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Week of 27 January 2020: Dainty and Rugged Capital Projects

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I have seen few project engineers successfully transfer their skills between the two extremes of the paper industry. On the front end, we find incoming long wood, chippers, chip piles and so forth. At the other end of the business, we find printing and packaging lines with the daintiest of doodads, which must nevertheless work properly and flawlessly for long periods of time.

In one mill where I worked, one of the employees working for me was in charge of purchasing pickup trucks. Back in the day, we had close to thirty company pickups on this one machine, integrated mill site. In Engineering, we had the oldest pickup, about 8 years old, and we were proud of it. It was a nice four-wheel drive model and it was kept in very good shape.

At the other end of the spectrum was the woodyard. Their pickups lasted about 12 months. The back of every one of them had the center of the bumper shoved as far forward as it would go, that is to the rear axle. They would stick them in the mud and then have a front-end loader push them out.

When you are planning, estimating, and designing woodyard installations, make them as strong as you can, then double it. Infrastructure and machinery take a beating in woodyards.

On the other end of the spectrum, I have worked on a "Carton Closer Leaflet Inserter" machine in converting that had to take instructional leaflets from a printed roll, cut them at the proper break points, fold them in fourths and then insert them in a box full of product. It was an operation about as delicate as working on a watch, yet the demands were that it run day after day, just like everything else in our business.

Of course, work in both of these extremes can be classified as capital projects. But the approach can be quite different. The amount of funding required may be significantly different, with woodyard projects requiring large expenditures and the converting projects being relatively small. Scheduling is different, too, with the converting projects sometimes taking a long time as compared to the woodyard ones.

For converting projects, you may have to do some serious searching to find the expertise needed to execute successfully. Converting projects can look like "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" and involve many specialized concepts. On one project I was involved with we needed an expert on how to blow mixed dried products into a tank in a manner that they wouldn't stratify but remain homogenized. Within twenty feet of that, we had a soda straw wrapping machine that could not operate at the speeds we required (we essentially stripped it down to its frame and started over). Then about thirty feet from that we had an air conveyor designed to transport unfilled cartons which had a cantankerous lane switching mechanism. By comparison, this whole operation did not sit in a footprint bigger than that of a woodyard chipper and its conveyors.

So, a project is not a project is not a project. Pick your leaders carefully and execute your budget and planning with care. Which is always true, of course, but doubly so if you are thinking about using personnel of one expertise to execute projects in the other area.

For safety this week, I have seen horrible, preventable accidents in both the delicate and rugged parts of the industry. Thoughtfulness and care are absolutely essential in safety design.

Be safe and we will talk next week.


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