The paper and cardstock industry continues to face growth and challenges. Although some factories are upgrading production capacity or investing in ergonomics, others are closing. Mike Straus looks at the factors driving industry trends.
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the pulp and paper industry has been in an unusual state. Some companies, such as Stora Enso, a paper-making company in Uusimaa Helsinki, Finland, closed their paper mills due to declining demand for paper products and instead focused on the growing cardboard packaging market. Other producers of medical-grade pulp used in N95 respirators, such as Harmac Pacific in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada, have boomed sales and are now struggling to keep up with the surge in demand. The paper and cardstock industry trends seem to depend on both the product and the region, which brings opportunities for companies that can transform, and challenges for companies that cannot.
Chuck Snook, product sales manager for Konecranes Americas in Burlington, Ontario, Canada, said that as the pandemic pushes up demand for consumer products and shipping containers, the pulp and paper industry continues to maintain strong growth. “Several new production lines are being installed (in the paper mill),” Snook said. “Toilet paper and packaging continue to grow. The speed of the production line is increasing, and the problem now is to find a better way to feed the machine and remove the finished product from the machine.”
According to “Business Insider” reports, in the United States alone, the demand for toilet paper increased by 845% last year, prompting companies such as Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnam Xuan Mai Paper to install new production equipment to produce high-quality toilet paper, facial tissues, and tissues. According to Research and Markets, in the first few months of the pandemic, sales in the tissue market increased by 264%, mainly due to consumers’ concerns that reusable cleaning cloths may contain virus particles. At the same time, market research company Technavio predicts that due to the growth of e-commerce, the global corrugated box market will grow at a rate of 4% per year by 2024. In its 2020 Digital Economy Index, Adobe, a software company in San Jose, California, estimates that the pandemic has pushed e-commerce forward for four to six years, leading to an increase in the demand for cartons.
In addition to the productivity upgrade of the paper mill, Snook said that the cranes and cranes used in the paper industry are implementing new technologies, especially technologies that improve safety or improve communications. There is a growing demand for wireless solutions that can provide crane operators and fleet managers with real-time operational and safety information.
“We are equipping all new cranes and cranes with remote monitoring, whether it is a smaller wire rope hoist or a large ETO crane,” Snook points out. “(The remote monitoring unit) provides critical alarms and real-time operating statistics, and it is all cloud-based, so we can adjust the scale of the maintenance plan. If a serious alarm occurs, the app will send a text message to the user.”
Intelligent remote monitoring technology enables Konecranes customers to find out the cause of the overload problem, determine which shift has overloaded the hoist, and in the case of multiple hoist applications, determine which hoist is overloaded. Snook said this real-time data allows the company to enhance operator training, increase productivity, and minimize risk. He said that all of these technologies are completely wireless, with cranes and diagnostic devices connected to each other via modems, which operate over a secure 3G network.
Snook said that a growing trend in paper mills is to use cranes for smaller tasks and lighter loads. The renewed focus on ergonomics prompted the company to look for lightweight lifting aids that can carry loads as low as 13 kg. He said that the needs of pulp and paper mill operators are to upgrade their products, which can extend uptime and prevent product damage, while also reducing operators’ repetitive strain injuries.
Another rising trend is automation. Gerhard Lange, Process Crane Project Manager for the Demag Paper Industry in Düsseldorf, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, said that the increasing sales of the paper industry reflect the industry’s willingness to invest. Lange said that the pressure on automated processes and logistics in the paper industry has been increasing, which prompted Demag to design a new dry reel handling automation solution.
“We have received many inquiries about fully automated shops in corrugated cardboard factories,” Lange said. “Sometimes, they are installed behind the production plant. Compared with the transportation warehouse, the material flow of such stores is not determined by the truck loading time, but by the production process.”
Demag has several paper industry projects in the installation and start-up phase. Lange gave an example of an Asian paper roll warehouse that is about to be put into use. When completed, it will become the world’s largest paper roll warehouse, with nine cranes in three bays. The crane will handle the storage and logistics of the new paper machine.
Demag recently completed the installation of an automatic vertical paper roll storage system for Laakirchen Papier, a subsidiary of the Heinzel Group based in Lakirchen, Gmunden, Austria. The material handling system consists of two Demag process cranes equipped with winches and vacuum lifting devices. Each of the two 33-meter span process cranes can move single rolls or pairs of rolls weighing up to 4.5 metric tons. The winches can travel independently of each other and can move up to 104 rolls per hour, saving 30% of time compared to ground storage and loading systems.
“Compared with traditional single-trolley technology, this technology helps achieve higher processing rates,” Lange explained. “For systems with limited scale, even higher processing rate requirements can be met.”
Demag has also installed many warehouse management systems for paper transportation facilities. Lange said the system enables transportation stations to make better use of space outside the storage area. The system’s yard management tool enables operators to run computer simulations of the loading and unloading process in order to find process efficiencies that can shorten the turnaround time.
Lange said that paper manufacturers around the world are facing tremendous pressure to expand production capacity to meet demand.
European and Asian manufacturing needs cardboard, graphic paper and facial tissues and other specialty paper products for product packaging are the growth drivers of the paper industry. Lange said the pressure to maintain high productivity even prompted Demag to develop a new solution for its customers to minimize downtime.
This solution is suitable for a paper mill in Germany. It can maintain and inspect the crane and its load handling accessories without interrupting the operation of adjacent cranes in the same interval.
“The paper industry is expected to continue to maintain year-on-year growth,” Lange said. “In particular, the growth of packaging paper is expected to be above average. We see strong demand from various regions.”
The growing demand for paper and cardstock products has prompted paper companies to invest in long-delayed upgrades, at least in the United States. Ricky Barnes, regional manager for the southeast of Whiting Services in Moni, Illinois, said that since November 2020, the increase in demand has put pressure on machinery to the extent that many old equipment cannot withstand the pressure. Barnes said that he is currently working with many Whiting customers to begin repairs, replacements and upgrades.
“Our customers are resuming production lines that have been idle for up to 10 years,” Barnes said.
“Procrastination has caught up with them. We are now actually working with two major (U.S.) production facilities, one in the southeastern United States and one in the northeast. We are putting back a crane that has been idle for ten years. use.”
Whiting mainly serves the North American market, with some limited projects in Puerto Rico. He said the pandemic has prompted paper and card companies and crane operators to change procedures. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, overloaded cranes have become more dangerous. More frequent equipment failures mean that support personnel visit the site more frequently, which can allow the virus to spread more quickly. Now, Barnes says, many companies in the paper and card industry have implemented procedures to avoid machine overloads to reduce maintenance requirements.
Robert Smilak, Whiting Corporation’s regional sales manager in the southern United States, said that although paper and cards have traditionally been a maintenance market, factories are now often looking for upgrades to increase production capacity and improve reliability. A Whiting customer is currently upgrading a crane for occasional lifting tasks. Whiting worked with the client to determine how many times a year the hoist can be lifted without exceeding 125% of its capacity.
“Through control and other safety features, there are many reliability upgrades,” Smilak explained. “If you have a paper roll there and you can’t move it, it’s a waste of product and money. So, at our end, we saw many modern upgrades designed to maintain high uptime and keep people away from cranes. .”
Smilak said that although the demand for paper products continues to grow, the industry is moving away from newsprint and magazine paper. He suspects that the increased demand for personal protective equipment is the reason for the growth of the industry. Medical grade pulp is an important part of surgical masks and medical protective clothing, and is also used to produce N95 masks.
Media reports indicate that the demand for medical grade pulp has increased substantially. In March 2020, Harmac Pacific told Tofino-Ucluelet Westerly News that one of its US customers, a medical supplies manufacturer, doubled the standard order for K10S medical grade pulp to increase the production of medical supplies. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported in May 2020 that Harmac Pacific is the only pulp mill in Canada that produces K10S medical grade pulp.
Barnes expects that paper mills will soon begin to prioritize the installation of automatic elevators. Some of the newer paper mills built in the past few years are almost completely automated, coupled with advanced monitoring technology, so that they can basically operate “lights out”.
Paper mills use various types of cranes and cranes to complete many different types of tasks; however, Barnes said that many mills are prioritizing upgrading the capacity of supporting cranes used during paper machine maintenance. On paper, uptime is a key issue.
There is also an emerging opportunity for cranes with better designs and longer service life. Smilak said that in the past 20 years, the US market has become more standardized towards European product specifications and standards, which usually need to be rebuilt every ten years. However, American paper mills are beginning to change their buying attitudes towards total cost of ownership.
“The design life cycle for European specifications is ten years,” Smilak said. “But American factories are starting to prefer more durable products. This trend is not everywhere, but I’m starting to see it.”
Like many industries, the paper and cardstock industries have specific safety requirements that affect the type of equipment used. Mark Koski, North American Commercial Director of Ingersoll Rand in Davidson, North Carolina, said that the environment in the paper mill is harsh and paper production requires a lot of water.
According to data from the University of Minnesota, a paper mill uses an average of 70 liters of water for every kilogram of paper produced. Therefore, the lifting equipment of the paper mill must be waterproof, so the industry prefers pneumatic hoists with complete safety control. Koski said that Ingersoll Rand has recently received many requests for IP65 waterproof and radio-controlled cranes.
“More and more people want operators to leave the loading area,” Koski said. “If they use wire rope winches, they often need longer pendants to keep the operator away from the load. This way, even if the wire rope breaks, it won’t hurt the operator.”
Tandem lifting devices are also very popular in paper and card applications, even for corrugated cardboard. Koski said that lifting the steel coil that supports the paper usually involves a synchronized double hook system, which can be a complicated and expensive installation, or two independent pneumatic hoists that operate simultaneously. However, recent technological innovations in pneumatic hoists have made this process simpler, easier, cheaper and safer.
“The pneumatic logic has become better. If you extend all the pipelines to a central point and then run the same length of hoses and fittings, then you can use two cranes with a pendant to share the load. In addition, more and more More North American customers need emergency stop and overload protection. These requirements have been included in European safety directives for decades, but they are not required in North America,” Koski said.
He added that one situation encountered by Ingersoll Rand was that the load of an operator or maintenance worker was stuck. In these situations, the operator may try to pull the load too suddenly to release the load, resulting in a shock load. At this time, many operators will increase the pneumatic pressure to lift the load, resulting in stress and damage to the crane components.
“In this case, the overload protection limits the hoist’s ability to withstand excessive pressure, so it will not rise above a certain set point-usually 125% of the specified load capacity,” Koski added.
Other safety issues have also promoted the innovation of the pulp mill winches to increase the incoming logs. Koski said that these factories usually use feeder systems based on outdoor conveyor belts when processing logs, and such feeder systems are prone to clogging. When the log inevitably gets stuck in the feeder, the operator uses a sling hooked on the winch to take it out.
Ingersoll Rand recently sold one such winch to a customer for installation in a pulp mill. “This is a 5 (metric) ton pneumatic winch,” Koski said. “The wire rope runs around the pulleys and is fed into the conveyor belt. At their first structure about 40 or 50 feet away, there is another pulley. The operator has a 40-foot pendant from the hard point of the first pulley. The pipe connection is connected to the pipe. The wire rope can be hooked on the log and run directly, or if they need to pull the log out of the winch, they will pull the rope to the end, walk along the conveyor belt, pass the second pulley, and then Put it back on the log and pull the log away from the winch.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has promoted demand for various paper and card products, while forcing manufacturers to implement new safety and mitigation measures. At the same time, paper and card companies are investing in capacity expansion, real-time crane monitoring tools, ergonomically designed lifting equipment, and various new technologies to improve space utilization or reduce downtime. Although the overall trend of paper is declining, the widespread growth of e-commerce is creating a huge demand for cardboard and packaging materials, which is enough to put pressure on manufacturers. Since the beginning of the pandemic, sales of specialty pulp and paper products such as toilet paper and medical pulp have increased. Automation and safety technology are still top priorities, and improvements in pneumatic logic have made tandem elevators simpler. The industry is also vigorously promoting the search for innovative new methods to more effectively use existing space and resources. Suppliers of crane equipment that cater to specialty paper companies will find growth opportunities, provided they can meet the unique needs of a niche market.
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Post time: Aug-04-2021