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Condition monitoring strategies for the pulp & paper industry


By Simon Jagers

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In this article

Find out which technologies work best to raise uptime, reduce maintenance and save energy in the unique environment of the pulp & paper mill.

The pulp and paper industry has been around since the 6th century, and although modern technology has made paper production hugely more efficient, there’s still one major way that paper mills can increase efficiency, output, safety and sustainability. And that’s by keeping critical equipment in perfect working order. Healthy machines are safer, run longer, use less energy and produce higher-quality paper than machines that are starting to degrade.

Condition monitoring of critical pulp and paper production processes will alert the mill’s maintenance team to developing faults at an early stage. That gives the mill plenty of time to schedule maintenance during planned production stops, which avoids unplanned downtime. Catching degradation early also means repairs are cheaper and faster, further reducing time spent on maintenance. Together, these benefits help to drive maximum production uptime, so you can increase industrial output without expanding your plant, ultimately helping you to make more paper for less.

Sidebar: How paper gets made

After harvested logs are debarked and chipped, powerful pumps send the chips on to the digester, where they are cooked with chemical agents to remove lignin, leaving behind only the cellulose pulp that’s used to make paper. When the source material is recycled paper rather than virgin wood, the corresponding machine is the hydrapulper, which mixes water with the waste paper to create the cellulose pulp.

From here, the raw pulp travels to the washing & bleaching stations, which rely on a number of multistage centrifugal pumps, both to feed the process and expel wastewater. Then it’s on to the “wet end” of the paper machine.  Powerful pumps in the headbox propel the pulp at high speeds into the gap former, to lay out a uniform sheet of wet pulp. The dripping sheet of proto-paper passes on to the pressing section, where several high-powered rollers remove most of the water from the paper. Next comes the drying section, where steam-heated cylinders remove the rest of the water and strengthen the paper. Some types of paper will then enter a coating section, which affects characteristics such as strength, gloss and printability. A final pass through the heavy rollers of the calendering section further improves the paper’s surface qualities. The finished paper is then sent to the sheeter to be cut and stacked into bales, or to the winder to be coiled for further transport.

International Paper papermaking process infographic

Critical links in the paper production chain

A failure in any of the pumps, agitators, cylinders or motors along the way from wood to paper will bring production to a halt. Barring outright failure, even beginning degradation can affect product quality in such a finely tuned system. It’s no wonder many pulp and paper mills have chosen a “service early and often” strategy. But there’s a better way, thanks to modern condition monitoring.

Predictive maintenance raises uptime and OEE

Periodically servicing or replacing mill machinery as part of a preventive maintenance strategy ensures that critical equipment won’t unexpectedly break down and stop production. The tradeoff is that this “just in case” maintenance drives down overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).

By monitoring the actual health of your critical equipment in real time, you can switch to a predictive maintenance strategy.  The early warning provided by modern condition monitoring systems keeps unwelcome surprises from occurring—but now your maintenance team only needs to replace a part when it’s necessary, raising OEE as well.


Lacerations, chemical poisoning, crushing and amputation are among the hazards faced by pulp and paper mill workers. By using modern condition monitoring systems to unearth developing degradation as soon as it starts, you ensure that your mill’s pumps, tanks, pipes, steam traps, rollers, cutters and motors never have the chance to compromise your employees’ safety.


The hundreds of machines in a pulp and paper mill are driven by powerful motors that run almost non-stop. Faulty machines consume more energy, so keeping that equipment consistently healthy can significantly shrink your mill’s environmental footprint (and power bill). Some modern condition monitoring systems also have features that help you proactively raise equipment and process efficiency, such as real-time tools that track pumps operating away from their best efficiency points and motors that are overdimensioned.

Craft the right condition monitoring strategy for your plant

The best condition monitoring strategy for your paper mill will depend on a number of factors, including the type of assets you need to monitor, the type of faults you need to detect, and the importance of energy and performance insights. Every condition monitoring technology has strengths and weaknesses, so it’s important to craft a strategy that uses the best system for each situation. We wrote a condition monitoring comparison guide to help you do just that: a detailed guide to five of the most reliable condition monitoring techniques used in pulp and paper mills today. We hope it helps you make the very most out of your pulp and paper assets!

The condition monitoring comparison e-book for pulp and paper mills

Learn how current, voltage, oil, sound, vibration and heat can give you early insight into developing pulp and paper mill failures—and which techniques work best in which situations to keep paper and pulp mills 100% up and running.

This e-book covers:

  • the anatomy of a paper and pulp mill,
  • condition monitoring in a paper/pulp mill,
  • examples of when different techniques will detect different failures
  • energy and performance insights

Fill in the form to download the e-book.


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