Pulp & Paper Manufacturing: Inside an Industry in the Process of Reinvention

As one of the industries most impacted by the digital age, climate change and shifting consumer perspectives, needs and behaviors, pulp and paper could not be at a more critical crossroads.

In fact, change brought about by digitalization alone is the most significant the pulp and paper industry has experienced since it became industrialized.

Here are a few of the most serious challenges pulp and paper manufacturers are facing:

  • Global digitalization and the push to go “paperless” – the primary factor driving industry reinvention and product innovation.
  • The energy-intensive nature of the industry and the increasing cost of power.
  • Rising costs of labor and raw materials.
  • Uneven worldwide demand.
  • Decreases in global pulp production.
  • Turmoil in political and regulatory arenas.
  • Change driven by logistics.
  • Shifts in consumption behavior.

Despite these challenges, the opportunities side of the equation conveys that the era of paper is nowhere near ending.

For example, while digital solutions are replacing paper, the packaging sector is currently growing as a direct consequence of digital media – and this is only one of many interesting industry trends to be leveraged.

Here are few of the opportunities that have pulp and paper manufacturers’ attention:

  • Increased demand for ecommerce packaging (smaller unit packaging meaning more units).
  • Emergence of new markets driven by advances in technology, including logistics and internet-based trade.
  • Unmet potential within specific paper markets (e.g. tissue, specialty paper, hygiene).
  • Unmet potential for paper solutions to the address the needs of specific demographics such as aging populations.
  • Increased demand for eco-conscious packaging (higher recycled content, less material).
  • Widening choices of raw materials.
  • Cost savings via new technologies.

As a result of being at such an evolutionary point in its history, the global pulp and paper industry is taking a hard look at how it needs to operate and innovate in order to address challenges, seize opportunities and, from a big picture perspective, remain relevant, sustainable and profitable.

As manufacturing engineering consultants with wide-ranging experience in the pulp and paper industry, we know how imperative it is for manufacturers to increase productivity and efficiency in order to combat the above challenges and more. We also know how essential it is to have the ability, agility and capacity to capitalize on available opportunities. Equally, to do both without comprising quality.

Following are several key approaches for increasing productivity and operational efficiency, followed by a few links to resources that will provide you with additional industry insight and new ideas for creating the future of pulp and paper manufacturing, including specific examples of the breakthrough thinking that’s been ranked as a high priority for manufacturers with a strong grasp on industry realities.

Recommended Key Approaches for Increasing Productivity and Operational Efficiency

  • Performing equipment and process audits, as well as careful studies of the entire production line. These will include identifying variability sources (e.g. water source levels) and deficiencies (e.g. damage to controls and/or sensors due to debris accumulation, high temperatures and harsh chemicals).
  • Instituting continuous monitoring.
  • Managing interrelated processes in a collaborative space; practicing process integration.
  • Combining production optimization and energy efficiency projects to achieve greater results thanks to the complex and interdependent relationship of these two goals.
  • Better leveraging the data from automation systems to help operators make better decisions, including taking more immediate action to reduce waste.
  • Applying process intensification technologies (advanced separations for pulping, bleaching and black liquor and chemical recovery; as well as modularization).
  • Exploring better utilization of waste streams and developing value added bio-products that result in a more diverse and revenue-enhancing product array.
  • Engaging in smarter planning and execution to increase visibility, adapt more quickly and better manage the unexpected, thus gaining tight control of operations (this includes ensuring schedules sync with the demands of the supply chain at every point, utilizing assets at optimum levels, managing discrepancies between delivery forecasts and actual outcomes, etc.).

Resources for Additional Industry Insight & Inspiring Breakthrough Thinking

PWC’s 20th CEO Survey: Key Findings from the Global Forest, Paper and Packaging Industry

This short report shows where those leading the industry are putting their attention, as well as their level of confidence in future growth. It also compares data collected from pulp and paper manufacturing CEOs to data collected from CEOs in all industries included in the study.

The Paper Industry’s Most Innovative Products

As part of its Roadmap 2050 Unfold the Future initiative, the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) has published “The Age of Fibre – the paper industry’s most innovative products.” According to CEPI, the goal was to decarbonize by 80% and, at the same time, to create 50% more value. As stated in the publication itself this “document has steered discussions on the on the future of our industry throughout Europe and beyond.”

A Current Look at the Global Paper Industry Trends

This 2017 article focuses on two models for combating challenges within the industry. Specifically, India’s sustainable agro-based solution and Australia’s success in achieving energy cost reductions.

Better Practices, Better Planet 2010

Part of the American Forest & Paper Associations sustainability initiative – a program that boasts “one of the most extensive sets of sustainability goals established for a U.S. manufacturing industry.” The report includes the goals selected and showcases manufacturers that have met them early.

Helping manufacturers in a wide range of industries solve their toughest challenges in a way that reduces their risk and increases their growth is our strength. If you’re a manufacturer seeking a partner you can count on to help you achieve significantly improved results, contact Jim Solich at jsolich@jims26.sg-host.com

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