re able to build reports that are easier for us to understand, and help us make decisions at a faster pace. We can move business forward at a faster pace.”

They also wanted to combat inefficiency in production. “Business was operating very inefficiently,” Rake said. “There was waste almost everywhere you looked.”

The mill has been able to reduce shorts and overruns by providing real-time accuracy of block/run/order status, reducing manual calculations, Rake detailed. “Shorts are very seldom an experience anymore,” he said. “And we can apply overruns to future products.” Improved trimming operations means they are able to identify and produce sizes that are most likely to sell as trim rolls (the highest-priced alternative).

ABB personnel from the U.S., Finland and the Czech Republic collaborated with the KPAQ project team over the scheduled eight-month transition to successfully install the comprehensive product so that KPAQ could begin operations in November 2014 with the new CPM system in place. “It was by far the smoothest cutover I’ve ever had,” Rake said.

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