Green light for automation work

Posted August 20, 2015


A view of the Tableland Mill central control room, where an MSF Sugar employee operates and monitors the entire factory process by computer model and with camera images.

MSF Sugar is spending about $20 million to increase automation at its South Johnston and Mulgrave mills in far north Queensland in time for the 2017 crush.

The company also recently approved an $18.4 million capital upgrade at the Mulgrave Mill, Gordonvale, with work to take place in the fourth quarter of this year to install new bagasse bins and a new conveyor.

MSF Sugar general manager business development, Hywel Cook, said the company’s $20 million investment in process control at South Johnstone and Mulgrave followed a successful shift to automation at its Tableland mill, about 25km west of Mareeba.

He said that mill, which underwent a $42 million upgrade two years ago, would be the most automated sugar mill in Queensland.

“It’s our lowest manning factory - we operate the whole factory with 32 people, that’s five people per shift,” he said. “We also get the lowest number of unscheduled stops and most consistent sugar quality.”

The work planned for South Johnstone and Mulgrave would mean more control valves, more instrumentation and the ability to co-ordinate mill operations from one central control room rather than a number of control rooms.

“We need to scope up exactly what we’re going to do, so that is something we will be doing over the remainder of this year ready to start installation in 2016,” Mr Cook said.

MSF Sugar hoped to have the required equipment fully installed for the 2017 crushing season, he said.

While much of the instrumentation was very specialised and would be sourced globally, Mr Cook said there would be electrical engineering and installation work opportunities available for local suppliers.

Meanwhile, he said MSF Sugar was already in negotiations with local suppliers over the recently approved $18.4 million capital upgrade for the Mulgrave mill.

The primary aim of the project - installing two new bagasse bins and a new bagasse conveyor – was to better utilise cane fibres for generation of electricity.

However the work was also potentially a precursor to developing a major cogeneration facility on the site.

Mr Cook said MSF Sugar had small cogeneration plants at its mills, operating at about 25MW capacity.

“We could more than quadruple that if we put in more efficient cogeneration facilities,” he said.

This would involve building three new cogeneration plants at an approximate cost of $300 million.

The company’s other big-ticket capital works include plans to install a large cooling tower at South Johnstone over the next 18 months. MSF Sugar is half-way through a $60 million upgrade at its South Johnstone mill, with a four-year work program including replacing sugar crushing equipment and crystallisation units.

Mr Cook said the company had also spent about $20 million in general maintenance works across its far north Queensland mills in preparation for the 2015 crush.

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