Paper Week Review: Mill Managers' Forum

Pulp & Paper Canada
February 28, 2002
By Pulp & Paper Canada
"THIS IS a subject that is very much on our minds in the pulp and paper industry," stated Dennis McNinch, chairman of PAPTAC, at the beginning of the Mill Managers' Forum during PaperWeek 2002. Making the industry more attractive to the investment community, especially in these turbulent times, he added, takes careful thought and planning. Knowledgeable input was necessary and, to that end, a panel of experts was introduced to the audience of mill managers and other industry professionals.

The first to speak was Robert J. Eamer who, prior to his retirement in 2001, served as senior vice president, technology and corporate development for Domtar. "I've tried to put out one perspective of what the industry could look like in 30 years," he said, as he challenged the audience to stretch their imagination and picture the industry's future. There were many possibilities: working until the age of 75, being the owner/operator of more than one mill, managing junior and senior knowledge workers with tertiary education, managing outsourcing, websites with "dashboard-type" on-line information instead of month-end reports. Pulp mills would have no woodyards as they vigorously competed for wood-based fibres. One of the greatest changes will be the 15-second changeovers in the production line, for example: from calendering to vellum. Environmental controls would be in place so that the mills would be quite clean and energy-efficient as their emissions would be on a live website.

Andr Legault, vice president of operations at Papier Masson, described what one mill could do and gave a brief synopsis of the history of Papier Masson at Masson-Angers, QC. "We're in the business of satisfying the customer," he said, explaining that mills have all been guilty of spending a lot of money and wondering if the return was worth it. "Our people were up for the challenge," he said of the high operating efficiency through focus that was achieved by the careful planning and renovating of the new TMP facility at the mill. A world record was established when one line produced 750 tonnes per day. The keys for success, he suggested, were to plan beforehand, to keep communication transparent, to provide constant quality and to have an efficient design. He admitted to being a believer in teamwork, saying employees were "untapped goldmines" if there was adequate training and involvement.

A European perspective was presented by Jonathan Rager, from JP Management Consulting. He began his career as a process engineer and is currently a senior consultant in Jaakko Pyry's New York office. He pointed out that the investment community has given the industry a mixed score although it has held its own since 1998. Canadian mills have a somewhat higher technological age and need to increase their production capacity. The point he wished to make was that "more substantial investment was needed to keep [Canadian mills] in the game."

Benoit Laprade, the paper & forest products analyst for Scotia Capital, provided information on what investors are seeking. "There is no such thing as a paperless office," he said, pointing out the steady need for what the pulp and paper industry provides. At the same time, he admitted that, at 1.7% of the market valuation, it had little relative weight on the Toronto Stock Exchange. He listed the factors that investors seek: a good management team, profitable growth, return, liquidity and leadership. He called for the industry to counter the negative perception of being detrimental to the environmental.

Last to speak was Paul Stuart, a professor in the chemical engineering department at cole Polytechnique in Montreal, QC; chairholder of a newly-created NSERC environmental design engineering chair in process integration for the p&p industry; and a consultant through his company, Processys Inc. Explaining how to develop a business model for strategic decision-making for the industry, Paul Stuart said that it is data management that creates the possibility of making practical decisions. Processing the data through computer modelling enabled the optimization of mill processes and technology evaluation. It was crucial to "get the mills 'right' before moving on to modelling the business". The importance of Paprican as an industry partner was mentioned as Paul Stuart stressed the importance of the development of academic contributions to the industry.

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