Piloting processes: an essential tool to lower innovation risks

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In the current context, where the future of many mills is uncertain, innovation is essential to develop products in demand.  These mills will require modifications of different scales, which will involve significant costs.  

To control the risks (financial, technological, operational, etc.) associated with modernization works, it is essential to know and assess them.  Moreover, investment decisions cannot be taken lightly.  They need to be backed by solid data, and so collecting all the information required for these decisions to be carefully considered, is vital.

Much of this information can be obtained through pilot testing.  We will seek to determine the operating conditions required to obtain a new product (fibres, pulp, paper and paperboard) with given properties.  To achieve this, Innofibre's pilot infrastructure allows for a multitude of test types.  These tests can involve a single processing unit or a complete chain of treatments.  The tests are carried out under realistic conditions with machinery representative of what is used industrially.  Generally, the results obtained are directly transferable in the industrial environment.

The intrinsic flexibility of this infrastructure allows it to be configured to carry out a variety of projects.  Innofibre experts design tailor-made pilot test programs to meet the needs of its industrial partners.  Each project is unique and requires special attention.  A test plan ensures the information sought, will be obtained.  We endeavor to cover a range of operations that will generate as much information as possible.

For example, the tests can target the selection of a commercial pulp supplier, the validation of the addition of new equipment, the development of a new furnish composition, the operation of existing equipment under different conditions, modification of equipment, comparison of equipment, development of prototypes, fine-tuning of processes, etc.  All kinds of fibrous material can be processed: virgin fibres of mechanical or chemical origin, secondary fibres and fibres from annual plants.  The possibilities are great and varied.

The samples collected during the tests are analyzed to evaluate their properties (morphological, mechanical, chemical and optical).  The analyses are carried out according to recognized international standards.  In order to ensure the reliability of the results, the calibration of analytical devices is the subject of special attention through a multi-laboratory monitoring program.

The infrastructure is fully instrumented to measure flow rates, pressures, temperatures, levels, powers, etc.  The sensors and the control system to which they are connected allow stable and reproducible operation.  These measurements are recorded and archived.  By combining this data with the results of laboratory analyses, all the information helps inform a technological choice while reducing the uncertainties inherent in any process modification.  The risks associated with too rapid industrialization (production losses, equipment failure, non-standard production, process disruption) will be considerably limited by the knowledge acquired during the conduct of pilot trials.

Innofibre's pilot infrastructure is also an exceptional training tool for combining theory and practice in an environment that promotes learning without fear of disrupting an industrial process.  It is essential to train the people (operators, technicians, engineers, scientists) who will be confronted with the technological changes that are coming.  Understanding the phenomena involved so that the processes can be carried out optimally is critical.

Finally, Innofibre is a partner of choice for innovative companies seeking to advance in a new direction.   Beyond its infrastructure, equipment and devices, Innofibre above all offers experienced staff whose know-how will meet the requirements of projects from the simplest, to the most complex and ambitious.

Innofibre's facilities are constantly evolving.  New equipment is about to be put into service and will soon be available for testing.  More articles will follow to report on these new installations.

Innofibre Mission

"Contribute to the technological positioning and sustainable development of the paper and biorefining industry, by supporting the innovation and diversification of products derived from biomass and by adapting papermaking technologies."

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About the author

Gaston Michaud is a research engineer at Innofibre