A well-known brand in China’s paper industry is blazing a trail in the country by improving efficiency in the face of challenges.
A total of 96.6 hours of unplanned downtime in a production line in a year is a real headache to any paper maker.
One of the three production lines at Sonoco Hongwen Paper Co (Shanghai) Ltd. had been plagued with sudden breakdowns for some years.
“The line would be paralyzed when the failure happened, which would result in a substantial loss in terms of production,” says Zhu Xigen, assistant general manager at Sonoco Hongwen.
“In addition, pulp in the machine had to be cleaned out, so that was also a loss to us and a waste of material,” he says.
The plant, which is situated along the Huangpu River in Shanghai’s Xuhui District, was set up in 1995 with a total investment of $35.9 million by the world packaging giant Sonoco and Shanghai Hongwen Paper Company, a local manufacturer. Today, it employs 540 people.
The line, called PM2, is used for the production of kraft liner board, and its annual production of 65,000 tons accounts for 72 percent of the factory’s total production in a year.
Of Sonoco Hongwen’s other two production lines, one, the PM1, produces paper for paper tube, and the other one produces the paper tube itself. The yearly production of PM1 and PM2 is 90,000 tons. Meanwhile, China’s annual total output of paper and paperboard has surpassed 40 million tons.
Statistics show that China is also the second largest producer and consumer of paper in the world after the U.S., with 48 million tons of paper used in 2003. Experts predict that China’s demand for paper will continue to rise, reaching 70 million tons a year by 2010.
Since 2001, Sonoco Hongwen has worked to cut unnecessary costs and gain a stronger market presence.
Hongwen as a brand name has enjoyed a good reputation in the country for decades, and over its long history, the plant has created a number of “firsts” in China. In 1960, it was the first factory to produce kraft liner board. And in 1987, it introduced a kraft liner board production line with an output capacity of 50,000 tons, also a first at that time in the country.
As a result of its partnership with Sonoco, in 1995, Hongwen was equipped with a paper tube streamline. Because of the high quality of the paper tube, it scored a hit in the market, and now the company supplies many big names, including Kodak, Dupont and textile companies such as Far East Textiles Ltd. and Toray Industries. It currently produces about 12,000 tons of paper tube every year.
“The tube’s rigidity is an important factor,” Zhu explains. “In the process, when thread is winding around it, the tube spins at a very high speed. Some tubes can only spin at a speed of 4,000 to 5,000 meters [13,000 to 16,000 feet] a minute, while Sonoco’s can reach a speed of 8,000 meters (26,000 feet) per minute. If a tube cannot sustain such a high speed, it may burst, leading to a failure or accident.”
Almost half of PM1’s yearly output of 26,000 tons is for tube production in the plant, and the rest is for customers, with some 3,600 tons exported to Singapore, New Zealand, Malaysia and other countries in Southeast Asia. The kraft liner board from PM2 is mainly used as packaging by Wuliangye and Jiannanchun, two well-known names in the Chinese wine industry.
Although the plant has contributed to its clients’ success in the marketplace, its relatively small production capacity has limited its development.
“We have felt the tension in the market, with more companies with high productivity emerging and offering low prices,” says Zhu. “Now, many companies have introduced lines with production capacities of more than 100,000 tons.
“Meanwhile, we were dealing with 122 hours of unplanned rotating equipment downtime in the lines in a year. The plant had to find a way to cut costs and increase our products’ value.”
Sonoco Hongwen investigated SKF’s Integrated Maintenance Solution (IMS), and the two companies soon signed a five-year contract for the maintenance work on PM2. The IMS agreement, validated in November 2001, gives manufacturing and process plants guaranteed and agreed-upon returns by improving the efficiency of plant assets.
“Both sides share a strong will to cooperate,” says Zhu of the three-year partnership. “It is mutually beneficial. The IMS agreement for the kraft liner board line has proven an effective means to reduce unplanned downtime.”
Stephen Shen, a sales engineer involved with the project from the outset, says the contract between Sonoco Hongwen and SKF was the first IMS agreement adopted in Asia.
“Under the IMS agreement, SKF guarantees the reduction of unplanned downtime on Sonoco Hongwen’s high-yield PM2 from 96.6 hours per year to 48.3 hours per year over five years,” Shen says.
Currently, Sonoco Hongwen is replacing existing preventive maintenance procedures with standardized, predictive processes designed specifically to improve equipment reliability. A monitoring system has also been installed to collect data continuously, which can help in avoiding unplanned downtime and building up processes.
“Bearing vibration is an important index,” says Owen Wang, an SKF service engineer for the project. “Bearings play a key role in the operation of the whole line.”
In the past, the line was equipped with bearings from different producers, including SKF, and the plant had to maintain a certain bearing inventory to tackle unplanned downtime.
“Our audit report found that the bearing inventory in the past had reached 800,000 yuan [$97,000],” Shen explains. “Now, SKF is fully responsible for the inventory, which has not only cut the plant’s expenses, but also provides the bearing quality and maintenance services.”
The agreement has been effective. Unplanned down-time was on average less than four hours a month from January to October 2004.
“Based on the Key Performance Indicators of the agreement, successful implementation of the proactive reliability maintenance process and continuous improvement approach has greatly improved the reliability of PM2,” says Cavin Chen, long-term contract supervisor from SKF Reliability Systems (Shanghai) Co Ltd.
In addition, SKF holds training courses for the plant’s maintenance and operations workers to develop their competence in implementing and operating condition-monitoring systems.
“In the past, more than 30 maintenance workers worked on PM2 when it encountered sudden failure, but now that number has been reduced by more than 30 percent,” Zhu says. “All these great changes are almost revolutionary, and they can be attributed to the cutting-edge technology and specialized knowledge that SKF shares with us.”