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Essential skills profile

This profile contains a list of example tasks that illustrate how each of the 9 essential skills is generally performed by most workers in this occupation. The levels of complexity estimated for each task are ranked between 1 (basic) and 5 (advanced).

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Pulp Mill Machine Operators(9432)

Pulp mill machine operators operate and monitor various types of processing machinery and equipment to produce pulp. They are employed by pulp and paper companies.

Reading Help - Reading
  • Read permits for maintenance and lockout to know what equipment will be unavailable for use. (1)
  • Read memos explaining operating procedures and specifications for special custom orders. (2)
  • Read pulp test result reports. (2)
  • May look up recipes for pulp in a manual. (2)
  • Read Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for safety information on various chemicals used in the processing or to learn safety procedures, such as what to do in the case of a spill. (3)
  • May read technical manuals and textbooks to learn about the pulping process, equipment and control systems. (3)
Document use Help - Document use
  • Read safety signs in the plant. (1)
  • Read identification labels on the hundreds of pipes, pumps, tanks and valves in the plant. (1)
  • Read Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHIMIS) labels on chemicals. (2)
  • May refer to a list of over 20 types of equipment rotations, such as "chip meter: clockwise, viewed from drive end". (2)
  • May read order specifications for the day which may be written on a board. The information is in chart form, including target grade, shine, tonnage to produce and comments. (2)
  • May read and complete a safety lockout procedure form that lists over 50 steps to be performed and checked off. (3)
  • May enter data hourly on production report forms to record about 50 columns of information about production status, including times, tank numbers, stock volumes and flow rates, valve opening percentages and pH levels. (3)
  • May use a blueprint of the whole plant to locate equipment, such as a specific valve. Operators need to know the function of the valve and where in the process it is used in order to pinpoint where it is likely to be on a blueprint that shows hundreds of pieces of equipment. (4)
  • May continuously monitor computer screens displaying schematic and analog representations of various sections of the pulping process. The displays include diagrams, graphs and charts. Operators analyze numerous screens of information about processing rates, levels, ratios, percentages and trends. They adjust the process using keyboard controls or via workers on the floor. (4)
Writing Help - Writing
  • May record testing results on a form, writing codes, figures and short descriptions of any problems. (1)
  • Write entries in a log book leaving instructions for the next shift and describing problems experienced and their solutions and reasons for shutdowns. The entries may be up to a page long. (2)
  • May write a memo to the area supervisor explaining what procedures or equipment need attention. (2)
Numeracy Help - Numeracy Measurement and Calculation Math
  • May weigh rolls of paper using a scale. (1)
  • May constantly take process readings, such as stock volume and flow rate, pH levels, valve opening percentages, temperatures and pressures, to check if they are according to expected levels and order specifications. (1)
  • May measure and mix pulp samples and test chemicals, and use a table and calculation formula to conduct titration tests. (2)
  • May read the levels of stock in two tanks to ensure there is sufficient volume in each; if there is a discrepancy, they calculate how much to divert to one of the tanks, making sure the tanks don't overflow. (2)
  • May check the computer data and occasionally correct errors. Operators use a calculator and formulae to calculate correct chemical flows, stock consistency and energy-use to verify information from the computer. (3)
Data Analysis Math
  • May look at line and bar graphs that show relationships of various production data and trends over time. The data include pH levels, tonnage per shift minus downtime and comparison of the production level with target figures. (3)
Numerical Estimation
  • May estimate how the composition of pulp will change when one factor is changed. (1)
  • May estimate how long it will take a certain volume of stock to move through the system or how long it will take the system to become corrected after an error. (2)
  • May estimate how much to adjust the process based on information about numerous rates and levels, what other operators are doing and test analysis results of the finished product. For example, they estimate the gallons per minute of shower flow needed to bring down soda loss numbers. (3)
Oral communication Help - Oral communication
  • Work in a control room and stay in contact with the plant floor by communicating with floor workers who act as their hands and eyes. For example, operators get first hand feedback from floor workers about equipment function and levels to check if computer readings are accurate, instruct floor workers to open or close valves when troubleshooting and alert them to changes about to take place, such as swinging from one knotter to another. (1)
  • Discuss processing adjustments with operators who control other stages of the process, to co-ordinate adjustments for maximum efficiency and quality and to ensure they don't adversely affect each other's work. The process is continuous so the actions of any one operator could shut the others down. (2)
  • Interact with lab technicians to receive test results and ask for clarification and explanation to know how best to make adjustments. (2)
  • Communicate with supervisors to receive instructions about production targets, procedures and shutdown schedules and to discuss equipment and processing problems. (2)
  • Discuss mechanical problems with millwrights or electricians. (2)
Thinking Help - Thinking Problem Solving
  • May encounter a power outage that shuts the automated system down. They must operate manually until the automated system is revived. (1)
  • When working on the plant floor, may see that pulp volume in a tank is too high or low. They discuss the problem with processing operators in the control room, check for possible causes and try various manual adjustments. They check whether pump rpm levels are high, if there is a broken coupling on a shaft or if there is a plug in the line. (2)
  • May deal with false readings on the computer. For example, readings may indicate that stock consistency is fine, but in fact it is too thick and won't go through the pumps and pipes. They analyze likely causes, direct workers on the floor to visually check equipment, make trial adjustments and discuss the problem with the supervisor. (2)
  • May deal with equipment malfunctions such as a tank not emptying at the required rate. They troubleshoot, analyze possible causes, consult with maintenance staff and slow down the rest of the operation in order to prevent an overflow or shutdown. (2)
  • May find that the production process is not maximizing tonnage or quality. They analyze and adjust numerous factors, including valve openings, tank volumes, fluid flow rates, chemical ratios, temperatures and pressures. The process is fast and continuous; a problem in one stage affects other stages and can result in tons of off-grade product before it can be corrected. (3)
Decision Making
  • May decide what part of the process to start running first when coming off a maintenance shutdown. Operators generally follow set procedures, but they also consider variables such as the status of the stock at that moment. (1)
  • May decide whether they need to go down to the floor to deal with a problem, or to stay at the computer controls and direct the workers on the floor from the control room. They consider the urgency of the problem, where floor workers are that moment and what other adjustments they need to make by computer. (2)
  • May constantly decide how to adjust levels and rates to maximize production and not create a problem. For example, they decide if there is enough stock to slow down or speed up the processing without losing quality or causing an overflow. (2)
  • May decide how much bleach to add for a grade change. They consider what residuals are currently in the system and look at records of previous production of similar grades. Too little bleach might result in off-grade brown pulp; too much might exceed environmental limits. (2)
  • May decide whether to shut down the process in order to avoid spoiling the pulp or damaging equipment. Shutdowns are costly and time-consuming. (3)
Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking information was not collected for this profile.

Job Task Planning and Organizing

Pulp mill machine operators work independently following procedures to operate their stage of the pulping process according to production schedules and rates set by supervisors. Their tasks are varied and complex, but largely repetitive and dictated by the processing system as a whole. They may have to plan hours ahead what treatments to use and what equipment to activate. Their day can vary from dull and predictable, to pandemonium when a problem develops. (2)

Significant Use of Memory
  • May remember to note, after making a change, what effect it has had, e.g., whether a particular change has affected the pH level.
  • May remember figures read on the computer after moving onto another screen.
  • May remember past problems to apply the knowledge gained to future situations, for example, that if the pulp movement looks sluggish or the amperage goes up, the vat may be plugged.
  • May remember pulp recipes and grade specifications.
Finding Information
  • Call a process engineer or millwright to ask questions about equipment, such as what lubrication is suitable for use under certain temperatures or what modifications have been made to equipment. (1)
  • Refer to technical manuals or equipment manuals to look up a pulp recipe. (1)
  • Look up records from past years to find data about amounts of chemicals used to produce a specific type and grade of pulp. (2)
  • Read technical manuals or equipment manuals to troubleshoot machine malfunctions. (2)
Digital technology Help - Digital technology
  • They operate a computerized control system specific to the industry to analyze and control the pulping process. This involves continuously monitoring numerous screens of data and entering adjustments to the many factors in the pulping process. (2)
Additional information Help - Additional information Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Pulp mill machine operators mainly work independently. They are part of a team with other process operators and the workers on the floor. They frequently work in partnership with a floor worker, directing physical changes being made by the floor worker in the plant, while monitoring the effects on the computer.

Continuous Learning

Pulp mill machine operators learn on-the-job. They may take a number of short courses given by equipment companies and industry consultants and maintain safety certifications.

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