Everyone with kids has heard the axiom “It takes a village to raise a child.” As it turns out, it also takes a village to raise a paper mill…or a rebuilt machine, or a new warehouse, or even a single piece of equipment designed to incrementally improve production. When it comes to engineering projects, success depends on communication, cooperation, and knowledge-sharing between a team of professionals working together. (After all, TAPPI’s highly-successful Pulping, Engineering, Environmental, and Sustainability Conference isn’t called PEERS for nothing—if the word “peers” was not significant, they could have just called it EERPS.)
To learn more about what’s needed for engineering project success in the pulp and paper industry, we spoke with three subject matter experts—working engineers with solid industry experience. We asked the following contributors:
• Dan Goymerac, PE, vice president, industrial business development, Miron Construction;
• Rebecca Knecht, CEM, construction manager, Evergreen Engineering, Inc.; and
• Robert “Bob” Matzka, PE, project manager, MEGI Engineering Inc.
to share their own experiences and perspectives on engineering project management and success. We also sought feedback from TAPPI’s Young Professionals Division; see the sidebar on page 14 for perspectives from Jon Waterman, operations engineer for Neenah Inc.
One consensus? Skilled, experienced engineers—working as part of a committed team—are absolutely critical to project success. As Goymerac puts it, “Having been in the consulting engineering role for many years, and now working for a general contractor for mainly design-build projects, I’ve seen that good engineering pays for itself… qualified engineering staff are invaluable, not only from the engineering/design aspects of a project, but also for start-up, troubleshooting, and commissioning.”
A CHALLENGING INDUSTRY
There is no “typical” pulp, paper, or packaging mill or machine. The huge variety of products our industry produces; the fact that many machines, especially in North America, have been altered, added to, or otherwise re-engineered since their original startup; the often hot, wet, 24/7 running conditions at most facilities; and the shortage of qualified engineering professionals entering the industry, combined with continual attrition of experienced engineers, add up to a challenging environment for engineers in the pulp, paper, and packaging industries.
This last condition is especially daunting, our respondents note. “The biggest challenge is getting talented people to work in the mill environment,” says Matzka. “The paper mill environment is not for the faint of heart.”
Goymerac agrees. “Currently, staffing availability and capacity is a major engineering challenge affecting these industries. Our experienced knowledge base is retiring, and the need to mentor new staff in the industry side-by-side with experienced individuals is becoming more difficult to address.”
Increasing project complexity compounds the challenge, he adds. “The tolerances and precision required with pulp, paper, and packaging equipment (and ancillary equipment) not only challenges the capacity of our staff, but their ability to manage the engineering requirements. Add to this the changing global environmental requirements and ever-changing technology impacts in the industry, and there are definitely challenges impacting the way projects get done.”
In spite of this increasing complexity, Goymerac sees a positive development as well: the number of technologies being developed to help mills make more informed, accurate decisions about updating facilities and equipment. “For example, in the past a converting line would use large drive gears to change machine speed or product cut length. Now we use servo drives,” he says. “High-speed cameras are now used to ‘see’ a product as it’s being produced, or for QA/QC and product defect detection. These examples are also relevant for turn-down or speed-up considerations.”
PLANNING TO PLAN
We asked our experts about what was often overlooked when it comes to engineering projects. They confirmed that, to ensure success, a project should really begin long before the equipment goes in. Assessment, planning, and knowledge-building are critically important. One of the biggest mistakes a project team can make is rushing through the pre-work.
“Oftentimes, a project risk analysis is performed in the beginning or development phase of a project, but is not incorporated well into following project phases. Perform a thorough and honest risk assessment, and make it a living document. Project conditions and subsequent risk levels change with time—make sure your risk assessment changes with it!” says Knecht.
“Engineering-in future expandability is often overlooked or removed to save on project budget and is a missed opportunity in some mill engineering projects,” says Goymerac. He recommends accruing a solid knowledge of how the equipment currently functions and how it needs to function in the future. This knowledge should include necessary maintenance, startup, shutdown, and turn-down conditions.
Bob Matzka notes that teams sometimes fail to develop realistic project scopes, cost estimates, and installation schedules—or fail to stick to them. “It is difficult to plan poorly scoped projects with unrealistic cost and installation timeline expectations,” he says.
As we noted earlier, mills shouldn’t overlook the power of teamwork. “Mills and suppliers working together as early as possible in a project’s life will enable more dynamic problem solving and discovery of efficiency opportunities,” says Knecht. “Maintaining an open and transparent chain of communication on both sides is also critical to project success.”
For suppliers, early involvement of the end-user is invaluable, adds Goymerac. “Engaging production engineers, maintenance personnel, and plant operators early in design decisions can have tremendous long-term impacts on things such as accessibility to maintain equipment, ideal routing, ideas to enhance production, etc. Not only does this input provide opportunities to save rework costs and maximize design alternatives, but it will create increased buy-in on the new process and facilities, which will have positive long-term impacts on start-up and maintainability.” (For more tips on how suppliers and mills can work together, see sidebar on page 13.)
“Suppliers need to be less sales orientated and more solutions orientated. The answer to a problem is not always new equipment; it may be just a better or more creative use of existing equipment,” cautions Matzka. “This requires knowledgeable supplier personnel with mill/operating experience. On the mill side, do not expect the suppliers to work for free. When engaging suppliers in the development of project scopes and costs, compensate them for their expertise and experience; you’ll get much better and more accurate information.”
IN TRUST WE TRUST
Outcomes can be difficult to predict—but not all surprises are negative. Matzka says he’s even experienced better-than-expected results when conditions are right. “That happens in mills when qualified personnel are given autonomy. The heavy thumb of corporate bureaucracy increases cost, stifles ingenuity, and often stretches the time line,” he says.
That level of trust is part of what makes up the best project teams, Knecht says. “The hallmarks of a good project are: good communication, transparency, integrity, active management, and having a forward-looking roadmap,” she notes. “Having a ‘go-to’ supplier that designs the project process based on the needs of the project will help deliver what feels like a customized experience for the end client.”
Goymerac offers a few specifics on trust and team building. “It’s important to incorporate a diverse audience early in the engineering process,” he says. “Plus, plant floor operators are often overlooked and have significant knowledge that can contribute to long-term project and operational success. In my experience, the more people involved, the more reliable the end product.”
In spite of the challenges—or, perhaps, because challenge can also bring out the best in engineering professionals—there are few things more rewarding than a successful startup as the result of planning, teamwork, experience, and trust. As Matzka sums up, “At age 77 I am still doing what I love. I’m part of a vibrant industry making useful products for the benefit of all.”
Get It Together: Tips for Success
Dan Goymerac, P.E., VP of industrial business development for Miron Construction, offers this detailed checklist of opportunities for suppliers and mills to work together toward achieving the best possible outcomes for engineering projects.
- Make sure you have a strong contractual fit.
“There is an opportunity to assist mill owners and all project stakeholders with understanding the strengths and weaknesses of various contractual methods (EPC, Design-Build, Design-Bid-Build, Joint Venture, etc.) so that they have a shared understanding of the right-fit contractual method for their project(s). All of us (engineers, suppliers, OEMs, contractors, etc.) can do more to help mills make more informed decisions.”
- Work together to clearly define the scope.
“There is a unique opportunity for mill owners and suppliers to co-develop a scoping process that builds in sufficient time for, and clearly communicates, the overall project intent by asking owners specific, targeted questions. This will allow you to collectively define what the desired outcome looks like and how success will be measured. This scope definition process should also include the identification of any potential gaps/challenges that may exist in the future and the process for responding to those challenges.”
- Take a collaborative approach, with project accountability.
“While the contractual/project delivery method dictates a great deal, there is an industry-wide opportunity to enhance the ability to work together as a team from the inception of project planning through start-up, rather than working in silos with individual agendas and risk/reward. Project accountability begins with defining the scope, developing clear and focused project goals, and articulating accountability for each of the key project team members. This information should be captured during the kick-off, and the team should create an execution plan that clearly defines goals, roles, and responsibilities.”
- Commit to using 3D modeling.
“A commitment to using building information modeling and virtual design and construction techniques enhances the value and efficiency through which a project can be engineered, constructed, started up, and utilized for life-cycle purposes. For best success, this commitment needs to be clearly articulated in the contract/delivery type. You will also need to consider:
- 4D Schedule/Sequencing—It is critical to get everyone’s involvement and buy-in regarding how a new project will be built and in what order. One example where 4D can have major impacts is expediting long-lead item delivery, and visualizing/scheduling the staging and logistics to manage its arrival, storage, and double-handling until the item gets installed. This is a common source of wasted cost/schedule delays for large CapEx projects.
- Training/education for maintenance staff and equipment operators.
- System design and engineering planning (to support future modifications).
- Base model for fabrication of existing components.
- Tie-ins for new system routing.
- Access point for system and equipment information that has been embedded in the model.
The bottom line: A strong, open, and positive mill-supplier relationship will offer continual opportunities to notch up the ultimate success of any engineering project, large or small.
During a rebuild project, a 3D model can be laid over a laser scan of the existing equipment for fabrication coordination.
For Engineering Projects, Learning from a Multi-Functional Team is Essential
When entering the industry as a young professional, learning the process with a multi-functional team is essential to facilitate engineering projects. The workforce offers several areas of expertise to refer to for questions, and all areas are involved with the same goal of supporting operations. As you learn more about opportunities for improvement, these teams may provide important feedback that turns your idea into a feasible project.
As you are introduced to operations, never underestimate the impact that operators have on the process. Seasoned operators offer a wealth of knowledge regarding equipment operation and limitations. Learning from operators gives you a chance to pick up on trends that may be detrimental to the process. Being a young professional allows you to apply what you have learned in class and from peers to provide a fresh perspective on the process. These ideas have potential to improve machine operations and resolve operator concerns along the way.
Furthermore, consider the various departments that support operations as valuable resources. Working with other professionals in their area of expertise allows for productive conversation and project planning. When deciding if an idea is worth acting on, financial teams may assist in vetting project costs and savings. Engineers and maintenance personnel within your workplace likely have experience with similar concepts, and can assist with project implementation. Finally, it is important to check in with supervisors and other members of management who may be affected by process changes. Everyone involved should be aware of your progress and any difficulties faced along the way. This will give you plenty of opportunities for feedback and other concerns to be addressed.
Implementing a successful engineering project with support from operations may be the most fulfilling aspect of being a young professional. No matter the workplace, there will be others to learn from who will appreciate your questions as you work together to improve operations. The fundamental knowledge you gain from these individuals will be used throughout your career, and ensure your development as a successful young professional.
Jon Waterman is an operations engineer for Neenah Inc., a UW-Stevens Point alumni, and a member of TAPPI’s Young Professionals Division.