PEERS in Review (2017)

October 28 - 31, 2018 | Portland, Oregon

PEERS in Review (2017)





The annual PEERS Conference was held in Norfolk, VA, in early November and opening keynote speaker Robert Tiede,executive vice president and COO of Sonoco, set the stage early for an excellent conference with a thought-provoking talk about disruption.

He went through some of the recent changes in the US retail grocery industry: Aldi expands; Amazon buys Whole Foods; and Lidl enters the US. “It is all disruption, but disruption is not new,” Tiede said. “It has happened throughout history, in all industries, for  example the rotary phone.” 

However, he added, there is no disruption without innovation. So, he then asked delegates: “What are you: disrupter or disrupted?

“Disrupters define who they are and what they do. How you define your business defines your chances of success.”

Tiede went on to say that stability is dangerous in a highly competitive business sector because it allows for inertia.

The fundamentals of a job have not changed but how one does it is important. “Focus on the why, not the what,” Tiede offered. “Disruption is a process that plays out over time. Disruptive companies see opportunity through a different lens.”

Accept that disruption is a given; therefore, how can one manage it? Tiede said to enhance the customer experience “in every way.” Also: “Face the right way, toward the customer.”

Finally, he added, “Create an organization that can learn. Encourage curiosity, risk-taking and collaboration.”

Lead change, follow it or be disrupted by it. “Disruption does not happen because of technology,” he added. “Technology is an enabler. The experience of using the technology creates the disruption, not the technology itself.”

Why, why not and what if are the questions innovative entrepreneurs ask. Mistakes are often the first step toward a solution. “Innovation is not an idea issue, but mostly an issue of recognition. The ideas are there.”

One of the problems tends to be a bias against new ideas if there is even the slightest hint of uncertainty. (For more of Tiede’s views, see Paper360°, September/October 2017, p. 21.)



The State of the Industry was given by David Turpin, Agenda 2020. However, the big news of the talk was that Agenda 2020 was changing its name to the Alliance for Pulp and Paper Technology Innovation or appti (

As with Agenda 2020, appti is targeting projects that would have a transformational impact on the pulp and paper industry, i.e., breakthrough technologies. Its role is to identify, inform and promote these projects. appti’s members include producers (representing 50 percent of the industry’s capacity in the US), suppliers as well as associations such as TAPPI
and the AF&PA.

The alliance relies on its universities partners to do the work. The goals identified thus far include: reducing water and energy use by 50 percent; improving resource efficiency; and, developing new bio-based products.

To help meet these goals, appti has designed a “roadmap” and founded five teams. It built a system to create requests for proposals. It selects, funds and manages the proposals.

The five teams are working on: next-generation pulping (four projects underway); black liquor concentration (four projects underway); a drier web; reuse of process effluents; cellulosic nano-materials. (For more about appti/Agenda 2020, see Paper360° September/October 2017, p. 24.)

A panel discussion followed. It was noted that R&D investments in the US have dropped at all levels over the past years. Generating funding from government is difficult but is the industry doing a good enough job seeking it?

To overcome this, a target of greater collaboration is important. It was said that some end users are actually interested in helping to develop new innovations.

It was recognized that there is a “war” for talent. There are many opportunities for engineers in other industries so how does pulp and paper attract and retain new talent? One challenge is that the industry is trying to get by with fewer engineers so how can it provide continual learning/development when they have such a heavy load on their plates from the get-go.



The Young Professional Division sponsored a session dealing with work/life balance. With many students in the audience, Josh Hayward, Domtar, Qiang Han, International Paper, and Ryan Henry, Green Bay Packaging, spoke of their experiences as relative newcomers to the industry.

How can a “proper balance” between work and life be defined? It can be different to each individual. Marriage and children can play a large role.

A mill is a 24/7 operation. If you work (non-shift) in a mill, chances are that you can work as long as you want. No one will tell you to go home. As one panelist said, maybe someone senior should be there to advise younger workers when enough is enough. Sometimes, it takes longer than a day to complete a task.

Han, who does not work in a mill setting, noted that he receives numerous requests constantly. Prioritization is critical.

It was noted that as one moves up in an organization, past “baggage” must be forgotten. One has to learn to “delegate and trust”.

 Newcomers soon realize that all the theories, models, etc go out the window when an emergency or urgent situation arises. As well, in shutdowns “all else disappears.”

The panel agreed that making each shift a productive one is important. Try to learn something new every day. However, they also agreed that there is no “cookie cutter” formula for determing the right balance.  The concept of loyalty to the “Company” has changed. But, “No” is still a difficult word.



With 10 technical tracks and 37 technical sessions, there was plenty of choice for delegates. In the equipment reliability solutions session, Max Moskal, M&M Engineering Associates, gave a fascinating look at 100 years of corrosion in the industry.

Moskal went over the changes of equipment through the years. For example, from 1940 to 1950, kraft pulping overtook sulfite and the kraft process is less corrosive. Hydrosulfite brightening was introduced, promoting thiosulfate and helping to lead to increased white water corrosivity.

Wastewater recycling began which led to a buildup of ions in the system and, therefore, more corrosion.

In the 1950s, the Kamyr continuous digester was introduced and about 100 were installed between 1965 and 1970 alone.

High-pressure recovery boilers were introduced and recovery boiler explosions became an issue. Beginning in 1960, mills continued to close water systems. Recovery boiler firing was done at higher temperatures and dry solids content went from 65 percent to 85 percent.

All of these changes led to corrosion “events” affecting batch and continuous digesters, bleach plant washers and piping, suction rolls (304 L SS) at the wet end of the paper machine, recovery boiler lower furnaces, boiler stress affected corrosion and deaerator cracking.   

Unfortunately, the industry has not kept up the fight against corrosion. Moskal pointed out that there weer 47 corrosion professionals employed by the various pulp and paper research institutes between 1980 and 1990. In 2009, there were 10.

The direct cost of corrosion-related issues to the industry is estimated at 2.7 to 4.7 million tons/yr, Moskal said. It is estimated that 50 percent of corrosion costs can be avoided with known technology.

In conclusion, he said that it is difficult to calculate the cost of corrosion. It is hard to justify corrosion control actions; an ROI is needed. Equipment in a mill is often replaced piecemeal. Small mills have limited resources.

A 2016 NACE study has good information on corrosion management and life cycle corrosion cost estimates. “We have been ineffective in getting information to the right people in the industry to control corrosion.”



Again this year, the PEERS and IBBC (International Bioenergy and Bioproducts Conference) overlapped. The IBBC’s opening keynote address was given by Mark DeAndrea, Domtar, who looked at the transformation of the industry and the opportunity presented by biomaterials.

Right off, he stressed that the need for innovation in the industry has never been greater. “It is the key to our survival.”

 In his own case, he said that Domtar was adding new value streams to its asset base. For biomaterials at Domtar, DeAndrea said it was a question of alignment. “Who are we? What do we want to be? How do we get there?”

R&D is critical. “If you are not investing in it, you are not investing in growth. Society is going through a transformational change and as an industry, we can benefit from it. We are transforming from a fossil fuel-based economy to a bio-based economy.”

He discussed some global developments that could affect the industry in its push to producing other bio-based products. For example, China plans to ban internal combustion engines and it is not the only country that has announced plans to do so.

“Our industry can be part of the solution. We can reproduce any fossil fuel-based product with a cellulosic alternative.”

Don’t be afraid of failure, he added, echoing Robert Tiede’s earlier talk. “Set lofty goals. Don’t get it right; get it started. Always act as an early stage startup.”

Domtar sees itself as a technology leader. It wants to get as close to the customer as possible.

How? DeAndrea said the company’s management is not “custodial”. Strategic partners are important but the company needs to keep a significant share of the value.

It is looking for the “Goldilocks” market. He explained, too big and chances are that market has already been commoditized. Too small and there is the chance the company could out-produce market demand. Therefore, it is looking for the “just right” niche.



One of the final PEERS sessions dealt with lime kilns. Kilns are often a bottleneck that affect the entire chemical recovery process.

Henric Dernegård, Södra (Sweden), set the stage from a mill operations perspective. To stabilize the recovery cycle, focus on the material flowing from the recovery boiler and lime kiln. If this is not done, it is difficult to control upsets.

Stability is critical; temperature fluctuations are the cause of recarbonization.

Many kilns are limited by flue gas evacuation; therefore how can you reduce the amount of flue gas?

This set the stage for the panel which included Dernegård, Doug Barbour, Harmac Pacific, Honghi Tran, University of Toronto, Ray Leary, Houghton Cascade Holdings, and Glenn Hanson III, Kiln Flame Systems.

They responded to audience questions. One of the first was about chain systems. In North America, average kiln age is 43 years and many do not have their original chain systems. A compact system is best but not too dense, to ensure the mud is dry coming out of the system. The key is that the concept relies on the heat surface exchange area.

Dernegård said the aim should be not to have a chain system at all but that mills should invest in a flash dryer to ensure a kiln can operate at its capacity.

Tran noted that lime mud is getting drier and drier so the chain is no longer transferring heat. Efficiency is decreasing.

Hanson said that dealing with flash dryers can be as difficult as chain systems and the cost can be high. Dernegård noted that Södra had chain systems but that after numerous problems, opted for flash dryers. But he agreed that dyers can have their own issues.

Leary advised that if a mill is switching to a dryer, to be sure the dryer is sized properly and to pay close attention to the exit gas temperature.

Length to diameter ratio must also be looked at as it is different for dryers compared with chain systems. If retrofitting an existing kiln, the mill needs to look at the geometry and fuel type. Nowadays, most units, especially large ones, are fitted with an external mud dryer.

What about testing? Tran said this is a question that they try to address at the university. There is no standard way of testing. He would like to see a global survey to see who is doing what and how they are doing it. It also depends on where samples are taken in the kiln as result can vary greatly.

The industry needs to find a way to give standard directions on how to sample. At any specific mill, it is imperative that all sampling is done the same way.

Ring formation was also discussed. Where are they forming? That will help a mill devise a solution. Control incoming soda carefully. Take a big cross-section to fully understand the ring.