For the last 20 years, the pulp and paper industry has been in a state of flux. While emerging global markets led to strong growth in the early 2000’s, the shift from graphic paper to packaging and tissue production has forced pulp and paper manufacturers to evolve.

Today, greenfield mills are some of the most advanced heavy industry plants in the world – operating with nearly no manual input – yet legacy mills are struggling to keep up. Aging assets and a strained workforce limit the effectiveness of older mills, resulting in unplanned downtime and reduced productivity. And as investors become more focused on sustainability, legacy mills must find ways to maximize efficiency and reduce emissions.

Thankfully, modern control systems and automation tools can help pulp and paper manufacturers establish a modern, connected mill to maximize efficiency and productivity – all while operating in a more environmentally responsible, sustainable way. By focusing on asset modernization, digital transformation, cybersecurity and sustainability, pulp and paper manufacturers can get ahead in a new era of transformation.

In this blog, we’ll explore the key investments pulp and paper mills can make today to prepare for the future of the industry.

Establish an automated, connected mill to enhance visibility, efficiency, and productivity 

For pulp and paper mills, visibility is crucial to maximizing throughput and reducing downtime. From pulp and stock production to drying, rolling and finishing of paper products, mill operators must ensure they have high-quality resources available when and where they need them.

While greenfield mills often operate with full visibility across operations, many older mills are struggling to connect legacy systems and disparate hardware collected over time. Without a clear view across systems and equipment, operators struggle to coordinate production from fiber source to parent roll.

A modern control system gives pulp and paper manufacturers the cross-mill visibility needed to get more from their existing equipment and support efficient, productive operations. By connecting legacy equipment on a centralized, intelligent control system, mill operators gain access to consolidated, contextualized information delivered via improved, easy-to-read dashboards.

Get more from your data to maximize throughput and eliminate unplanned downtime

While visibility is an imperative for efficient operations, the real benefit of an intelligent control system comes from the establishment of a unified data platform. Moving from fiber source to stock to paper is an energy- and resource-intensive process. If the right mixtures aren’t followed at any point in these processes – or if an unexpected disruption occurs – pulp and stock quality drops, limiting paper yield.

By adopting unified control systems, automation tools, and intelligent devices, pulp and paper companies gain meaningful, real-time insights that help ensure high quality and consistent uptime throughout the paper-making process. Connected control systems enable organizations to generate, consolidate, and analyze their data, unlocking actionable into mill operations and pulp and stock mixtures. Organizations can even use these real-time insights to identify at-risk assets and proactively schedule maintenance – eliminating breakdowns and maximizing throughput from one stage of production to the next.

Keep systems secure to protect the mill and the community

Yet as pulp and paper companies invest in new technologies, they must be careful not to increase risk. Cybersecurity attacks are incredibly costly for organizations – in 2023, the average cost of a data breach was $4.45 million, and those numbers are only going up.2 Worse, as cyberattacks become more complex, they are increasingly threatening workers, civilians, and the environment – by 2025, Gartner predicts cyber attackers will have weaponized operational technology to harm people.3

Since mills manage and store a variety of chemicals and heavy equipment, pulp and paper companies must take these threats seriously or risk putting not just their productivity – but also their employees and the broader community – at risk. By making phased, intentional investments, pulp and paper companies can maximize the benefits of new technology while minimizing the risks.

Working with a trusted industry partner enables you to consolidate your investments and reduce your threat vector while leveraging third-party support. The right partner can help you establish a reliable, resilient network, making it easier to prevent, detect, respond to, and recover from cyberattacks.

Optimize mill operations to maximize efficiency and become an environmental steward

Mills need large-scale pumping systems, industrial fans and blowers to move water around facilities and dry finished paper products – all of which requires large amounts of energy. And paper-making also produces waste, emissions and pollutants which can negatively impact sensitive ecosystems and communities if mill operators aren’t careful.

To maximize profitability – and act as environmental stewards for their communities – mills must operate in an efficient, sustainable way. Pulp and paper companies recognize this need and are prioritizing Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) and Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) initiatives. Thankfully, technology can help mills maximize production while limiting waste.

Modern plant control systems enable operators to track equipment health and performance to ensure assets run efficiently while maximizing recovery and resource utilization to limit waste. And by using automated reporting tools and variable speed drives, mill operators gain smart alerts to notify them before emissions exceed regulatory limits while automating pump and fan operation to conserve energy.

Stay ahead in a rapidly evolving industry

Pulp and paper companies are no strangers to change. Yet while the last 20 years have required mills to adapt and react, new technologies are enabling companies to take the future into their own hands and prepare for a new era of innovation.

Rockwell Automation provides the end-to-end products and services you need to meet the world’s ever-evolving paper needs – all while maximizing security, sustainability, and compliance. With years of industry experience in new and legacy technologies backed by a robust partner network, we can meet you where you are to deliver real business outcomes like increased throughput, efficiency, and uptime.