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Process control pioneers pass torch as new era begins in industry

Pulp & Paper, Jun 1994 by Fadum, Ole
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Dave Bossen is the most successful measurement and control entrepreneur in the pulp and paper industry. Bossen started Measurex in 1969. By 1993, he had built it to a company with revenues of $254 million and 2,250 employees in 30 countries. He recently became chairman and chief executive officer, handing the day-to-day operations to John Gingerich, who is now chief operating officer and president.

His vision from the beginning was to secure outstanding economic results for his customers so they could afford to pay a price that would enable Measurex to have outstanding economic results for both its employees and shareholders. In addition, he wanted to provide an opportunity for personal growth for the employees so that as the company grew, they would grow. Bossen also wanted Measurex to be an enjoyable place to work.

P&P: What do you consider your most important contributions to be?

BOSSEN: We changed the way the sensor and computer business was done in the pulp and paper industry. We were the first company to provide turn-key, prepackaged systems consisting of digital sensors, digital controls, and operator video displays located on the mill floor.

Because most mills could not support these systems and get a 99% uptime or better, we provided the required onsite services. These service people are often referred to as baby-sitters. I prefer the fireman analogy, where our service people at the mill site can respond immediately to systems problems. Anything less would be too expensive due to the large expense of paper machine downtime. You can't be down while you wait for an expert to arrive. Like a good fireman, the onsite people reduce the need for emergency actions by doing good preventive work.

However, today's service people are more and more like value-added consultants. Instead of reacting to problems, they are proactively working to improve the process as a partner with our customers.

Between 1963 and 1968 only about 70 computer systems were installed. Of these, 50 were IBM 1800s and 20 were based on the GE 4020. If our growth was to be dependent on our customers hiring their own programmers and combining the computer with existing analog gauges, we would be nowhere, as some of the systems at that time took two to three years to implement. I therefore decided to provide the systems on a turnkey and prepackaged basis to the users.

The use of the mini-computer was also part of our business plan, as was digital instead of analog control. We initially used the Hewlett Packard 2116B mini-computer, and this had almost the same power as the much larger IBM 1800. We did all of our control in main memory instead of relying on disks to greatly improve reliability and availability.

Erik Dahlin, whom I consider one of the greatest and most productive control experts, designed our control strategies. Dahlin insisted on keeping it simple so that our people in the field could do the tuning. He used a simple lambda-tuned controller and developed a control strategy that decoupled basis weight and moisture. We quickly went from there to headbox control and coordinated machine controls. The computer also supported the video displays that replaced the older X-Y recorders. The video displays could easily display both machine direction and profile data.

P&P: Measure has made a name for itself regarding sensors.

BOSSEN: We were the first company to develop accurate and reliable digital sensors and the associated digital control strategies. We started with basis weight and IR (infrared)-based moisture. Today, we have some 13 different sensors that can be mounted on the scanning frames. The sensors do not have to be physically lined up, as we make our compensation using software. Our objective--long term-- is to put the test lab out of business and get all the measurements online in real time to the papermakers so that they can do something about it. The lab will not totally go out of business, as we need it to calibrate and verify the online sensors. Today we have sensors for basis weight, moisture, caliper, opacity, color, ash, IR coat weight, strength, smoothness, gloss, formation, and extensional stiffness.

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Today's increasing necessity for quality requires even more sensors. We are, for example, working on the measurement of direct online fiber orientation. Improved smoothness sensors are needed for recycled-content sheets that can tolerate stickies. We need to improve caliper on recycled sheets as well. We have made strategic acquisitions of a web inspection system and a condition monitoring system to help the paper makers troubleshoot the process and improve short-term quality variations.

We have worked on non-scanning sensors for several years and have a couple of patents. There are still several practical problems that are keeping this technology from the market.

First of all, the non-scanning measurements are not as accurate as the scanning systems. The non-scanning basis weight sensor is only accurate in the 1% range as compared with the scanning sensor at 0.1%. Second, you really need all sensors to be non-scanning and that is not the case yet, especially not the caliper sensor. Third, there is little to be gained in machine direction control by scanning faster than every five to 10 seconds, as the machine can't respond any faster. The biggest potential improvement of non-scanning sensors will probably be in the reduction in maintenance as compared with the existing electromechanical scanners.

We will continue to differentiate ourselves based on controls. It is not difficult for the distributed control suppliers to get into the control business on paper machines. What is difficult is to do it well. It is easy to control to 2% variability; it is very difficult to control to 0.1% variability. Controls are evolving rapidly, and our machine direction controls have gone through at least four major changes in the last seven years. The profile controls, especially basis weight, with new headbox technologies such as dilution control, have evolved even more. We also have several patents on many of our control strategies.

P&P: What is happening on the service side?

BOSSEN: We have an enviable service business that is 40% of annual revenue. This took time to develop as people had to be put in the field to support not only existing systems but also potential new systems. This required an extensive investment, and the service business was not profitable in its first 10 years. Many companies may not be willing to make this hind of investment in their services business.

The service business has been changing. We recently did a survey and found that our service technicians spend less than 20% of their time on maintenance. Most of their time is spent helping customers troubleshoot their machines. The need for maintenance has decreased as the reliability of the systems have increased 10 times over the last 10 years. We are therefore moving our service people to more value-added services.

Our unique business strategy was, and still is, to guarantee the results from our system. If our customers did not achieve the benefits they wanted, we would take the system back. This worked extremely well in building their confidence in our systems. And we had to take back a few systems. Of our first 1,000 systems, I believe we took back only seven. The biggest benefit of the results guarantee is that it shifts the focus to results and away from a hardware discussion of mips and bits.

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PP: Let's discuss open systems...

BOSSEN: We were pioneers in the move to open systems. The key to open systems is integrated information. Information about the process and the process control systems makes the machine and backtender jobs easier by giving them a good visual picture of the machine.

Examples of this are the "waterfall" displays that show sheet profiles in three dimensions, sheet inspection displays that are used to analyze the location and cause of defects in the sheet, and process condition monitoring systems for short-term quality variations. This information can be shared between the paper machine, the coater, and the supercalender to minimize quality variations. Quality information can be shown on the slitter/rewinder to most effectively cut out quality defects. All of this information is available on a single-window X-window station, and the information can be printed out to the customers to give them specific information about their specific roll.

PP: How can the paper industry get the most from process control technology?

BOSSEN: Manufacturing operations need to be heavily, heavily, involved in the definition, selection, and use of the systems. Technical people need to support the operating people. Too often, this is the other way around with the projects driven by the technology people. This often results in operating people saying, "I don't need that." Operations people require a good understanding of their customers' needs.

P&P: What is your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?

BOSSEN: First of all, know your business. I spent 15 years working for AccuRay before I formed Measurex. Second, it is always better to be conservative financially. Be prudent in taking economic risks. It is better to give up a larger part of the company for more financing. This will allow you to concentrate on building the business and not have to worry about finances all the time. Third, you need to have well-defined purpose, vision, and values. You need to visualize the business concept and then implement. Keep to the basics and provide results for the customer. Fourth, you have to be opportunistic. This happened to us with the Devron acquisition, which has been excellent for us.

CONCLUSION. Dave Bossen still bristles at the idea of retirement. In his new position as chairman and CEO, he will focus on long-term trends and opportunities. He is now focusing on potential acquisitions and business development. He has taken over direct control of the Measurex Systems Div. in Cincinnati, Ohio, in an effort to change the paradigm to well-documented packaged systems. In the acquisition area, he is investigating several opportunities and considers the environmental field very interesting. And after 25 years, he still finds Measurex an enjoyable place to work.