Catalyst Powell River's little fix saves $342,000 a year

Catalyst employees (left to right) Paul MacLean, Ken Campbell and Tony Leach worked on a solution that resulted in fabrication of "mudflaps" – work done by sheet metal mechanic Peter Rowbotham – that removed the need for a costly use of compressed air.

Using compressed air to blow away debris identified as a huge cost

When Jennifer Mercer tallied up the energy savings from her first year as energy manager at Catalyst Paper's Powell River mill, she shared the news with staff in a "year in review" newsletter.

Then she got a surprise.

"I heard from Ken Campbell, the interim paper machine manager on paper machine 11, who told me about a fix they'd done on the machine," she recalls. "He said, 'I don't know if there are energy savings, but I just figured I'd let you know.'"

Campbell explained to Mercer that, for many years, two compressed air hoses had been used – at great expense – to blow away debris that would would have fallen on the paper sheet.

"Those air wands had been in place for absolutely years, certainly for the eight years since I've been here, and probably since close to the startup of the paper machine in 1981," says Campbell.

The solution was a borrowed idea from the company's mill in Snowflake, Arizona – installing "mudflaps" on the paper machine to do the same thing the air hoses were doing.

 "It was a device first used in our Crofton division, although nobody else was using compressed air the way we were," says Campbell. "I thought, if we put those on, think of the money we would save."

A $1,000 fix saves $342,000 a year

Campbell's team fabricated a metal flap solution that stops water and debris rather than allowing it to fall onto the paper sheet.

"When we installed them, we kept the air on for a couple weeks while we were trialing them, but then we shut them off and we haven't had them on since," says Campbell.

He estimates the cost of the fix – materials and labour – was about $1,000.

So simple was the employee-led solution that it didn't come to Mercer's attention until her year end report prompted Campbell's note. Then it became apparent just how valuable the "mudflaps" are.

Jennifer Mercer, Energy Manager

"When I did the math on calculating 3/4 inch hoses continuously spraying compressed air onto the equipment I found each one is saving 930 cfm of compressed air," says Mercer. "And they were running 24/7; if the machine was down for maintenance days, they still ran. It was like running your garden hose full out, all the time."

Mercer did the math and was in for a welcome surprise.  About $171,000 per hose, in annual savings.

Says Campbell:  "Back when it was easy to make bundles of money, this was never in the forefront. Now, you want to save whatever you can, and you want to be environmentally sound as well."

Campbell's team now makes identifying leaks a priority. "On shut down days when it's nice and quiet, we go around and listen, to minimize the amount of compressed air that we use here," he says."

Past practices no longer add up

"At some point in the past, they obviously had a problem, they needed a solution, and somebody said just put an air hose there," says Mercer. "So they just grabbed the closest compressed air line and hooked it up and no one really thought before about what the actual ramifications of making that decision was."

"Most people don't think about the cost of compressed air; they just think, 'It's just air, blowing.' But over 80% of your cost to produce compressed air is lost in heat," she says. "You spend money to compress it to get it at the right pressure that you need, and by making sure you're minimizing any of your wasteful streams, it allows you to operate your entire system more efficiently."

Catalyst's Powell River site has one of the largest, most complex compressed air systems in B.C.

"So we want to make sure that when we need it, it is available," she says. "If you're using a compressed air line to keep motor bearings cool, or you're using compressed air for building or process cooling, mixing, or to clean tools and equipment, you're throwing thousands of dollars out the window."