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Week of 5 Dec 2016: Power & Energy

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I always say this about energy: it is political. Let's keep this in mind as we kick off "Power and Energy" month here at Paperitalo Publications.

It is not by accident that we always devote December to Power and Energy. It comes after November, and in November in the United States, we have elections. At least every two years the elections will have outcomes that may affect energy policy.

There is not an energy shortage on the planet Earth in the foreseeable future. We used to think there was one, but the methods of finding and extracting energy have expanded considerably since the more simplistic days of the 1970s and 1980s. So, now it is a matter of what you are willing to pay for extraction and transportation, coupled with what emissions (or other disruptions to nature) you are willing to tolerate from the extraction and combustion processes.

All forms seem to have their advocates and detractors. Energy policy has become as vitriolic a political subject as about any topic one can find in the political arena. Still, energy is vitally important to the ways we live our lives today.

Non-human energy has allowed large swaths of the population to lead lives in a synthetic world.


2016 Light Green Machine Institute Conference Presentations available in the White Papers Library!


This is the point I want to focus on this week. In our mills, it seems that every generation is less well-equipped when it comes to the practical matters of understanding and operating a paper machine. I think the reason for this is the synthetic world from whence they came.

Go back thirty to fifty years and many of the employees in our mills, while perhaps not college graduates, had grown up on a farm or had spent time working on their cars or watched a family member work on cars, fix a leaky faucet or change out a malfunctioning light switch. In the process, they learned how these things worked and gathered a holistic understanding of the operation of machinery and processes.

Today, everything is on a computer screen. The operators believe the computer screen; indeed, I am convinced that many times they do not know where the valve, tank or pump that is flashing "malfunction" on the screen is even located. They think that "other people" are supposed to know where these things are and fix them when they are broken.

This allocation of responsibilities and dumbing-down of operators started about thirty or so years ago, when process computer systems became economical enough to come into widespread use. I saw this first hand in a mill in 1984. This mill had been built in the late 1960s and was operated from benchboards on the floor. We installed a distributed control system and put the operators in a control room. It was a struggle--but at least these operators actually knew where everything was physically located, for just a few weeks earlier they had been out on the floor. Operators today have never had that experience, or worse yet, have an attitude that says it is beneath them to go out on the floor and actually do something.


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We are headed for a crisis. At the Light Green Machine Institute, we have just begun to consider the jumbled mess control systems have become. Many systems are past their useful life and spares are no longer available. Software has been indiscriminately modified in the middle of the night and no one knows which version of the program is the one that is "correct." In fact, no one know what correct is.

So, we have a combination of operators who have little physical understanding of the systems they operate, some of them have an attitude, and, on top of that, the hardware and software that serve as their crutches is obsolete.

We want to do something about this. The Light Green Machine Institute may form a committee that will examine the control system problem and promulgate a series of design guidelines and standards to help the industry avert disaster. Would you or your company be willing to help? Please take our quiz on line this week to show your interest. You may take it here.

Safety systems suffer the same electronic malaise as operating systems. Fortunately, they seem to be discreet packages that can be examined and replaced as appropriate. Do you have a plan to do so?

Be safe and we will talk next week.


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