Thursday, July 10
by Mathieu Régnier, Paper Advance
The PACWEST coverage team is home from the range, reflecting on the week behind us. PACWEST 2014 hosted a total of 234 delegates: 56 from mills and 178 from suppliers. An additional 14 students and 47 spouses joined in the fun. For three days in late May, Jasper became the forestry innovation capital of the world.

The coverage team asked a few participants to summarize the event in one message. “In just one message?” queried Conference Chair, Brian Grantham, West Fraser-Hinton Pulp. “This is truly a hard task but I can certainly say it went very well, and that the participants’ enthusiasm was over our expectations.” Gord Start, West Fraser-Hinton Pulp, and member of the conference’s executive committee said that the delegation from Hinton (the lucky West Fraser employees work just an hour away from the venue), benefited significantly from the conference. “We not only learnt about the latest trends, but were also informed about technological and market developments in other parts of Canada,” he noted.

Of Mountains, Mills and Men

Reflecting on PACWEST 2014’s highlights is not an easy task. It takes participants weeks, if not months to process and integrate all of the knowledge assembled from the roundtable discussions, paper presentations, keynote addresses, short courses and technical sessions. Moreover, almost as much information is shared informally in the hotel corridors, on an Adirondack chair facing Lake Beauvert, or on a green of Canada’s #1 Resort Golf Course (nothing is too good for maintenance, pulp and paper mill staff!) Year after year, the event is a great opportunity for pulp and paper experts to learn from best practices.

The Pacific Coast and Western branches of PAPTAC, and IBMP, a group of industry suppliers, organized PACWEST 2014. This year held an opening in the program for student presentations, called, “UBC Student Presentations,” chaired by Nici Darychuk, from the University of British Columbia. In past years, students were invited to make presentations in poster sessions, but 2014 offered the opportunity to learn from research at the forefront of technological and scientific developments to a larger number of attendees. It also opened the door to participation from younger generations. As Stew Gibson, Program Chair, Catalyst Paper said, “It was fantastic to see the influx of young professionals at the conference.” For him, this reinforces the belief that the industry has a “great future.”

Beyond The Forest Patch

Discussions on how to improve performance through optimization of industrial processes were held concomitantly with talks on the transition to a sustainable economy. Ted Bell, Partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers summarized this well: "(…) Canadian mills are moving to transform their businesses in response to global trends.” These include sociologic, demographic and technological change, as well as shifting global economic power. “Indeed, there are powerful transformations happening around supply chain efficiency and security,” added Bell, “and new products in several areas. For example, Canada is at the forefront of nanocrystalline cellulose technology and is a leader in renewable fuels and solid wood construction, including nine-story wood framed buildings.”

Regardless of the very different backgrounds of participants and speakers alike, perhaps the most remarkable constant during PACWEST 2014 was the level of agreement on issues faced by all: the need to link research to industrial strategies, recognition that enormous improvements have been made at the scale of the industry, the belief that while the industry needs to differentiate itself from competitors and that its ‘green credentials’ could be a potential avenue for this, the message is not getting through, and, finally, a call for greater attention to the management of precious “human capital.”

There was also consensus around the issue of recruitment and the widely-held belief that after a decade of losing young talent to employment opportunities in the oil fields, this brain drain may be coming to a close. Perhaps instead of the oil fields holding all of the promise, we could start to discuss the potential held in the ‘forest patch’ – though, the likelihood of Canada’s forestry sector holding employment opportunities for younger people on the scale of the oil sands, is relatively low.

The Canadian forest, paper and packaging industry is still facing important pressures, but another lesson from the week’s event is that companies are now attracting investment that leads to product line diversification and upgrades. “This year, I noticed a high degree of optimism for the future of pulp and paper and was impressed by the level of excitement around investment opportunities for projects going forward,” noted Kevan Ross, General Manager, Pulp and Paper at Allnorth Consultants.

This corresponds to what Ted Bell, Partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers told Paper Advance regarding a survey of 54 global forest industry organizations, “it showed that while forest industry executives are still focused on traditional industry core elements like implementing cost reduction programs, dealing with rising energy costs and fluctuating currency issues, they are also working to transform their business to address the realities of the increased pace of technological change, resource scarcity, and the search for talent in an aging and more mobile global workforce. Canadian mills are moving in lock step with these trends."

Participants’ Praise

There are two common threads in participants’ feedback on the event, and they underscore the value the PACWEST meetings offer attendees. The opportunity to gain an improved understanding of the industry’s evolution, and the ability to socialize in an environment outside of regular mill operations are considered to be tremendously valuable aspects of the conference.

"I've always enjoyed the PACWEST conference for its practicality. Most of the concepts and technologies presented are readily and immediately applicable to help the mills improve their operations." Brian Grantham, Conference Chair, West Fraser-Hinton Pulp.

"Another great year for PACWEST with a good mix of technical papers and great panels discussions. Good to see again a great attendance with a good mix of people from the mills and key suppliers." Robert Dufresne, Vice-President, Pulp and Paper Operations, Resolute Forest Products and PAPTAC Councilor.

“PACWEST can enhance professional development by growing networking connections with peers and technical experts. So much can be brought back to the mill from the technical sessions including success stories and new technologies.” Che-Man Lee, Conference Co-Chair, Kemira.

“Attending this year’s conference has provided me with tremendous opportunities for learning about new technologies, sharing best practices, and developing good relationships.” Éric Bérubé, IBMP 1st Vice President, Buckman North America.

"Meeting people from other mills provides a great opportunity to share ideas and solutions to common issues." Simon Ulenberg, West Fraser-Hinton Pulp.

“It is also great to see the resurgence of a more youthful attendance to this conference, which is a sign that the industry is regaining its position as a great place to start a career." Ted Bell, Partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers

“As a leading provider of engineering services to the pulp and paper industry in Canada, we greatly benefit from our simple presence and participation and this is why we offer our help year after year by contributing however we can.'' Kevan Ross, General Manager, Pulp and Paper at Allnorth Consultants

“The Mill Managers and Senior Executives meeting held on the first day is certainly one of the highlights in my perspective. Being able to discuss freely about different industry strategies allows us to learn a lot in a very short period of time. A good ROI! Exchanges held this week will enhance my company's industrial practices in many subtle but certain ways.” Gerry Murray, Vice-President, Mills, Atlantic Packaging. PAPTAC Councilor.

Setting the bar high for PACWEST 2015

More than 25 technical papers were presented at the conference, covering mechanical pulping and papermaking, kraft pulping and energy, process control, transfer of knowledge, asset reliability and optimization. Topics of bioenergy and bioproducts were also discussed through these sessions, and were described by the organizers as “a unique first-hand opportunity to explore strategies and opportunities in the future bio-economy.” This topic could have warranted its very own conference!

PACWEST 2014 Awards

Best Novice Paper Award
Jennifer Fowler, West Fraser for:
“Identification of Key Odour Sources and Abatement Strategies Implemented at Hinton Pulp.”

Best Supplier Paper Award
Jeff Butler, Metso for:
“Online Recovery Boiler Reduction Degree - Data Review”

First Runner-up Award
Francesca Apruzzese, West Fraser for:
“Reduction of Carryover and Emissions by the Addition of a Directly Connected Pressure Diffuser to the Brown Stock Washing.”

H.R. MacMillan "Eagle" Trophy for best paper
Olaf Starck, Canfor for:
“Risk Considerations for Construction Contracts.”


“Management consultant and futurist Jim Bottomley predicted that the next edition of PACWEST will be an excellent and very productive event,” joked next year’s Conference Chair, Stew Gibson from Catalyst Paper. PACWEST 2015 will be held in the resort town of Whistler, British Columbia from June 10-13, 2015. From Vancouver, via the "Sea-to-Sky highway," the drive is an approximate two hours long. For those wondering, the climate is not quite coastal, not quite interior – a perfect setting for PACWEST.