Upgrading a Pulp and Paper Mill – Lessons from a $450 Million Project

Last year, Irving Pulp and Paper announced plans to spend $450 million to modernize one of its mills in Saint John, NB. This project is creating 600 jobs and allowing the mill to upgrade its capacity and productivity.This huge undertaking is possibly the most complex modernization project Canada has seen in decades, involving many companies, suppliers and service providers working together. That includes experts in industrial pump technology.Without doubt, it is already providing lessons about how to upgrade a pulp and paper mill.

Two Phases

The first phase of the project is to update the way in which the plant handles wood chips  for processing. The second, even more expensive phase, involves installing a modern pulp dryer to replace three existing machines at the mill.

Planning for the Upgrade

Unlike building a new pulp and paper mill, upgrading the existing one has a significant effect on regular operations that need to continue throughout the project. Much can be learned from the planning that has taken place, not merely to redesign the plant, but also to manage production capacity during the upgrade. It is expected that there will be some shortfalls in production, but these will be recovered after the upgrade is complete and new systems maximize productivity.

Team Coordination

Partnerships are key, alongside planning, according to project manager Mark Fitzpatrick. Furthermore, communicating plans clearly to shareholders is of major importance. All stakeholders are involved in daily, weekly and monthly meetings, communications and updates. These stakeholders include design experts, engineering firms, equipment vendors, and construction contractors, who are then able to better understand their role and make decisions based on the latest information from the project leadership team.

Risk/Reward Analysis

Effective risk/reward analysis is at the core of all successful business projects. To upgrade the pulping infrastructure at the Irving Pulp and Paper Mill, contributing companies have considered the level of investment they must make and examined projected revenue (reward) over the long-term. As part of this analysis, they have also considered risks, costs, timeframes, potential project bottlenecks, design challenges, and even outside factors like a contingency plan should demand fall or legislation change about harvest levels.

The Crucial Role of Pumping Systems

Pumps and their related systems and structures are at the heart of any pulp and paper mill. In upgrading the Irving mill, new pumps that can increase capacity while being more energy efficient are front and centre. Great trust has been placed in the project’s pump designers, suppliers, manufacturers and testers. It is no overstatement to say that their roles in planning and implementing the mill’s upgrade have the greatest impact on the project’s success level. Because without working pumps, processing and output would be zero.

One further lesson from this pulp and paper mill upgrade project is that industrial pump manufacturers can significantly enhance their return on investment by upgrading their systems for increased reliability, greater production capacity and reduced energy consumption. With successful projects like this one using the latest technology and techniques, the future looks bright and abundant.

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