According to ABB, the pulp and paper sector is one of the most complex industrial sectors in which that company operates. ABB has a proud heritage in pulp and paper and is a pioneer in automation innovation so, when it comes to R&D, it is important that ABB continues to invest substantially to upgrade its portfolio.
“We have reached a tipping point in the pulp and paper industry as it moves from a traditional industry into the modern world of automation and digitalization,” says ABB’s global business line manager for Pulp & Paper, Stefano Cinquina. “Due to the complexities of pulp and papermaking, for example, taking varying types and qualities of raw materials and transforming them into consistent quality products, there is a lot of different measurement and control technology required.
Marking the opening of the new research center were (from left): William Dannelly, ABB; Stefano Cinquina, ABB; Dara Calleary, T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise Trade & Employment; Mary Buckley, Interim CEO, IDA Ireland; Joachim Braun, ABB; Michael Kerley, ABB Pulp & Paper.
“At ABB we are looking at all areas of the processes to enhance efficiency and quality, taking more of the laboratory work away from the processes and automating and digitalizing them for more streamlined production. As this transformation takes place, there is a lot of work to do on R&D, trials, and testing.”
DUNDALK MAKES ‘PERFECT SENSE’
In readiness for this mass transformation across the pulp and paper industry, ABB has opened its latest R&D center at its existing site in Dundalk, Ireland, where the company has been operating for more than 40 years. “The Dundalk site is already well-established and is home to one of our most advanced products, ABB Quality Control Systems (QCS) for pulp and paper. It made perfect sense for ABB to expand the site here to include a new R&D center,” says Cinquina.
The new center has created up to 30 new research, engineering, and sales opportunities in an area known for the quality of its skilled, bright, and diverse young talent. Joachim Braun, division president of ABB Process Industries, comments: “This is an interesting location, as Ireland is not necessarily a pulp and paper hub. However, we see this as part of the recipe, as we require different skills at the R&D center: physics, electronics, mechatronics, controls, software development, computer imaging, and digitalization.
“Due to ABB being located here over 40 years, and Ireland being ranked in the top 10 EU countries for innovation, the local universities here always offer us a diverse pool of talent from many different nationalities. By hiring people from diverse backgrounds and industries we create a great environment for innovation,” says Braun. “This also means we are not competing with our customers—the pulp and paper producers—for the same talented people.”
SUSTAINABILITY ACROSS THE PROCESSES
ABB’s main focus at the center is to develop solutions that meet the global trend of sustainability by limiting the amount of waste generated in the pulp and papermaking processes, as well as reducing CO2 emissions. The company states that by using its latest QCS there is the potential to reduce production losses by two percent or more per paper machine, which results in the reduction of emissions of CO2 also by two percent.
“Reducing wastage during pulp and papermaking production makes a huge difference to the overall sustainability of a mill,” says Cinquina. “It’s not only about the raw material costs and the time taken—there is also the amount of energy involved in the production process. Reducing waste is crucial to reducing environmental impact at pulp and paper mills, which is why our sustainability focus is so important.”
Braun stresses the importance of viewing sustainability in a holistic way when looking at pulp and paper production. “First of all, we understand that there is no silver bullet when it comes to environmental improvements. The main point of our sustainability mission is that, with ABB solutions, mills can have better control of processes using our automation and management execution systems and make real improvements when it comes to resource utilization.
“Many single figure improvement percentages soon add up to double digits when it comes to efficiency gains along with the growing importance of the reduction of CO2 emissions,” he says.
The center’s ongoing R&D explores how to maximize the value and performance of existing ABB QCS installed at customer mills globally. This includes reducing laboratory work and bringing measurement systems online, saving time and resources when it comes to production, improving safety, and reducing energy.
“We want our customers to achieve more from their existing assets by streamlining production processes and moving beyond the physical into the digital,” says Cinquina. “This involves eliminating the need for laboratory testing for certain measurements, introducing virtual measurements, and continuously evolving advanced controls. This will enable customers to run their machine optimally and safely, while ensuring they have the bigger picture when it comes to efficiency and energy consumption.”
THE LATEST IN DIGITAL TECH
The new R&D center will be using some of the latest in digital technologies for R&D work in the industry, including AI/machine learning for virtual sensors, edge computing for digital solutions, additive manufacturing (3D printing) for prototyping, collaborative robots for testing, and mixed reality for service operations. The site will also include a new training hub that will provide product training for ABB’s global service and project teams, as well as for pulp and paper customers.
Cinquina says: “We have everything at the R&D center to move the industry forward as it transforms—from different sensors to enable digitalization across all processes, to virtual sensors and mixed reality to make sure our R&D teams as well as our customers get to experience all of our combined technologies.
“Here in Dundalk, we will be taking R&D in the pulp and paper industry to new levels and in multiple directions as the industry faces the challenges of improving efficiency, quality, and sustainability.”