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PAPETERIE ALMA — Jewel in the Abitibi-Consolidated operation

Abitibi-Consolidated Inc. is a global leader in the production of newsprint and uncoated ground wood (value-added groundwood) papers. Add to this the production of wood products and generated sales we...


July 1, 2005
By Pulp & Paper Canada

Topics

Abitibi-Consolidated Inc. is a global leader in the production of newsprint and uncoated ground wood (value-added groundwood) papers. Add to this the production of wood products and generated sales were $5.8 billion in 2004. The company was established on May 29th, 1997, with the merger of Abitibi-Price and Stone-Consolidated. Both Canadian created companies were involved with forest products, and both were seeking opportunities for growth. The marriage created a giant and a world leader in the paper industry. Abitibi-Consolidated owns or is a partner in twenty-six paper mills, 22 sawmills, five re-manufacturing facilities and one engineered wood facility. With approximately 14,000 employees in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., South Korea, China and Thailand, its business network is huge, spreading across approximately 70 nations worldwide. Recycling is key to its operations, with 14 recycling centres spread across North America, making Abitibi-Consolidated the world’s largest recycler of old newspapers and magazines. The company is also responsible for close to eighteen million hectares of woodland, and its commitment to the sustainability of the natural resources in its care is a core value the company stands behind.

City of Alma

Papeterie Alma, as the mill is known locally, is situated in the city of Alma, which is half-way between Montreal and what is referred to as Quebec’s mid-north. It is a centre renowned for its hospitality, and of course for its surrounding natural resources. Alma’s socio-economic development can be traced to its relationship with large industry. It has attracted aluminium smelters, paper mills, a hydroelectric plant and forest and agricultural processing industries. As the capital of the historically rich Lac St-Jean region, the city boasts of its ‘joie de vivre’. This quality extends right into the mill operation. “We have a special spirit here in the mill,” said general manager, Carl Dahl, “and we care not only about the present but about the future legacy of the operation.” Indeed, it is not unusual for more than one generation of family members to have earned their livelihood from the Alma mill, as Dahl put it quite concisely, “for many the mill is almost like a home away from home.”

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Early days

Construction of the Alma mill started in 1924, with the first sellable paper roll produced on December 12, 1925. The process continues 80 years later. Initially there were four machines, all producing newsprint. In 1967 two of the original machines were replaced by PM14. During the years 1986-1989, the last two remaining machines were converted to the production of directory paper.

Critical change

The beginning of 1990 saw the mill at a critical point in its operation, arriving at a situation where the possibility of a complete shutdown was looming. As Dahl highlighted, during this period the mill was not profitable, the quality of paper manufactured was questionable, and there was a prevailing mood of labour conflict. After 65 years of operation, the major employer in Alma was predicted to come to an abrupt end. Why this did not happen and how the mill now flourishes with renewed vitality is a testament to the efforts of the employees, the unions, and management who all worked collectively to carve out a new formula for operation.

Formula built for success

The essence of the formula is simple, but what is remarkable is that even after more than a decade of its implementation, it is still in effect, and forms the cornerstone of the operation today. The management philosophy is based on employee involvement, and shared responsibility. “We are partners in running this mill,” added Dahl. With over 20 years of experience in the industry, and also having worked at four mills, Dahl is a modest man who spoke with an air of fatherly pride about the workers at the Alma mill. “It is somewhat like managing a hockey team where all the players contribute to the overall success of the team,” he said. “Involving the workers on every level is what makes the system really work,” added Claude Potvin, director of finances, supply management and continuous improvement. As one of the sitting members of the seven-man management team, he pointed out that the operation is so highly based on trust and involvement, that two-thirds of the shifts do not have supervisory personnel. “If something were to go wrong, employees have the mandate to resolve the situation, even if it means shutting down the machine,” said Sylvain Bouchard, director of pulp and fibre. “By working this way we have all developed this unique mutual trust.” With over 16 years of experience in the industry, Bouchard believes the established system is perfect for the Alma operation. Because workers understand and respect the fact that they have a voice in what the future holds, they are genuine in their desire to exceed their job expectations. “People are proud to operate this way, and would never tolerate coming back to the old days,” said director of production, Gratien Girarda, who has also served on the management team for the past 11 years.

The team approach

The seven-man management team, serves as the watchdog for ensuring the principles of involvement are not just adhered to, but also evolve with changing times. Girard explained, “There are many meetings on every level; we have an effective communication flow and the structures to listen to every worker’s idea is ingrained in the way they operate. Insiders talked to me about the effectiveness of the management team, while the management members applauded the workers.”

In essence this is an example of the formula established in the early ’90s still works. Within the ranks of the 550 employees, one has a sense of high energy levels at the Alma mill. Wanting to know what is around the next corner and being confident that they have the right tools to handle what the future brings are givens. “We are better than our competition,” added Dahl, “and it is because of the teamwork of every employee.” La Papeterie Alma will celebrate 80 years of continuous paper production on December 12, 2005.

Your comments and suggestions are welcomed at zsoltp@pulpandpapercanada.com

ABITIBI-CONSOLIDATED: Vision & Values

The stated vision is to “be the leading forest products company — supplying the world with papers for communication.”

Our values influence everything we do and ensure that Abitibi-Consolidated sustains a competitive edge, grows and endures over time and through change. We are committed to the protection and enhancement of the natural resources in our care. Our goal is to strive continuously for improvement in meeting all of our commitments for the benefit of society today and future generations and for the economic well-being of the company.

OPERATIONS AT A GLANCE

Products

Catalogue paper, clay-filled directory paper (white and yellow) with up to 40% recycled content, heatset products.

Brand Names

ABINEWS (basis weight = 45 to 52 g/m2), ABILITE (basis weight = 28 to 40 g/m2)

Raw Materials

Mainly sawmill chips supplied by the Saguenay-Lac St-Jean Division.

Pulp Content

Newsprint: Thermomechanical pulp (TMP) (100%) Directory paper: Thermomechanical pulp (TMP) (60-80%), deinked pulp (DIP) (up to 40%), kraft pulp (5%)

Production Capacity/Year

Value-added papers: Alternative Offset and Equal Offset: 217,000 tonnes Directory paper: 134,000 tonnes Total: 351,000 tonnes

MILL IMPROVEMENTS

1995-1996

Addition of deinking plant and effluent treatment system

1996

TMP plant added

2004

Conversion of PM14 to Equal Offset paper