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Strategies abound for how to deal with an industry in transition. Delegates at the 1998 PAPTAC Midwest Branch Annual Meeting were given tips and tactics on how to adapt to the changing market within t...

May 1, 1999  By Pulp & Paper Canada

Strategies abound for how to deal with an industry in transition. Delegates at the 1998 PAPTAC Midwest Branch Annual Meeting were given tips and tactics on how to adapt to the changing market within the mill and at a corporate level.

The keynote address at the meeting, held in Thunder Bay, September 22 to 25, 1998, was given by Bowater president and ceo, Arnold Nemirow, and he told how his company is meeting the challenges.

Nemirow said that Bowater sought to create the premier North American forest products company with the ability to furnish A class product. The company repositioned core business, reduced costs and enhanced the asset base in order to deliver positive financial results. The company also developed strategic partnerships, as with Avenor.


Internally, the company set up incentive plans for the employees to “line them up with shareholders goals,” Nemirow said. Quarterly incentives were established allowing up to a 5% bonus. The incentives motivate the employees to be more entrepreneurial, the company president said. The result of this plan has been an increase in positive behavior. “People show up early. Spouses are calling in not just to see if their husbands are in, but to see if the machine is up and running.”

Looking ahead, Nemirow forecasted an Asian recovery that would help to drive demand for newsprint. In his estimation, the exploding population, increase in literacy rate, increased urbanization and rising expectations of a higher standard of living would contribute to the increased demand for paper. He speculated that the recovery would be seen by the end of the third quarter 2000.

Focusing on mills in the Midwest Branch region, mill managers Lorne Morrow, Norampac, Norm Facey, St. Mary’s Paper, and Scott Mosher, MacMillan Bloedel discussed the challenges they have and foresee in the near future.

Morrow said that independent mills and plants in an integrated system are a necessity in Canada. “Stand-alone” operations cannot survive the troughs of the cycle. He said that the management style would become more decentralized, and the mill management will encourage more floor contact. He forecasted an open market in energy and an increase in co-generation. In sales, niche marketing and partnerships will continue.

Mosher stressed the need to respond to and anticipate customer needs with quality service assured by ISO certification and a 24-hour rush response to rush orders. Empowering and training and upgrading staff skills was also high on his list, with particular focus on motivating older workers who are reluctant to retrain. “It is not the strongest that survive,” Mosher said paraphrasing Darwin, “but those most responsive to change.”

“People have to change to meet the challenge,” said Facey. The biggest challenge he faces is learning how to engage the people. All three managers spoke about strategies to keep the employees informed about what they affect (i.e. the business). Their information strategies consist of business boards, information session, etc.

For an investment perspective, John Duncanson, Duncanson Investment Research and Craig Alexander, TD Financial Group were invited to speak to the delegates. Duncanson showed how the industry has performed since the early 90s, saying that shareholder returns have been “pretty disappointing.” The paper and forest products index on the Toronto stock exchange hit a low point in 1998.

From a global perspective, Duncanson said, companies have had a major change in philosophy in the last five years. They have become more focussed, selling non-core assets. This increased focus has also lead to increased profit margins.

Scaled-down operations, said Duncanson, will mean that another recession won’t affect the industry so severely.

Craig Alexander presented a general overview of the Canadian economy.

Technical sessions

Eleven technical sessions were held, and 35 papers presented, looking at pulping, papermaking, environment, safety, process control, new technology and management issues.

The Papermaking I session presented some new technology, as well as tips to rebuild older technology. John Tennier presented a paper in the absence of K. Hilden, Papertech Inc. He spoke about new digital break recording technology. Digital signal processing (DSP) based CCD camera technology continuously monitors all of the critical locations from the wet end to the dry end of the paper machine and coater. When a break occurs the system downloads the event into a dedicated break bank, making it possible to fully analyse the events leading up to and following the break. Tennier reported that some of the advantages of the DSP-based digital system are its improved image resolution and its ability to detect holes, edge faults and sheet breaks.

Nicole Poirier, Paprican, was also a replacement speaker, and she told the audience about Paprican’s new pilot paper machine. Poirier told the delegates that the new machine would have a combined roll/blade former, a four-roll press followed by a shoe press, two high-intensity dryers and two reels. Each high-intensity dryer has a steam heated pressure roll and a hot-air impingement hood. One reel will be located after the last press to collect pressed but not dried paper, the other after the last dryer. Poirier said that the machine would be used for member company trials and Paprican research.

Marc Foulger, GL&V, discussed paper machine rebuilds for quality and production, and presented some case studies of successful rebuilds in the forming, pressing, drying and finishing areas. A rebuild in the headbox, he said, may be done to improve profile, reduce consistency or increase production; in the press section improvements can be seen in increased dryness and increased runnability. “A well-placed rebuild of an old machine can increase machine productivity, improve quality or allow grade changes,” said Foulger.

The Nalco TRA-CIDE diagnostic system, a proprietary technology, is a diagnostic tool to manage biocide performance in paper machine systems. Robert Kelly, Nalco, said that with mill closure there is an increased need for microbiological control. He described the technology- the monitors used to measure microbial population and the information obtained from the monitors. Kelly said that the systems could be used to improve the environmental profile.

In a session on papermaking Theo van de Ven, McGill stressed the importance of understanding the chemistry in the wet end. “If you understand the chemistry,” he said, “you can understand what the filler and retention aids are doing in the furnish.” Van de Ven looked at the interplay between hydrodynamic forces and colloidal forces to determine the interaction between fibres and fillers in a papermaking suspension.

John Tennier spoke about a new off-line high-resolution variability analyzer used for optimizing and troubleshooting paper machines. The analyzer is able to identify the nature of variation and its magnitude, and is also able to isolate the specific machine part that is most likely causing the sheet disturbance. It has been used, said Tennier, “to run everything from forming fabric to Bible paper.”

The last paper in the session, by Ken Boegh, Bowater Thunder Bay, discussed the management of white water using a counter current flow principle.

For your own safety

The subject of safety was looked at from both cure and prevention perspectives. Terry Rusk and Ron Bruneau spoke about and presented a film on a procedure to extract an operator from the winder at the Pine Falls, MN, mill. There have been seven incidents at the mill in seven years and all have been lost time injuries, delegates were told. The rescue procedure, which involves four large wedges, four hydraulic jacks, four anchor chains and a pry bar, takes approximately one minute to free someone.

The safety observation and action program (S.O.A.P) in place at Spruce Falls in Kapuskasing, ON, has had great success, according to Ken Sanford, Spruce Falls Inc. Employees are “encouraged to actively participate in identifying and correcting the existing potential hazards” u
sing the Safety Observation and Action Sheet. A rewards program has been put in place as an added safety incentive.


The keynote address and mill managers’ forum ventured into management issues and a session was also devoted to the topic. Fred Brooks, EnTech Control, provided examples that illustrate hidden operating constraints and the methods used to correct them. EnTech has categorized constraints related to the production of paper. Soft constraints include such items as transmitter calibrations and process control loop tuning. Hard constraint solutions look at process design. Firm constraints are organizational problems like inadequate training. Brooks talked about how to address each of these challenges. Constraint management, said Brooks, improves quality and reduces the cost of operation.

The next paper did not look at the production of paper but rather at the sustainability of the forests and what the industry needs to do. Peter Nicholas, Peter W. Nicholas and Assoc., focused his speech on the forests in the NorthWestern region of Ontario. Forest consumption has grown in the area and the land is being diverted to “competing and sometimes industry exclusive alternate uses.” Nicholas said that government will have to reward those who spend the money on improved yield forest management in addition to baseline sustainable forest management. “The reality is: we have to generate high yield to avoid stagnation; we have to know our growth rates…(and) few people know the industry has a dilemma in wood supply.”

Professional development

The knowledge of the people inside and outside the industry is important to how it is perceived and to how it advances, and fittingly a session at the conference was dedicated to education. Doug Walker, Irving Pulp and Paper, discussed the New Brunswick Co-Operative Education and Training program, an initiative that originated at his company in the early 1990s. The program benefits the industry by raising the expected minimum education and skill levels of those entering the industry. With the work terms, both the student and employers benefit. The students get financial assistance for their studies and the employers receive semi-trained newcomers when they need temporary employment.

The program trains mechanical technicians, control technicians and operations technology.

Confederation College in Thunder Bay answers a need in Northwestern Ontario for younger employee prospects with greater skills. “Northwestern Ontario has an aging workforce, currently about 42 years,” said session chair Steve Scribner, Bowater Thunder Bay. “(We) need to address (this problem) the way New Brunswick did seven to eight years ago. If we don’t, we will cannibalize each other’s work force.”

The skill development program at the college has strategic alliances with universities and has developed programs for environmental technician, electronic engineer technicians and electrical engineering technology.

The Midwest Branch is planning its next meeting for September 29, 1999.

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