Swedish ways to combat the unavoidable

The groundwood plant at Stora Kvarnsveden where once I had a summer job is now closed down.

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In June Stora Enso permanently shut down PM8 as well as the connected groundwood pulp production at their Kvarnsveden paper mill in Sweden.

Forty-two years ago the author of this article had a summer job working shift at this groundwood plant, so I cannot help feeling a bit miserable.

However, my grandmother used to say; "It is not the same day everyday". This is a true statement for a lot of things, not least for the part of the paper industry producing printing and writing paper as well as office papers. The unavoidable trend of decreasing consumption of newsprint and publication papers squeezes these mills, forcing them to take different actions - the Swedish mills being no exceptions. So, what have they done in order to combat the unavoidable?

This article will not be an in-depth list of all steps taken by the Swedish mills in question, but brings a few interesting measures into the light.

Sweden has five mills producing newsprint and/or different publication papers: the Stora Enso mills Kvarnsveden and Hylte, SCA Ortviken as well as Holmen's Braviken and Hallstavik mills. As in other parts of the world, one way to adapt to the discouraging downward trend has of course been to close down older, but not necessarily inefficient, paper machines. Ten years ago these five mills had 18 paper machines altogether, whereas after the recent closure of PM8 in Kvarnsveden the total number of paper machines is down to 11. The total capacity reduction these closures is in the region of 1.5 million tons.

At the Holmen Hallsta mill the steam from the TMP refiners now covers both paper machines' steam consumption. Photo: Holmen.

None of the mills are integrated with own chemical pulp but have TMP plants producing pulps in qualities adapted to the different paper qualities. Earlier they also had old groundwood pulp plants. The closure of paper machines has obviously resulted in closures of corresponding TMP capacity as well as all existing integrated groundwood pulp production. These closures have had the biggest impacts in Kvarnsveden, Hallstavik and Hylte, as each of these mills has closed two out of four paper machines. In Hylte, the last Swedish newsprint mill using recycled papers, one line for deinked pulp was also closed down.

One mill manager summarised his thinking when downsizing his mill: "It is a matter of simplifying the whole production process, from wood handling and pulp production to paper production and logistics. Not forgetting the mill's energy side!" Anything that is not needed must be taken out and necessary but limited investments have to be done".

The investment in a new calender on PM53 in Braviken was a prerequisite for the new grade Holmen UNIQ.

One interesting example of reorganising the production and energy situation is the Hallstavik mill. By closing the SC paper machine PM3 and the groundwood pulp production the steam from the TMP refiners covers the two paper machines' steam consumption. Consequently the bark boiler is closed and the bark has become a product sold to municipal heating plants. The sludge from the biotreatment plant has become another product as it is composted and used as soil conditioner.

Downsizing calls for organisational changes and has in some of the mills resulted in centralising control rooms to one. One example is that three control rooms along each paper line in Hallstavik has become one common for paper machine and winder operators. Another case is Hylte where one central control room for the total pulp supply from TMP and deinking lines has been taken into operation. An obvious advantage when centralising is that the operators can easily exchange information with each other and any former boundaries eliminated.

Apart from capacity closures and corresponding redundancies, depending on limitations and opportunities offered by the existing equipment, common to all five mills is that they have in different ways tried to find new added value products for interesting niches. Holmen for instance has totally left newsprint in Hallstavik and specialises the mill for book and magazine papers. Braviken has invested heavily to produce Holmen UNIQ, a new quality for magazines, catalogues and direct mail to compete with coated papers. New products have also been launched from Kvarnsveden.

SCA Ortviken is the only Swedish mill producing LWC paper. LWC4 is one of the mill's two LWC machines.

SCA Ortviken is with three paper machines the biggest of these five mills and on two of the machines LWC is produced. The third machine partly produces newsprint but mainly uncoated mechanical grades for offset printing. New products are being developed aimed at different publication sectors. PM2, however, was their oldest machine and had no future as a newsprint machine. The mill tried very hard to develop packaging material for production on this machine, but in the end had to give up and closed it down in 2015. Also Stora Enso Kvarnsveden tried hard to find new products for PM8 without success, which recently lead to its closure.

One very different step to find a new product for new applications is taken in Hylte, once one of the largest newsprint mills in the world. A successful development work has resulted in a 12 million USD investment in a plant, which will be taken into operation 2018, producing a biocomposite material in the beginning consisting of 50 % TMP pulp with the rest being plastic. Gradually the TMP content will be increased. The product will be sold as granulate for production of a wide range of articles today produced by 100 % plastic. That is innovative!

Stora Enso Hylte will produce a totally new product, a biocomposite material consisting of TMP pulp and plastic. Photo: Patrik Leonardsson

Finally from the Swedish scene Husum once the biggest fine paper mill in Sweden where I held different positions between 1976 and 1992. Husum left the paper market totally last year and now produces folding boxboard and white kraftliners. So the future market conditions are relentlessly wiping out any impressions I might have left on the Swedish paper industry.