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Improving the economic performance and quality of tissue operations

Ian Padley, Tissue Applications Manager, BTG Ecl├ępens S.A.

Significant economic benefits can accrue from identifying and controlling process instability in tissue mills. BTG propose a highly collaborative project approach to delivering these benefits with the focus on the potential outcomes for the client. This paper reviews the economic landscape of the industry and gives examples of case studies where BTG has successfully helped the client to implement improvement plans.

The goal of this article is to introduce a practical methodology to help the tissue maker create economic value by identifying and controlling process instability. Ultimately, this could mean the tissue maker delivering more good quality cases of tissue per unit of installed capacity, but there may also be an intermediate focus on reducing raw material, energy or consumable costs.

Value in the tissue industry

Our approach has its basis in the appreciation of the economic factors involved in tissue making. Technical suppliers to the pulp and paper industry are too often concerned with the direct application of their product or service, and not nearly enough concerned with the economic impact of its application. On the other hand, some purchasing decisions are based only on cost and make no attempt to define the value a product may bring.

An economic model which considers Cost in the context of Market, Quality and Output may be helpful. It serves to identify the true value of a product or service and avoid purely cost-based decisions or an overemphasis on technical specification without considering their economic impact.

The Market should be our first consideration, as it is from this that all else follows. Tissue covers a wide spectrum of commercial activities, from away-from-home to consumer tissue, branded or private label, premium and value grades and a whole host of subdivisions. Add to this the complexities of competition and the distribution channels for the tissue and it is clear there are many economic factors to understand before approaching the tissue manufacturing process.

Some generalities can be stated: premium branded producers will emphasize the very best quality above all else, as this underpins the brand, giving the consumer 'reason to believe' in marketing parlance. On the other hand, private label producers are more than any other tissue producer part of the supermarket FMCG supply chain so need high production efficiencies and flexibility of operations to meet their customers' demands. And the cost context of the model is very much influenced by the market position of the producer as we will see.

Quality needs to be fit for purpose in market terms. The premium producer's brand will emphasize certain attributes: softness and handfeel can be paramount, but also strength and sometimes even the length of the roll. Private label similarly has exacting, but subtly different specifications, this time defined by the supermarket buyer. Furnish and consumable selection as well as product design and certain features of the manufacturing operation will contribute to quality.

Output is of course a critical economic factor as fixed asset utilization has a big bearing on unit cost and hence gross margin. As we have discussed, and as a later example will show, increasingly we need to start from converting output or cases of tissue per day or per line and work back from there. We can see that the productivity chain runs all the way back through to the tissue machine, with many issues manifesting themselves as converting problems, having their origin in the machine wet-end or even stock preparation area.

Cost or cost reduction is a fact of life for this industry. Even here we need to view cost through the market lens. Do we mean cost of quality? Or the cost of output? Furnish, consumables, labor, energy, efficiencies all have their role to play, but the key is to take a holistic view of the total cost of operations in the context of the market drivers.

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