As the second largest pulp producer in the world, Brazil is known for producing multiple raw materials, especially eucalyptus. The country’s soil and climate are conducive to the plant’s cultivation, which takes an average of seven years to grow and spends this period absorbing CO2. For every crop cut, new seedlings are planted and more eucalyptus grows, making this a cyclical, sustainable, and cost-competitive business model.
The pulp industry also contributes significantly to local employment and the economy, creating a broad supply chain that includes eucalyptus cultivation, chemicals, biotechnology, and transportation.
Founded in 2010, Bracell is one of the world's leading producers of dissolving pulp and bleached eucalyptus pulp (Kraft). By using forest-grown eucalyptus as raw material, the company can produce high-quality fibers for a wide range of products, including clothing, pharmaceuticals, food products, printing inks, and non-woven fabrics. Cellulose products produced in Brazil are widely exported to Asia, Europe, and the United States.
As the push for carbon neutrality gains momentum, one of the concerns includes the replacement of plastic products by paper products. Increasingly, pulp producers demand a wider product portfolio, and pulp products, which are increasingly being used as replacements for coffee cups and straws, require dramatically higher quality than before.
In 2019, Bracell launched Project Star to build a new, state-of-the-art pulp mill. Since Yokogawa South America (YSA) has a long-standing business relationship with customers in the Brazilian pulp and paper industry and deep knowledge of the plant manufacturing process, Bracell chose Yokogawa's OpreX Laboratory Information Management System (OpreX LIMS) to meet its growing product portfolio, production volume demands, and high-quality requirements for those products.
The Challenges and the Solutions
Since plastic products are rapidly being replaced by paper, Bracell consistently challenges itself to produce pulp of the highest quality while continually improving its processes. The philosophy has been a resounding success. Bracell has rapidly expanded its portfolio of products and the company’s production output.
At the cellulose production unit, product quality control is carried out through carefully timed quality inspections of raw materials, intermediate products, and finished products. Raw eucalyptus varies greatly, and it is essential to check the intermediate quality and provide feedback to the manufacturing department. However, conventional methods using paper or Excel spreadsheets presented the following challenges:
- Test results had to be manually entered into spreadsheets, which was time-consuming and sometimes resulted in users forgetting to enter them.
- It was difficult to follow the progress of the inspection work; time was needed to share information between the competency areas.
- There were problems with the retrieval and traceability of test results.
To automate quality inspection tasks and increase productivity, Bracell implemented Yokogawa’s OpreX LIMS. The aim was, in part, to improve traceability and information security.
Bracell’s plant surrounded by sustainable eucalyptus fields
What is OpreX LIMS?
OpreX LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System) is a software environment that manages inspection tasks with a workflow and shares inspection information across departments. Sampling instructions can be sent to the manufacturing department, information about the samples (batch information, sampling date and time, requestor’s name, etc.) can be managed, and test results can be recorded and posted in other systems. Consequently, shipping decisions can be based on this information and the progress and test results can be checked between related departments, improving operational efficiency, production efficiency, and product quality.
Sample inspection flow
In order to share quality information across the enterprise, build a more efficient quality management system, and improve product traceability, integration with high-level systems such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) is also possible.
Standardizing the workflow with the OpreX Laboratory Information Management System
OpreX LIMS for Bracell
Bracell's OpreX LIMS works with corporate systems such as System Analysis Program Development (SAP) and the Plant Information Management System (PIMS). In addition, numerous customizations have been made to meet customer demands, ensuring the new plant’s large-scale production and standardized quality inspections execute smoothly and without omissions while also reducing the workload of the analysis department.
- Automatic adjustment of inspection frequency: OpreX LIMS automatically changes the process inspection cycle based on the most recent batch analysis results. Appropriate inspection cycles, such as increasing inspection frequency if there are quality issues, are defined.
- Reliable test scheduling with different test frequencies: The large sample numbers brought to the analysis department include groups with different test frequencies. To ensure accurate testing, the OpreX LIMS identifies and informs users what to test on an hourly basis.
- Decision-making support for quality grades: To facilitate assessment work, product quality is measured by OpreX LIMS based on the inspection result to establish the assessment.
- Collaboration with manufacturing departments: Due to system integration with other departments, inspection requests are only created during manufacturing, and if manufacturing has been suspended for any reason, no inspection requests are made. Analysis departments can use OpreX LIMS to check production in real time while also checking which production line products are being manufactured.
- Batch optimization and raw material using previous inspection results: Based on the data entered into SAP when raw materials are received, it is determined by OpreX LIMS whether raw materials need to be inspected. Depending upon whether the inspection will be done now or for a future batch, an inspection request is created at the appropriate time. The results of quality inspections for each raw material are compared with predefined acceptance criteria to automatically optimize the frequency of inspections. For example, some inspections can be skipped if the quality raw material and the adjustments to the frequency of inspections are automatic.
OpreX LIMS screen
While Yokogawa has long been involved in the Brazilian pulp industry and has delivered several CENTUM series integrated production systems, this OpreX LIMS project was YSA's first experience. Consequently, Yokogawa and Bracell met several times to deepen their understanding. Bracell explained in detail how their plant worked, what the inspectors do, what they expect from OpreX LIMS, and how they want to improve their operations. YSA considered the best specifications to suit them and offered those solutions to Bracell. Final specifications were decided upon, and both parties proceeded with the plan.
The implementation of the basic parts of OpreX LIMS and the development of customization functions were to be carried out in phases, in line with the construction of the new plant. Consequently, the construction of the system preceded physical plans.
Though most project sites were available for visitation in the beginning, COVID-19 shifted communication primarily to online meetings. Integrating OpreX LIMS with the analytical instruments was done by Bracell's IT team via phone. Meanwhile, OpreX LIMS specialists at the Yokogawa headquarters, in Japan, supported YSA engineers online despite the time difference. The close cooperation between Bracell and Yokogawa led to the successful launch of OpreX LIMS in March 2021.
With the implementation of OpreX LIMS, Bracell has:
- Automated and managed inspection workflow, from raw materials to intermediate and final products, for a wide variety of tests with different inspection frequencies. This allows for accurate recording and management of information and test results for each sample.
- Reduced the time and effort involved in manually entering data. Many test results are captured and stored directly from the analyzer.
- Provided hourly notifications of upcoming inspection requests, not only ensuring necessary inspections are always performed, but also that data results are not lost.
- Increased operational efficiency and lessened inspector workload by integrating the OpreX LIMS into the manufacturing system, allowing proper sample inspection requests for products to be made during production line operation.
- Automatically adjusted the appropriate inspection frequency depending upon the quality of raw materials and intermediate products, making it possible to improve the quality of the final product.
"Yokogawa's OpreX LIMS is very user-friendly and easy to use, and now all members involved in inspections use it as a matter of course. It is integrated with the PI system, a plant information management system, so the inspection results can be quickly shared with the relevant services. In the past, inspection results had to be manually entered into spreadsheets, and there were errors such as forgetting to enter them, but now the inspection results of many analyzers are automatically recorded in the system. In the future, we intend to eliminate all forms of intervention.
Also particularly useful is the automatic programming of inspection plans. It automatically generates inspection schedules in conjunction with higher-level systems, but also takes into account the results of previous inspections of raw materials, etc., and creates an inspection schedule with an appropriate frequency that does not reduce product quality. The automatically generated workflow is managed within the system, which also reduces human errors such as missed inspections and input errors.
We are now entering the second phase of the project, and we look forward to Yokogawa continuing to provide good service and support."
- Bracell Operations
OpreX Laboratory Information Management System（hereinafter "OpreX LIMS"） is a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) package, which supports quality management operations. Furthermore, it standardizes quality management operations to reduce costs and improve the service level.