Why buy something new when you can renovate and upgrade? These are values packaging giant Billerud in Kalix, northern Sweden, lives by. So, a retrofit solution with new energy-efficient circuit breakers was a perfect match when its decades-old switchgear needed new life.
In a slow-growing forest in northern Sweden is a unique raw material: trees that produce extremely strong paper. Every day, 130 log trucks transport them to the nearby Billerud plant in Karlsborg, the world’s most northerly paper mill, where they are transformed into moldable paper (FibreForm®), kraft paper, sack paper and bleached pulp in baled form ‒ 350,000 tons of it every year.
This impressive level of production is enabled in part by reliable technology, which is regularly tested and upgraded, and in part by a dedicated workforce of 440 employees. “There is a lot of expertise in the area and many people who work here have been doing it for a long time. You can work here all your life, but on different things. We know that many people who apply to join us do so to work with sustainability and contribute to a sustainable society,” says Mikael Nordqvist, plant manager at Billerud Karlsborg.
Located just outside of Kalix, the mill is the largest private employer in the municipality. In addition to its main production plant, it houses two application laboratories with expertise in pulp optimization and bag and sack packaging development. The manufacturing process is a circular system where chemicals are recycled, and the company is 75-78% self-sufficient in electricity, perfectly positioning the operation to respond to the growing demand for more sustainable, plastic-free packaging products.
Avoiding unplanned shutdowns
ABB and Billerud have been working together for many years to ensure production in Karlsborg runs round the clock, as any unplanned stoppage can have a catastrophic effect on production and revenue, not to mention the safety of employees. That’s why Billerud tests its switchgear every three years and carries out scheduled maintenance and upgrades every seven weeks at different parts of the production chain.
With many components provided by ABB, including low and medium voltage switchgear, UPS, motors, drives and 800xA control systems, ABB service teams are an important part of this process.
“ABB’s products work well for us and what we appreciate most of all is the local service we receive. The fact that they are close to us when we need both products and their expertise is invaluable,” says Henrik Jakobsson, Electrical & Automation Technician at Billerud.
Time to upgrade
Every so often, however, a larger upgrade project is required to ensure the long-term reliability of the plant’s switchgear, which has been in service since the 1980s. In the second half of 2022 this involved two ABB service engineers coming in on two occasions to replace incoming circuit breakers in seven selected low voltage switchgear throughout the plant. Ten medium voltage circuit breakers were also replaced.
“Billerud chose a site-built solution, which is the most extensive renovation you can do without replacing the entire switchgear. It is very cost-effective and also a sustainable option that allows switchgear from the 1980s to have a new life and live on,” says Patrik Granlund, Sales Manager at ABB Electrification.
Six breakers were replaced with new Emax2 breakers during a stop after the summer of 2022 and the seventh in November of the same year. Replacing the old ALG and ALH variants in the switchgear improved the safety of the equipment and immediately increased the availability of spare parts.
Emax2 is also the only breaker of its kind that can both protect electrical circuits and reduce energy consumption based on user needs.
“Replacing a breaker in this comprehensive way takes about 7-8 hours, but compared to replacing an entire switchgear, the loss of production and downtime is significantly less,” Granlund explains.
From a sustainability standpoint, only a few parts needed to be scrapped in an otherwise intact plant, with the new breakers now likely to last for several decades. “The pay-off time for changing the breakers can be anything from 0 to 100 years but knowing that we have done what we could to secure the operation of the electricity and personal safety feels good,” says Henrik Jakobsson, Electrical & Automation Technician at Billerud.
Continuous development and technological leadership are essential for economic, social and environmental sustainability. Investing in regular maintenance, upgrades and occasional larger retrofits is just one example of how Billerud is living these values.