The New Cascades

 PACKAGING

After meeting ambitious startup targets, Greenpac has set itself and its employees up for long-term success.

GRAEME RODDEN

About four years to the day after startup, Paper360° visited Cascades’ Greenpac mill in Niagara Falls, NY, to find a smoothly running, efficient operation.

The 2016 PPI Mill Manager of the Year, Murray Hewitt, justifiably shows off the company’s largest investment ever: a 1,500 tpd linerboard machine that uses 100 percent recycled furnish. The project can be considered a “greenfield/brownfield” project, Hewitt notes, as there was a Kimberly-Clark mill on the site previously, but Greenpac is totally new. Cascades also operates an adjacent medium mill and some services are shared.

The US$460 million project started as the brainchild of Cascades’ executives around 2007. Previously, Cascades was known as a company that purchased closed or distressed assets, refurbished them and made them profitable. This was to be the first mill it would build “from scratch.”

This is the new Cascades,” Hewitt declares. “We are looking at a mill viable for the next 50 years.”

LOCATION, LOCATION

Why the world-famous Niagara Falls region? As noted, Cascades operated the medium mill next door and could share the effluent treatment system. And, it had already purchased the land.

Despite the tourism money from the falls a couple of miles away, the region’s economy was not good. It was probably more known for the infamous “Love Canal” toxic chemical catastrophe. Therefore, the government of New York targeted the upstate New York area for economic renewal, promising to spend US$1 billion (the “Buffalo Billion,” as it came to be known). Incentives were available for power and employment. Also, a nearby Covanta chemical plant would be able to provide steam to the new mill. Finally, the building of a linerboard mill would bring Cascades close to a 50:50 split in terms of geographical production (US:Canada) and product (liner:medium).

Thus, the stage was set. The team broke ground on September 15, 2011, and set an ambitious startup target of being on reel in 22 months. The first stock was made by June 2013. Stock was on the wire in early July. To cap it off, the sheet was on the reel July 15, 2013.

Hewitt himself joined Cascades on June 25, 2012, just after the first dryer can was installed, which is always the first part of a new paper machine to be put in place. Hewitt had started his career with Abitibi-Price in Grand Falls, NL, in 1984. He later joined Atlantic Packaging’s newsprint startup in Ontario in the 1980s before moving to the US in 1999, where he worked at several mills across the South for what was then Bowater Inc.

Hewitt says a mild winter during construction helped the mill meet its goal. But, he adds, “The challenge was that it was the first big project of its type for Cascades and it was easy to underestimate the magnitude of the task.”

The mill produces two grades of linerboard: HP, or high performance; and XP, or extra performance. The mill’s basis weight ranges are 18 to 35 lb.

The HP liner is more a commodity grade; the XP is what Greenpac focuses on and it accounts for a significant percentage of production. “We produce to a guaranteed strength, not a basis weight,” Hewitt explains. “We add surface starch with a metering size press to achieve greater strength at a lower weight.”

He likened it to a starched collar on a shirt. “We add the starch to give the sheet stiffness and stacking strength, but at a lower weight.”

Customers include integrated plants and boxmakers that convert liner and corrugating medium to make boxes. As well as the region around the mill, markets extend west and south to Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and even Texas. Most production, 75 percent, is shipped by truck, but the mill will ship by rail to customers further afield, such as Texas.

Hewitt adds that the goal is to optimize the combination between the liner and the medium, based on the predictive properties of XP. Customers can run faster on their corrugators at lower temperatures while increasing output. “There has been a great reaction from the market,” Hewitt says. “It’s very similar to what they are already doing in Europe.”

AN EXPENSIVE LESSON

Greenpac uses about 600,000 tpy of secondary fiber, mostly old corrugated containers (OCC, 90+ percent) with some mixed waste paper. Cascades Recovery provides all the fiber needs for the mill.

Because Greenpac does not want to compete with its sister mill for fiber, it does a lot of back hauls from its own customers in New England and Canada. As it also has a rail connection, some fiber is sourced from Pennsylvania and the US Midwest. The mill keeps about two days’ supply on site, with another five days’ inventory stored off site.

The two mills share a bale yard and suffered a major blow in September 2014 when a large fire destroyed about 10,000 tons of OCC. “It was potentially catastrophic,” Hewitt says.

The mills learned their lesson, though: they adopted strict fire prevention procedures, installed multiple water towers, and purchased a fire truck.

Once in the mill, the fiber is fed into a pulper. A ragger removes the wire from the bales while a grapple takes other “junk” away. The relatively clean fiber is fed to a dump chest and then is processed through high-density cleaners to coarse screens and then into a fractionator. Long fiber is further cleaned through fine screening, with accepts sent to the disc filter for thickening and then into storage. Short fiber from the fractionators goes to thickening and then storage. Storage time is about four hours.

Hewitt says that the mill has developed a “recipe” between short and long fiber that optimizes strength.

Voith supplied the OCC processing equipment including screens, cleaners, and fractionators. Voith Meri supplied the conveyor, pulper, and detrashing and reject handling equipment. The disc filter and refiners came from GL&V.

Greenpac handles about 220 tons/day of rejects from the pulping system. Plastics go to Covanta to be burned to generate steam the mill uses. Waste fiber is used for animal bedding, while metals are recycled. The mill ends up sending a small percentage of its rejects to landfills, but Hewitt hopes to eliminate this totally by the end of 2018.

RUNS LIKE A TOP’

The paper machine is from Valmet—“off the shelf,” Hewitt says—although the base ply is on the top of the double fourdrinier. “We flipped the formers so the sheet touches the ceramic roll twice in the press section to get a smoother sheet for printing,” Hewitt explains. It is 356 in. wide at the wet end. The headbox is a SymFlo dilution model. The machine is balanced at 3,500 ft/min, but production speed is 3,000 ft/min.

The press section features a tri-nip press with a shoe press in the third position. Pressure in the shoe is 6,900 pli. The center press is a ceramic roll. The entire vacuum system is MAN-Turbo blowers. There are no water ring vacuum pumps. There are five dryer sections in the pre-dryer: the first two uniruns and the final three double felted. All have ropeless threading.

The system includes a ValSize rod metering size press where the surface starch is applied. A brown dye is also added to the sheet to give it the look of kraft linerboard, “because that’s what we’re selling,” Hewitt says, “an alternative to virgin kraft liner with the same look, feel and strength.”

The after-dryer section has one unirun and one double felted section. There is a ValHard calender, but it sits idle as the mill has found it does not need it.

There is a QCS scanner at the OptiReel and a Ryeco edge crack detector. The winder is the WinDrum model with automated slitters, and Raumaster supplied the automated production system for cores. Trim width off the winder is 330 in.

Roll handling (Valmet) is also automated. The warehouse is totally automated with Kone cranes and Raumaster grippers.

Hewitt says the paper machine is really solid—“it runs like a top.” At its trim width of 330 in., it is “three wide”; that is, the standard size for corrugators is 110 in. and that “should be around for a few years,” Hewitt adds. At capacity, the challenge is logistics, getting rolls in and out of the warehouse. The mill’s production record so far is 45,300 tons, set in May 2017.

The paper management system, or MES, is a legacy system from Cascades. Other than that, the entire mill uses an SAP system.

In terms of power, Siemens supplied all the transformers (16) and sub-station. The mill purchases its power from the national grid and needs about 28 MW. Part of the incentive program was 10 MW of cheaper power from the New York Power Authority.

Siemens also supplied the automation system: the PCS 7 platform. There is a ProfiBus DP&PA system for instrumentation and control. The machine control system from Valmet runs on the PCS 7. This applies for the QCS as well. All instruments, motors, and drives came from Siemens and all pumps are Sulzer (purchased through Siemens).

Kemira and Buckman are the mill’s main chemical (retention and drainage aids, biocides) suppliers.

At the outset, Cascades decided to outsource all maintenance for the Greenpac site, including the grounds and building, plus equipment as well as the planning/scheduling of the regular shutdowns. The contract was given to Valmet. Recently, Greenpac decided to take overall control for maintenance and has hired a maintenance manager. “We have overall responsibility for maintenance,” says Hewitt, “but we work with Valmet.”

The mill runs 365 days/yr with a 20-hour shutdown every seven weeks. In between, there are shorter, six- to eight-hour shutdowns. Twice annually there is a major 72-hour maintenance outage.

Greenpac’s logistics system is an interesting example of outsourcing. “The whole premise of Greenpac was to concentrate on making linerboard,” Hewitt explains. This meant many things, such as maintenance and utilities, would be outsourced. “For logistics, we knew the campus would be tight,” Hewitt says, “so we hired a 3PL provider: Ryder.”

Ryder processes all incoming (truck) and outgoing (truck, container) shipments and provides on-site shunting as well as gate supervision. Ryder also processes all transport-related payments. It does not handle the mill’s rail traffic. There is a dedicated Ryder fleet to move all freight closest to the mill (Ontario, New York).

Water use is 1.6 million gal/day and the mill uses three sources: the mill’s own water, the Niagara River, and the city water through the Niagara Falls Water Board. There is a primary treatment clarifier for incoming water.

The two mills share an effluent treatment system. To handle the increased effluent flow, Voith Meri built an anaerobic reactor for COD removal in front of the existing aerobic (solids) system. Effluent is discharged back to the Niagara Falls water treatment plant before final discharge to the Niagara River. Day-to-day effluent treatment is run by the medium mill.

PAY FOR SKILLS

Manning the mill was a major challenge. With relatively little papermaking experience available in the area, Greenpac had to go “outside the box” to choose its team.

We used a third-party company as an advisor,” Hewitt explains. “We sat with them and discussed what we were looking for to be able to develop tests for recruiting. We were also able to get a perspective from other Cascades mills.”

After an original screening of the numerous applications received—which included people who were teachers or who had worked at places such as Walmart and McDonalds in the area—those selected for additional review did a one-hour online test. They were also put through team situation testing. The final step was an in-person interview. “We then made our selection,” Hewitt says. “We are very happy with the people we found.”

Retention has been excellent, although because of the training they received at the mill, these people are now in demand elsewhere, within and outside the industry. As Hewitt says, “We are always trying to get better-trained people in the area to benefit all industries.” Along with other industry leaders, Hewitt is trying to promote more technical curriculums in the area colleges.

Once the selection was made, Learning SI developed all the training material. The company had basic fundamental programs for pulp and paper, but developed a modular base for all the mill’s processes. Suppliers were also involved, but all the information they provided was funneled through Learning SI. The company built the learning guides for the 12 Pay for Skills positions that reference the training modules.

The Pay for Skills system was developed in-house (Hewitt had experience with similar schemes at other companies) and in consultation with Learning SI. Simply put, once a worker gains a skill and is certified, he/she receives that pay scale no matter the job they do. It marries technical skills with team (e.g., conflict resolution) skills. The worker must be certified in both to receive that pay scale.

There are three tiers in the program: support (e.g., utility positions, material handlers); finishing (e.g., size press, dry end, winder); and papermaking (e.g., wet end, stock prep).

Within the mill, there is a committee structure, Hewitt says. The committees work under the principle of the Four Pillars of Excellence: Safety, Profitability, Personal Development, and Operational Excellence. All committees are led by a single steering committee. When hired, an employee must choose a committee to join. Hewitt adds that after four years, many of the committees are now run by the hourly employees. Many of these employees have come to see their employment with Cascades to be a “career position.”

The first pillar, safety, is critical to management thinking. “We are definitely a progressive mill around safety,” Hewitt declares. The mill’s last OSHA recordable was in November 2016.

The mill employs 135 people. Operations works in 12-hr shifts. There is one team leader (salaried) per shift. The average age is early 30s, which puts Greenpac in a much better position than many other mills that are facing the “Silver Tsunami.”

SET UP FOR SUCCESS

Looking at the short-term, Hewitt says he is very happy with where the mill is today. Nothing major is planned. Greenpac will look at the logistics challenge with the automated warehouse, since it is at capacity now. As Hewitt says, the mill has one of the most efficient winders in the world.

Greenpac will continue to work on improving yield from its raw material. The cost of OCC will be a challenge, although he says the mill has a stable and secure supply. “The big message is that we took a brownfield/greenfield site and had a vision for the next 50 years with a paper machine designed for high quality,” Hewitt says. “We lost time early due to inexperience, but we will gain tons in later years because of how we have developed our people and set them up for success.”

Graeme Rodden is senior editor, North and South America, for Paper360°. Contact him at [email protected]

Mill Manager Murray Hewitt shows off Greenpac’s 1,500 tpd linerboard machine.

Greenpac’s “greenfield/brownfield” mill in Niagara Falls, NY.

Greenpac uses about 600,000 tpy of secondary fiber, mostly OCC with some mixed waste paper.

Roll handling (Valmet) is also automated. The warehouse is totally automated with Kone cranes and Raumaster grippers.

The machine has a trim width of 330 in. and “runs like a top,” Hewitt says.

Siemens supplied all 16 transformers and sub-station.

Hewitt says that the mill has developed a “recipe” between short and long fiber that optimizes strength.

It’s Now Cascades
Containerboard Packaging

Greenpac started life under the Norampac banner. This was the company formed in 1997 as a 50:50 joint venture between Cascades and Domtar, joining the companies’ liner and medium mills. In 2006, Cascades bought out Domtar’s share of the company and consolidated all of its box plants under the Norampac name. This included six mills with seven paper machines as well as 19 box/converting plants.

On August 1, 2016, Norampac disappeared as the company took on a new identity: Cascades Containerboard Packaging (CCP). Greenpac is now part of CCP. Hewitt explains that Greenpac is managed by CCP, but has its own board of directors.

Cascades owns 62.5 percent of Greenpac, La Caisse de Dépot of Quebec owns 20.2 percent, and other partners own the rest.