APM, AI, Prescriptive maintenance, prescriptive analytics

Where is Your Mill in the Digitalization Journey?

Creating Value for Pulp and Paper Companies

September 22, 2021

Most people would agree that the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the rise of the digital economy. Many pulp and paper organizations—and companies in similar capital-intensive industries—were initially caught off guard and are now trying to  play catch up. But it’s important to note that all companies are at different phases of the digital transformation journey. Because it’s your journey.

Whether your mill is just embarking on adopting digital strategies or you are further along in the process, there are some questions you might consider asking:


  • If you have yet to begin your digitalization journey, what is holding you back?
  • As you dive in and forge ahead, what are your biggest fears and obstacles?
  • Have you identified specific areas, such as process or asset optimization, where implementing digital strategies can have significant impact?
  • As you look to meet a range of existing and new goals—asset reliability, workplace safety, sustainability targets—have you considered Asset Performance Management (APM) or prescriptive maintenance technology?


Why is Digital so Important? 

Let’s take a step back for a minute and ask, “Why is digital transformation so critical to your paper mill achieving its overall goals?"

The way you operate a mill has just as much effect on productivity and the maintenance schedule as your method for planning and predicting. There are so many operating variables within a plant and it is important that changes in the operation of equipment or processes can affect throughput, quality, or reliability. Process engineers and reliability leadership—many of whom may now be working remotely—might not have time to evaluate or focus on many of these potential changes. 

Mills need more powerful tools to tackle these operational challenges and digital is one of the most important—if not the most important—“tool” an organization should have, especially in today’s constantly changing world because digital provides you opportunities for tremendous efficiency gains. When adopting any new initiative or technology, keep in mind that part of this process is doing the upfront work to ensure that anything you take on fits into your overall business strategy and corporate culture.


Digitalization and Asset Performance Management 

Asset Performance Management (APM) tools are used by industrial organizations to improve the reliability and availability of physical assets while minimizing risk and operating costs. New digital technologies can help facilitate many of these maintenance and operational processes. To be ready for an APM solution, a company needs to have reached a crossroads and be asking questions like these: 


  • Do you have any initiatives around reliability and maintenance? 
  • Do you need to increase the capacity of your current facility? 
  • Are you ready to make a change but need to have critical stakeholder buy in? 


For instance, if a company has already invested in field maintenance vibration monitors and has maximized the return on that strategy, then it should be asking, what’s the next step? To adopt an APM solution, any organization must have a strong motivation to improve its production levels and processes.

An APM solution is also ideal for an organization that’s ready to expand into new products and processes. In the pulp and paper industry, a mill operator can’t know in advance how a new process will impact the equipment. Will an “upgrade” in the equipment create new issues with the ability to maintain quality? By using existing data, predictive analytics can help the organization better understand the potential risks of new equipment, products and processes. Then operators can adapt more quickly, readily and with less risk to profits.


Taking the Guesswork Out 

As we try to fight our way out of the pandemic—looking to return to any kind of “normal”—demand and supply chain issues continue to occur. Against this backdrop, pulp and paper facilities must be ready to swap output from one facility to another to help navigate this constantly shifting supply chain. An APM solution takes the guesswork out of this operation and reduces risks.

At AspenTech, we’ve seen that a successful deployment of an APM solution can deliver benefits similar to these:


  • 5-10% reduction in maintenance costs
  • 1-3% increase in production
  • 1-3% increase in availability of online equipment
  • Reduction/elimination of off-spec product


These efficiencies result in financial gains and increased customer satisfaction with mills more likely to meet or exceed their production targets.

Any pulp and paper company with a strong motivation to improve its production levels and processes, or expand into new products and processes, is ready to take the next steps in the prescriptive maintenance journey. Your organization might be a good fit for considering an APM solution if:


  • You already have strategic initiatives in place for digital transformation and predictive analytics.
  • You have two years of solid data.
  • You want to move ahead of the sustainability curve and signal a change in mindset, to employees, customers and investors.
  • You are looking to significantly reduce (or even eliminate) the number of hours employees must perform maintenance in riskier situations. 
  • You have experienced unplanned downtime or a critical equipment failure and are working to overhaul your processes.  


Read more about how APM and predictive maintenance is helping pulp and paper companies stay agile and maximize production in our Q&A with AspenTech industry expert Joni Lipkowitz.




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