This week's Nip I. brought back a memory...
Several years ago at a [name withheld] Mill, subsequently sold due to poor performance,
we were charged with modernizing the electrical and control systems on one
of their machines. When my turn came up I simply stated we will put in a
new DCS and put everything into it. Well, you could hear a pin drop! "Is
there a problem?" [I knew the answer] "We have to have a PLC for discrete
things" [solenoids, and flow, temperature, level and pressure, and limit
switches, and motor control] "Why?" [I knew the answer] "Because the
electricians work on PLCs." [We must have horses so the black smiths will
So, I told them we may as well cancel the project because we must not
disenfranchise the mechanics... "What do you mean?" "Well, you have a
lineshaft machine powered by a steam turbine and a fan pump also powered by
a steam turbine. We were replacing the turbines and replacing the line
shaft one with electrical sectional drives, and the one on the fan pump with
a variable speed drive. The steam savings will be used to allow speeding
up the machine and with better control sheet breaks will greatly diminish,
yada-yada-yada. That was the [partial] justification of the project in the
Four shift mechanics were sent to the new ClO2 plant [without hiring any]
and four more that retired other places were not replaced. No additional
E&I were hired. The 8 shift mechanics, with benefits, saved about $640,000
a year [rest of the justification].
Nip Impressions was great this week. My late Dad, who ran a mining machinery factory for 25 years would have agreed 100%.
I just visited two mills in Indonesia, on behalf of the World Bank. Mandate is to educate the local Ministry of the Environment (underlying assumption is that Indonesian mills get away with a lot on environmental regulations. Actually not true for the big guys, because customer and ENGO pressure keeps the mills up to at least US standards)
Both mills are making over 7,000 tpd BK
One was like being in an IP plant. Cleanliness mediocre. We met a team of about 20 to start off, none of whom could answer a number of basic questions about operations. They did not know how to calculate a chlorine dioxide substitution rate. I was nervous as I ran through it on the whiteboard. I have not done it for 15 years. With most of the world on ECF, the calculation is unnecessary. Of course their dioxin discharges are like the US in 1990
The other mill, Riau Andalan was top drawer. Just like best in the US, Brazil or Europe. We met 2 staff, who answered most questions, sometimes with a quick cellphone call (did not see a wired phone in the mill. Cellphones everywhere)
We then had a mill tour and met a dozen or so area supervisors. All knew their systems well, and answered all questions. Environmental performance was superb, and chemical consumption low. They burn gas in the kilns but no other fossil fuel. The meter in the control room (ALL mill in one room) showed 386 MW being generated. Some is being sold of course.
No mill in the US can compete with it.
The industry here has some serious forestry issues, and mills vary, but the best mills are great. Fortunately for us, I think they are maxed out on wood for some time to come.
You latest letter really hit home. The mill you mentioned had to be my mill, Blue Heron Paper Company in Oregon City, Oregon. In recent years when you wrote about old mills hanging on, I honestly took it personally. While our mill is old (started up in 1908), management has done a pretty good job of investing in and re-inventing the business over the years to keep it viable, keeping 200+ people employed with good-paying jobs and benefits. We saw the coming problem with relying on newsprint as our product base 20 years ago and started the process of moving to other grades with better future potential and better profitability. When Smurfit-Stone wanted to shut the mill in 1999, we found an investor, became an ESOP and charted a new course. New grades that we developed proved profitable enough despite being saddled with the tightest NPDES permit in the state (it still is) and huge cost impacts that can be traced directly to the Enron fiasco. The death-blow was provided by something we hadn't factored into our plan. Rather than being beat down by newer, more efficient mills producing our products, we finally succumbed to the voracious Chinese appetite for our key raw material, waste paper in the form of old newspapers and old magazines. While other mills have been able to overcome this issue, we did not have the resources to make similar moves. So another old mill bites the dust and, while some think the right thing finally happened, try telling that to the 200+ former employees and their families, as well as the many suppliers who depended on the mill for much of their business.
While this is the first time that I've had to look for work in 45 years, it is not the end of the world, of course. Life is still good.
Oregon City, Oregon
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