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Hawesville Mill Uses Technology, Culture to Advance Sustainability

Hawesville Mill uses technology to improve environmental responsibility

Our pulp and paper mills, including our Hawesville Mill in Kentucky, have been using wood fiber, water and basic chemistry to make useful, recyclable products for more than a century. As technology has advanced, our processes have become more efficient and more sustainable.

Today, Domtar’s environmental teams use technology to improve visibility to standards and to act early to prevent problems. The Hawesville Mill offers lessons in collaboration and innovation while keeping an eye on the environment.

“When you have an industrial neighbor, you want that neighbor to have the processes to recognize and respond proactively to situations that could impact you and your family,” says Sean Lane, manager for environmental, health and safety at our Hawesville Mill. “We’re creating processes that drive a culture of ownership and actionable systems that support our values, show environmental stewardship and caring and help us be the best neighbor we can be.”

Sustainability Is a Shared Responsibility at Hawesville Mill

Technology has modernized the tracking of hundreds of data points that alert mill leaders to potential environmental problems and deviations from designed operating conditions. Technology also helps us improve efficiency in our manufacturing processes.

In the past, Lane says, operational data was either kept manually in logbooks or in closed systems. At the end of each shift, an environmental staff member would look for outliers or concerns and speak with a supervisor. This system was less than ideal, in part because of the time lag to respond and because the supervisor may not know what an operator was seeing at the time of concern.

“We were perceived as sort of the environmental ‘police’ coming around and asking what about went wrong hours later or saying ‘you can’t do that’ when operations was attempting to make process improvements,” Lane says. “This created a culture that pushed environmental responsibility to the environmental staff. What we needed was a more unified approach, with each group taking ownership for their portion of the overall environmental compliance process.”

By working with the local IT team, the PARCview team and external resources, Lane, along with environmental engineers Adam Krieg and Tony Pisano, developed reports and dashboards that provide real-time updates of the environmental impact of their operation as compared to the regulatory limits. Seeing issues as they begin to develop allows staff to make corrections earlier, preventing incidents that may affect the community. The improved process reduces risk and distributes the responsibility for environmental compliance to every worker.

“Using PARCview (a plant analysis and visualization tool), we can see at any time when we are nearing permit limits or have process operating limits out of normal range,” says Krieg.

Technology Enhances Inspections

Another area where technology is changing environmental management at our mills is in the daily inspections of machinery and equipment. Using a smartphone or tablet allows employees to share findings from various areas of the mill and automatically alert maintenance colleagues of needed repairs. Drones are also used for some inspections.

For example, during a recent corporate environmental audit of the Hawesville Mill, our team was able to livestream video footage from a smartphone and drone to remotely “put eyes” on different areas of the mill. This technology has been particularly helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic as the mill worked to minimize close contact among workers and from outside visitors and contractors.

“This gave us the opportunity to demonstrate some possibilities to other mills and show how immediate insights can be more helpful than waiting for a report to run,” says Pisano.

“Our Hawesville colleagues have been on the leading edge of utilizing new tools to reduce risk, improve efficiency and change environmental culture,” says Brian Kozlowski, Domtar’s director of environment and sustainability. “These are great examples of how even a centuries-old manufacturing model can continue to improve alongside the development of technology.”