Research & Innovation
Interlake RECONNECTS THROUGH PARTNERSHIP WITH Buckman
"There are at least three tangible benefits to this partnership," says D'Arcy Schnekenburger. "Buckman owns the inventory and most of the feed equipment. We have an on-site rep. And it gives us access...
August 1, 2000 By Pulp & Paper Canada
“There are at least three tangible benefits to this partnership,” says D’Arcy Schnekenburger. “Buckman owns the inventory and most of the feed equipment. We have an on-site rep. And it gives us access to all the other Buckman support groups.”
Schnekenburger is talking about the partnership between his mill — Interlake Paper in St. Catharines, ON — and chemical-supplier Buckman Laboratories of Canada Ltd. He is vice-president and general manager of the three-machine operation.
The mill produces machine-glazed, machine-finished and filter papers, as well as high-end tissue and toweling. Interlake’s paper is sold in hard rolls to converting operations.
Interlake is owned by Cellu Tissue Holdings, East Hartford, CT. It was formerly owned by Kimberly-Clark, which sold the facility in March 1997 to private investors who subsequently sold the mill to Cellu Tissue in early 1998. Cellu Tissue owns several other tissue and machine-glazed operations in the United States.
The split from Kimberly-Clark gave the mill much more independence, but “we lost a lot of technical support, a lot we had relied on was stripped away,” says Schnekenburger. No longer was there access to R&D facilities, chemical product stewardship, assistance with grade development or technical services. “Perhaps the most important point is that we lost access to the problem solving capabilities of a large organization like Kimberly-Clark. This is where we needed help from our suppliers.
“A production facility without R&D means that staying in touch with technical developments becomes a bit more challenging,” he says. “We had to reconnect ourselves.”
Choosing a single source
The company decided that the single-supplier approach to chemicals would give it the best chance of keeping up to date, especially with developments in the specialty chemicals required to produce its particular paper grades. Interlake realized that in order to be able to get the level of service and support it was looking for, it needed to make the business volume large enough and this meant consolidating the chemical business. Only by providing a significant amount of business could it meet its main goal of developing a partnership with the chemical supplier.
Interlake outlined its concept to a number of chemical suppliers, including Buckman Laboratories of Canada Ltd. based in Vaudreuil-Dorion, QC. As Schnekenburger puts it, “We let the chemical guys have free rein of the facility. We let them run trials to get information and then make a presentation. We said to them: ‘We want a single source. Here’s our grade mix and what we have to deal with. Tell us how you will supply and support your chemical programs at our mill.’.”
Ken Duffy, Buckman’s district manager, notes, “Our approach is to develop an understanding of the specific problems or challenges faced by our customers, and to show them how we can provide solutions to these problems, using Buckman chemistry. We developed a lot of credibility at Interlake by helping them replace some incompatible chemistry on a particularly difficult grade. Cost savings were only a small part of it.”
Schnekenburger says the final selection was based on several criteria. Included were the candidates’ technical capabilities, both from a product and services standpoint, how well they understood Interlake’s process and could recommend problem solutions; but most important, was how well they could bring that information to the mill floor. “Price was the least weighted item on the selection grid,” says Schnekenburger. Interlake would not pay higher chemical costs, but the chosen supplier did not have to have the lowest prices. The final selection was made by an Interlake team, using a formal process with a defined weighting system for a number of different categories.
Schnekenburger says that Buckman offered the most complete program and received the job.
Buckman’s Duffy says that the company has total chemical management programs at other mills around the world, including several making tissue and toweling. He says the company has introduced what he describes as a “total solution chemical approach.”
Buckman manages all the materials it supplies to the mill. Schnekenburger says that for Interlake this includes charge control chemistry, wet and dry strength products, defoamers, polymers and biocides to treat the clarifier and incoming water, and some of the fabric and felt cleaning chemicals.
There are still one or two special applications, such as those in the steam plant, where Interlake has remained with its existing supplier. “It’s not that I think Buckman can’t do the job in the steam plant,” says Schnekenburger, “but this allows me a window to the outside world.”
Clarifying a problem
Early in the program Buckman was able to help to solve a problem with Interlake’s clarifier which, together with two settling ponds, controls the mill’s water effluent. “We had run into a problem which was not so much an environmental one but rather a clarifier efficiency issue,” says Schnekenburger.
He says while the mill understood the chemistries on the machine and in the clarifier, “we didn’t fully understand the interaction between the two.” Working with Buckman enabled the mill to meet the tissue quality requirements and run the effluent treatment plant more efficiently. “By understanding our process, Buckman brought forth a solution to help us solve an operational problem on one of our difficult towel grades,” says Schnekenburger.
“The single-source partnership started January 1, 1998,” says Duffy. “Buckman is involved in all aspects of the mill’s day-to-day operations. These include new grade development, production improvements and troubleshooting. We have a full-time person in the mill.”
“The Buckman representative, Chris Vasko, is part of the mill staff,” says Schnekenburger. He participates on the project and planning teams, and attends all key meetings. His office is connected to the mill’s local area network so he can communicate effectively with other mill team members. Vasko and the entire Buckman group have been instructed to point out any areas where they have ideas for improvement.
Through the partnership agreement, Interlake has access to Buckman’s research and analytical capabilities as if they were their own. Buckman support people from across North America visit the mill regularly to offer advice and provide recommendations. Furthermore, the local Buckman group can get help from their associates around the world, using its computer-based knowledge transfer system, K’Netix.
Initially, new Buckman products or programs had to outperform existing applications and meet product safety and environmental requirements before being accepted by the mill. Buckman recently installed another new chemical feed system. “They are an active partner in any application,” says Schnekenburger. “They decide how a chemical will be purchased, how it will be brought into the mill and how it will be applied on the paper machines.
Buckman helps with the design of all chemical feed systems, as well as the subsequent maintenance. In fact, most of the feed equipment is owned by Buckman.
Schnekenburger points out that Buckman even took over the supply and management of sodium hypochlorite, a chemical not normally provided by a specialty chemical company; however, Buckman found it could cost-effectively supply hypochlorite to the mill. Buckman also designed and installed the handling equipment.
“Buckman manages the entire chemical inventory, and essentially owns it,” says Schnekenburger. “I don’t pay for it until it is used. I get one invoice a month for all the Buckman programs. This is a huge saving in time and cost.”
Buckman describes this as results-oriented. “The mill pays on a dollar per tonne shipped basis, not for each individual chemical,” says Duffy. “We aren’t paid for broke or machine culled tonnes. Therefore, we both have an identical goal, to maximize production of high-quality products for Interlake Paper.”
Interlake recognizes that individual products may be cheaper from another supplier; bu
t it is interested in the overall picture and believes that Buckman is providing good value.
According to Schnekenburger, the relationship is made up of many unique things but he is very keen on those tangible benefits: “First, with the whole idea that Buckman owns and manages the inventory and assists in managing the equipment including its financing and maintenance. The second advantage is the on-site rep. And third, we have access to all the other Buckman groups which give freely of what they know, which is invaluable for a mill like ours.”
Are there any intangibles to the Buckman/Interlake partnership?
“Oh yes,” says Schnekenburger enthusiastically. “They are a fun group of guys whose business philosophy is the same as ours — Let’s do it.” There are no bureaucratic hang-ups, he says, and he credits Buckman’s Canadian management group with being “very creative.”
“The current agreement is a perpetual one,” says Duffy, “as long as Buckman continues to meet Interlake’s needs, we will be Interlake’s specialty chemical supplier.”
Peter N. Williamson is a freelance writer/editor specializing in the pulp and paper industry based in Hudson, QC. He is also a former editor of Pulp & Paper Canada.
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