Digitalization is an Essential Component for Increasing Both Sustainability and Productivity for Paper Manufacturer DS Smith

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By Michael Larner | 2Q 2022 | IN-6554

DS Smith’s Kemsley Mill illustrates the intersection of digitization and sustainability at paper mills.

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Utilizing Recycled Paper


Sustainability is becoming a priority in every industry and paper manufacturing is no exception. DS Smith’s Kemsley Mill (located in Sittingborne, Kent, England) is the first UK paper mill to produce paper by utilizing recovered fiber-based paper. Technology suppliers are integral to increasing the recycled component of the 820,000 tons of paper the mill produces annually and implementing its sustainability strategy.

Investments in Connectivity, Analytics, and AGVs


The Kemsley Mill produces seven different types of paper liner with unique requirements for strength and appearance. Complicating the use of recycled paper fibers is the presence of other materials such as plastics and metals which requires strict quality control checks to minimize contamination. The paper mill can not utilize recycled paper unless the quality control measures can be achieved.

In July 2021, DS Smith invested in Wedge, the data mining platform from software supplier Trimble. Wedge aggregates operational data from sources such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), and automation systems to provide technicians and engineers with data points relating to production flow and product consistency levels. More importantly, the software identifies emerging issues and their possible root cause. In addition to ensuring quality levels, the Kemsley mill also looks to Wedge to help avoid unplanned downtime and optimize its production process.

Having introduced Wedge at the Kemsley mill, DS Smith is implementing the solution at its Witzenhausen and Aschaffenburg mills in Germany and the Viana mill in Portugal. The notable factor is not necessarily that the firm is scaling the solution across its mills but the creation of a digital thread from the data collected from all the mills the that come online, enabling teams to gain insights into performance issues across the group, identify issues ahead of time, and avoid making similar mistakes.

The mill has also announced, in May 2022, an upgrade to ABB’s 800xA Distributed Control System (DCS) to securely automate operations, identify and rectify maintenance issues, and inform calculations of the recycled paper’s strength and weight. Unlike legacy DCS architectures, more modern approaches promote the integration of this data to other industrial systems, such as Wedge, to improve data coherence and take advantage of new paradigms such as those offered by digital twins.

Another technology building the sustainability credentials of the mill are the use of ten all-electric Rocla Automated Guiding Vehicles (AGVs), which were introduced in October 2021. The Rocla vehicles, supplied by Mitsubishi Logisnext Europe Oy, operate with zero local emissions and replace diesel trucks. The AGVs transport the reels of paper from the production line to the warehouse, pick the reels for dispatch, and contribute to the mill’s sustainability by having the capability to optimize the configuration of the reels to maximize warehouse capacity.

Removing Data Siloes Will be a Crucial Step


ABI Research forecasts that the dual priorities of operational efficiency and sustainability will drive spend on digital technologies by pulp and paper manufacturers to grow by 6.1% CAGR and be worth US$3.6 billion in 2031. The next chapter from a sustainability perspective is helping paper mills introduce water recycling systems because the mills draw large quantities from local water supplies as part of the production process. To underpin sustainability and operational objectives, spending on connecting assets will grow by CAGR 5.9% (US$ 450 million) and data analytics by CAGR 7% (US$370 million), enabling paper mills to understand current issues and optimize their operations.

 Wedge is a good example of tool that can unlock data siloes that prevent collaboration in the industry, but paper manufacturers need to have invested in the underlying IT Infrastructure. As ABI Research’s report, Digitalization in the Pulp and Paper Industry (AN-5426) noted, mills have not prioritized investments in the sensors, edge devices, network equipment, and connectivity required to support digital projects. Previously the priority has been to automate production lines but going forward digital technologies will need to support commercial and operational objectives. Paper manufacturers will look to suppliers like ABB that can help them optimize their production processes, reduce downtime, and maintain quality levels whether the mill is producing tissues, paper liners, or packaging materials.