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ON-LINE DRAINAGE MEASUREMENT Impact on front line quality

By Bob Lucas1 &

Sylvain Renaud2

Area Sales Manager and Application Specialist, BTG UK

Marketing Manager for Wet End and Refining, BTG Sweden


standardized method of characterizing the combined

drainage effect and have been designed as such.

Historically the industry has demanded manual

freeness measuring techniques that are quick and
easy to carry out. Some prime examples are the
widely accepted Canadian Standard Freeness (CSF)
test and the Schopper-Riegler (SR) drainability test.
These tests coupled with couch vacuum and drainage
flow from the wire section have been used to control
beating and refining and act as an early indication of
the final sheet characteristics, i.e. strength (tensile,
burst, tear and fold, stiffness). They have served the
industry well and have yielded reproducible results in
cases where the same pulp is used in the same refiner,
operated by the same procedure and by the same
operator. On the other hand, the specific laboratory
testing procedure, such has SCAN or TAPPI show
that measurement repeatability has poor precision. In
the best laboratory conditions, a single freeness test
can contain an error of 4% (SCAN) and 2% (TAPPI).

In the past, water permeation of a dry pulp pad was

the most applicable technique for measuring specific
surface, but this method involved the tedious
operation of forming a pad. The technique was
applied in tests such as the Williams freeness test and
the drainage time on the British Standard sheet test.
These tests use a filtration technique to measure the
time required for a given volume of water to pass
through a wire screen from a fixed volume of stock
during formation of the sheet. It is with these more
direct manual measurements that most on-line
instruments share design similarities. Todays
instrumentation mainly measures the time taken for a
known volume of water to drain during late
formation of the sheet, i.e. usually avoiding the initial
formation phase or pre-drain time since the
measurement theory becomes more complex whilst
the pulp bed is continually increasing in thickness.

As production lines are adapting and diversifying in

order to stay competitive, and on-line measuring
techniques start to offer more reliable and repeatable
information, traditional manual plant quality control
is being superseded by advanced predictive control
models incorporating a larger number of instrument
generating inputs. This paper provides an overview
of todays on-line drainage measuring techniques
namely filtration and permeation, and their probable
impact on front-line quality control. The different
refiner control approaches for controlling specific
energy and freeness are also discussed.

Freeness measurements need compensation for

temperature and consistency variations

Refining measurement
In order to fully understand and control refining,
three main fiber properties need to be measured: fiber
length; fiber flexibility; and specific surface. Current
on-line drainage analyzers deal only with the
measurement of one of these components, namely
specific surface. Most of the available on-line
measuring instruments extract a sample from the
process line, then measure the time required for a set
volume of filtrate to flow through a pad formed as the
slurry encounters a perforated plate (screen). The
manual tests method outlined here, CSF & SR,
measure a volume of water draining through a
perforated plate (or wire) from a fixed volume of
stock, and beyond a fixed flow rate. As mentioned,
these tests have attempted to offer a simple

As mentioned above, drainage transmitters like most

analytical measurements are inferential, in that they
are based on sensing a phenomenon that is closely
related to a measurement such as a fixed filtration
time. This drainage time is, in turn, correlated to a
manual measurement standard such as CSF or SR.
Other variables such as furnish, consistency, flow,
temperature, entrained air and conductivity will have
some effect on drainage time. The stock will drain
more freely at high temperature because the water
viscosity is lower. A 9oC difference causes 10%
variation in CSF under normal operation at 400 CSF.
Measurements will also be affected in a similar way
by a consistency variation. Therefore, all these
factors must be either compensated for, or designed
out of the drainage measurement.
Intermittent sampling - prerequisite for good online drainage measurement
In the past on-line drainage measurement was
achieved in one of two ways. One was by continuous
sampling operation based on a level or flow
measurement. Another was by an intermittent sample
operating on the timed level or weight measurement
with discrete samples automatically removed from
the process line in short timed cycles.
The latter is preferred for the simple fact that
intermittent sampling allows dilution of the sample

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prior to measurement, thus avoiding flocculation and

producing repeatable, low pressure filtration
conditions. In short the sample must be diluted to a
low consistency, around 0.2 - 0.5%, as is in the case
of the manual test.
Typical intermittent drainage analyzer
Different methods are used for on-line measurement
of the drainage time either at process consistency or
by diluting the sample to a fixed consistency before
measurement. The sensitivity of drainage
measurement to temperature, consistency,
conductivity and pH is well known. Therefore it is
important to consider these process variables when
measuring the pulp freeness. Consistency variations
will change the pad thickness and the specific surface
accessible for the filtration process. Furthermore,
flocculation and formation of water channels will
occur when the pulp consistency is above
approximately 1%. This will disturb any type of online freeness measuring device that does not dilute
the sample before measurement. Figure 1 shows the
measuring principle of the DRT-5200. The analyzer
measures the water permeability of pulp outside the

First, a sample is extracted from the process line

through a sampling piston. Then the sample is diluted
and mixed to prevent flocculation in the mixing
chamber. The sample consistency in the mixing
chamber is between 2 to 5 g/l depending on the
specific application. This ensures uniform pulp
formation onto the screen. Then, under constant head
pressure, filtrate is drained though a screen plate at
the top of the mixing chamber until a mat is formed
and the drainage rate becomes nearly constant. The
filtrate is then diverted to the measuring chamber,
where the time required for the filtrate to rise from a
lower to an upper electrode is measured. This is the
drainage time. Following this last sequence, the
system is flushed with clean water in preparation for
the next sample acquisition.
Two standard analog output signals are obtained from
the transmitter. One signal indicates drainage time or
freeness of the pulp. This signal is used for freeness
control. The other signal indicates the temperature in
the mixing chamber and is used for temperature
compensation of the measurement.
Two different devices are available for different types
of pulp. The first one
described above, a DRT5200, is designed for
floating pulp with pad
formation in the upper
part of the measuring
device: meaning below
the screen. The second
device, a DRT-5090, is
designed for sinking pulp
with pad formation in the
bottom of the apparatus:
meaning above the

Understanding the

Figure 1. Measuring principle of the DRT-5200

process line to avoid disturbances related to changes
in pressure or flow. The unit is composed of a
sampling unit controlled via a microcomputer-based
electronics unit. The instrument is designed to be
suitable for practically all applications and pulp
A complete measuring cycle is composed of four
phases: sampling and dilution, fiber pad formation,
measuring, and cleaning. The measuring interval is
approximately two (2) minutes depending on pad
formation requirement.

The development of
increased surface by
fibrillation during
refining is one of the
more obvious changes in
the fiber structure. It
impacts two important
stock and sheet
properties: available surface for fiber bonding (paper
strength) and drainage rate on the paper machine. The
higher the specific surface, the slower the drainage
time. Figure 2 shows how refining affects the
interfiber bonding. Refining produces more
conformable fibers that bond together to a greater
extent in a formed sheet.
One of the main objectives of refining is to achieve
paper properties such as printability and strength
(tensile, burst, tear and fold, stiffness). Papermakers

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long time delay between

sample collection, manual
testing, and refiner
adjustment. An automatic
control strategy will ensure
high product quality and
uniformity, while also
protecting the refiner,
minimizing operator
attention and possibly
reducing energy costs.

Figure 2. Non-refined and refined fibers

have several approaches available for increasing the
strength and number of interfiber bonds. Refining is
an important one, but there is also the utilization of
dry strength additives and the wet pressing.
Since on-line freeness analyzers only qualify as a
measure of drainage rate through correlation to the
more conventional laboratory based methods, rather
than a direct fiber structure measurement, the
measurement must be applied within a refiner control
scheme. If the only objective of the refiner is to
fibrillate, then the on-line drainage analyzers of today
are a good measure of refiner performance. If a
reduction of fiber length needs to be monitored in
conjunction with fibrillation, then an on-line mean
fiber-length analyzer should be introduced into the
control scheme. The measurement of fiber flexibility
component is not only time consuming in the lab, but
has not been measured on-line, and it is not, as such,
currently considered in the various refiner control
options available.

Refining control
In todays competitive environment, on-line devices
are used, not only to indicate the specific surface
component of refining but also to control it
automatically. As a result, instrument manufacturers
have adopted measurements of specific surface in
order to design these on-line drainage sensors.
A refiner control scheme can range anywhere from a
manually adjusted operation to a fully integrated
automatic process. There are many control schemes
in use today, but before deciding upon a particular
control approach, the advantages, and requirements
of the schemes should be explored. With a reliance
on the dated drainage standard, most of these
schemes assume the need to measure the fibrillation
component only. As predictive modeling becomes
more widespread, other components such as on-line
mean fiber-length measurement will most probably
be incorporated in the future control schemes.
Manual operation of the refiner can cause fiber
quality variations that cannot be stabilized due to the

Successful implementation
of automatic refiner control
is dependent upon many
factors. The type of refining
is predetermined according
to the chosen plate and refiner design. The effect
upon the fiber is adjusted according to the process
operating conditions such as consistency, flow rate,
and pH. The clearance between the refiner plates is
directly related to the applied kWh/Ton level at
which the furnish is treated. Generally, this is the
adjusted parameter that is altered to impart the
required degree of stock development, most often
with a reversible electric positioning motor. Reducing
the distance between the plates increases the degree
of refining.
Due to long time lapses between stock preparation
and final paper quality, the measurement of the stock
properties is used as control set points. When these
measurements are not available, inferential control
methods based on operator experience are used.
Good transmitters are available for measuring flow
rates, consistency, temperature, stock drainage and
applied power. As a minimum for control, the flow
rates and consistency should be stabilized, with the
applied power being adjusted to compensate for
process upsets. It is well known that consistency
variation affects refining greatly. A consistency
change within the refiner will change the efficiency
of the refiner and also change the refining effect. As a
foundation for efficient refining, accurate consistency
control before the refiner is essential. This makes
freeness measurement more accurate and it improves
the specific energy control of the refiner since it is
based on production rate (consistency and flow) at
the inlet of the refiner.
Some strategies, along with other popular automatic
control alternatives are listed below.
Inferential control

Stock property
control methods:

Constant power control

Couch vacuum

Differential temperature
(Delta-T) control

Drainage control

Specific energy control

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Constant power control

Constant power control maintains the refiner at an
established net power set point, and is the simplest
control scheme. If the furnish is always the same, and
the weight flow of fibers through the refiner is
constant, then controlling the refiner at constant drive
horsepower will produce consistent results. If the
stock flow of the consistency varies or furnish
changes occur, then more elaborate control systems
are required.

responds to changes in stock flow and consistency,

the disadvantage is that this method is still not
responsive to furnish property changes.
Couch vacuum control
Flatbox or couch vacuum control can alter the
refining process based on a physical property of the
fibers. In the paper machine, the vacuum applied to
the flatboxes or couch roll can be used as a coarse
measurement of refining although it is only effective
for the last refiner before the machine. Another
disadvantage is the long time lag between the refiner
to the paper machine.
Specific energy control combined with freeness
Drainage measurement gives the specific surface
component of refining a property closely related to
runnability and fiber quality. The most responsive
implementation of this type of control uses on-line
freeness measurement in a cascade loop to change the
specific energy control set point. This strategy
ensures fast response to process changes, with
adjustment for furnish property variations. For
example incoming furnish may change due to
variations in the pulping and bleaching conditions,
the fiber supply, or stock blends. Figure 3 illustrates
the control strategy using on-line freeness

Figure 3. Freeness control strategy.

Delta-T control
Differential temperature control measures the rise in
temperature across the refiner. This is an indication
of the power consumed per unit of stock flow. As
with constant power control, Delta-T control is only
effective if the flow rate, consistency, and furnish
remain constant. This control method is very
Specific energy control
Specific energy control is the most
common control scheme used today
but it does not guarantee constant
freeness. As for the previously
detailed control approaches, this
control depends on a constant furnish
type flowing to the refiners and
assumes no changes within the

Mill experience of freeness and specific

energy control
Control strategies using freeness and specific energy
control are being implemented in many mills around
the world. This control strategy is widely accepted
and has proven efficient and beneficial. In North
America, a DRT-5200, Drainage Rate Transmitter
was installed in February 1996, and put on closedloop freeness control a few months after. The on-line
transmitter is installed after the machine chest refiner
approaching the paper machine. The refiner stays on
automatic freeness control more than 99% of the

Three input signals (power, flow, and

consistency) are used to calculate the
amount of work done in the refiner
on each unit weight of solid stock.
The calculated specific energy is
compared to a set point and the
refining power is changed as needed.
Although specific energy control
Figure 4. Control principle illustration.
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time. The DRT unit uses one calibration curve,

spanning 100-500 CSF, for all furnish conditions.
The target freeness averages approximately 350 CSF.

order to reduce the number of wet-end breaks. Since

implementing the freeness control, the mill estimates
a reduction of at least one wet-end break per day.
This translates to a yearly gain of over
$150,000/year, at the same
production costs.
Reduced energy usage Before
freeness control, the machine chest
refiner was constantly set at 80%
refiner load. Now, the power load
adjusts automatically to obtain the
target freeness, at a lower overall
average power load. For example,
for the first six months, the load
averaged about 70% and that
translates to a power saving of
40 HP, or an annual cost savings
of about $16,000/year.
More stable MD caliper and
smoothness Freeness control has
also stabilized MD caliper and
smoothness. As Figure 6 demonstrates, the
implementation of freeness control reduced the MD
caliper variation by 41%.

Figure 5 - DRT-5200 & laboratory freeness analysis versus refiner load in

closed-loop control.
The freeness control strategy was implemented using
a cascade control loop with the freeness measurement
adjusting the set point of the specific energy control
loop as describe above. The specific energy set point
is adjusted to maintain the target freeness, and the
power load set point is adjusted to maintain the
specific energy set point, using the production rate
input from the flow meter and consistency
transmitter. Since there is an open draw after the
couch roll, the goal of the freeness control strategy is
to stabilize the wet-line position in order to reduce
the number of wet-end breaks. Therefore, the
freeness target is adjusted according to the position of
the wet-line.
Figure 5 shows the results of the measured DRT
freeness (line 1) versus the laboratory analysis (line
2) for one week. For the same time span, line 3
demonstrates the automatic adjustment of the refiner




Figure 6 -MD caliper improvement

load needed to maintain the target freeness.
Process Improvements
Since the freeness closed-loop control was
implemented, the mill has reported several benefits.
Fewer wet-end breaks The goal of the freeness
control strategy is to stabilize the wet-line position in

In addition to the monetary saving, the mill has

experienced substantial quality and productivity

There is much room for improvement in front line
quality through improvements in refiner control,
mainly from the use of modern on-line measuring
techniques and better analysis of the three main
refining components. In time the universal
measurement known as drainage or freeness will be
superseded by more relevant and more closely related
paper properties. A lot of benefits can be obtained by
controlling the freeness level of refiners and the
control approach is easy to implement. More
advanced on-line measuring devices are currently
available for papermakers, but these are much more
complicated and also more expensive than simple
freeness measurement.

William E. Scott, Ph.D., Principles of wet end
chemistry, TAPPI Press, Atlanta, GA (1996)
Burke, T., Mill experience in refiner control
through on-line measurement of stock drainage,
BTG publication, P1001.64e (1996)
TAPPI test method T227 om-94, Freeness of pulp
(CSF) (1994)
Scandinavian Pulp, Paper and board, Test method
SCAN-M3: 65, Drainability of pulp by the
Schopper-Riegler method (1965)

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