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Economic Impact

NC State Partners with CESMII to Promote ‘Smart’ Technologies in Paper Manufacturing, Other Industries

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As a nationally recognized university for research and innovation, NC State University’s partnership with CESMII, the United States’ national institute on Smart Manufacturing, will help enhance the capabilities of campus pilot plants such as the Department of Forest Biomaterials’ paper plant. Credit: iStock

NC State and the Clean Energy Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute (CESMII) have launched the Smart Manufacturing Innovation Center (SMIC) to provide new opportunities for the paper industry and academia to facilitate their digital transformation, Industrial Internet of Things, and analytical innovation initiatives.

The center, which includes the pilot paper plant in the Department of Forest Biomaterials at the College of Natural Resources, will focus on the education and manufacturing innovation and research for the forest product industry, according to Dr. Lokendra Pal, an associate professor in the department, whose multidisciplinary research team is focused on developing sustainable bioproducts. 

“The overarching goal of NCSU-SMIC, in partnership with CESMII, is to demonstrate smart manufacturing technologies and conduct workforce training and research focused on the pulp and paper industry,” Pal said. “Revolution in smart manufacturing technologies has created new opportunities for products from conceptualization, materials, manufacturing, and logistics. Smart manufacturing technologies can streamline complex operations by allowing devices, sensors, and controls to share information for highly-efficient manufacturing.”

The Department of Forest Biomaterials maintains 51,000-square-feet of laboratory and paper pilot space that is home to an extensive and unique collection of bench- and pilot-scale equipment for testing, research and teaching in biomaterials, wet-end chemistry, pulping, papermaking, recycling, coating and printing. The space includes a Fourdrinier pilot paper machine equipped with a state-of-the-art wet-end, size press and a calendar stack system. Another feature of the pilot plant is a one-of-a-kind tissue creping simulator machine that is used for tissue sheet drying and creping up to 2,000 feet per minute.

“Many manufacturing-intensive industries, including pulp and paper, are currently undergoing a digital transformation where remote manufacturing plants with incredible amounts of unused data are being connected to ‘digital command centers’ capable of real-time processing and interpreting the data, leading to not only increase in production but also in efficiency and adaptability,” said Dr. Hasan Jameel, a professor in the Department of Forest Biomaterials. 

The development of smart manufacturing assets, such as advanced sensors, intelligent controls, and machine learning, will significantly benefit the pulp and paper industry, especially the small and medium enterprises that directly compete with larger companies. It will also allow the Department of Forest Biomaterials to harness unprecedented levels of real-time production data and extract high value through predictive modeling and data analytics, creating process and business intelligence to enhance productivity, quality, sustainability, and safety across the whole industry. 

The pilot plant will include streaming of real-time big data across classrooms, immersing students in smart manufacturing technologies, according to Dr. Med Byrd, director of undergraduate programs in the Paper Science and Engineering program and associate professor in the Department of Forest Biomaterials.

“Our immediate focus is to develop connectivity between the NC State paper pilot plant facility and the CESMII platform that will acquire data from paper manufacturing equipment, use that data for analysis and deep learning, and control and operation of the papermaking equipment,” Pal said. “We are in the process of integrating new sensors and controls capabilities with the focus on precision, performance, quality, sustainability, and energy management for the paper industry.”

NC State’s SMIC facilities, including the pilot paper plant, are available for industry members to try smart manufacturing solutions and to drive their use of tools such as machine learning, energy productivity and asset performance management.