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Xerox looks for Long-Term Suppliers through its qualification process

A Pulp & Paper Canada Special ReportWorldwide, Xerox Corporation is the largest buyer and seller of uncoated freesheet and cut sheet. When you're number one, you work hard to try to keep it that way. ...


August 1, 1999
By Pulp & Paper Canada

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A Pulp & Paper Canada Special Report

Worldwide, Xerox Corporation is the largest buyer and seller of uncoated freesheet and cut sheet. When you’re number one, you work hard to try to keep it that way. In Xerox’ case, that means a close relationship with its paper suppliers.

One of the biggest problems a company such as Xerox must solve is paper jams in copiers. Although the first reaction of many would be a desire to kick the copier when a jam happens, it’s not always the machine’s fault. Paper quality is a key factor.

Paper jams mean machine downtime. And that often decreases productivity and increases anxiety levels. “The time and money spent fixing paper jams has become a competitive issue,” said Gary Chapin, manager, paper technology, Xerox Corporation. “They represent an erosion of company profits and operational inefficiencies.”

The problem is not new, but it is less troublesome than in years past. Forty years ago, a paper jam could lead to a fire in a photocopier. Early machines came equipped with fire extinguishers.

Given that businesses generate 600 million documents per day, paper quality is a critical issue. That’s why Xerox developed a rigorous paper mill qualification process to improve paper quality and minimize paper jams.

One Xerox qualified paper machine is Weyerhaeuser’s pulp and paper mill in Prince Albert, SK. The demanding qualification process means Prince Albert’s paper machine is one of only nine qualified machines from the more than 300 across North America. In Canada, paper machines at Domtar’s Windsor, QC, and Cornwall, ON, also produce paper that meets Xerox specifications. Most of the qualified machines are North American based although a machine in Japan is also qualified.

Carol Armstrong, director and general manager, Xerox Supplies, explained that the company usually initiates contact with a mill following a comprehensive review done by Xerox on its future paper needs. “We look for a cost-effective mill that can provide high quality paper on a continual, low-cost basis based on our future goals. We usually select two or three that could be potential suppliers.”

For Weyerhaeuser, the first step of the qualification process began in 1989, as representatives from both companies met to review the paper mill’s current paper standards and to assess the mill’s equipment and finishing department.

As part of this assessment, Xerox tested Weyerhaeuser paper at environmental extremes in special temperature and humidity chambers. Copier problems such as excessive curl, poor copy quality and paper jams were identified. These problems were addressed during the qualification program and eliminated.

“If the paper can meet our requirements at these environmental extremes, it will perform under the most demanding customer conditions,” explained Chapin.

Equipped with Xerox feedback, the mill moved to the Configuration Development Phase (CDP) of the qualification program where they began working with a Xerox technical specialist who provided detailed quality improvement suggestions, including the need for equipment changes and a higher level of employee involvement.

In the CDP, Xerox conducts a technical assessment of a mill’s machine and current product looking to see if there are good control systems and management of the equipment and processes. Is the equipment modern and cost-effective because, Armstrong said, “We’re looking for long-term relationships.” For example, Xerox has worked with Domtar for more than 25 years.

Extensive testing will be done on the sheet being produced. “Typically,” Armstrong added, “defects run 25 to 30 times what’s acceptable, and that’s for a good mill.” Typically, a mill’s product will be tested and the results sent back to the mill. “That’s often an eye-opener,” Armstrong said.

Besides the paper machine, the finishing and converting ends will also be assessed. As a mill advances further into the CDP, the content of the pulp is studied. “We may recommend that they change the mix — fibre, filler, chemicals,” Armstrong said. “We restrict the amount of fill in the product because filler creates a greater propensity for dusting in the copying machine.”

The end product properties are studied carefully. For example, opacity, is there too much show through? Pulp mix — does it produce an odor going through the copier because of a reaction with heat? How well does it accept toner? In packaging, labels must be straight and fully adhered to the reams and boxes. There must be good cut quality — even cuts to the exact required dimension.

The demands may seem strict but, as Armstrong added, “Everything we do transforms into a higher quality image for the customer.”

For every change Xerox recommends it will then test the product to ensure it meets requirements. Then, the mill has to show it can produce the required quality consistently. “It takes a lot of investment,” Armstrong said.

As Weyerhaeuser progressed through the CDP, its outputs steadily improved which enabled the mill to move to the Gate Test, the third phase of the program. This phase required the mill to manufacture a production size run to demonstrate its capabilities under the normal demands of a full production environment.

Once a successful gate test had been completed, the mill moved to the fourth and final phase called Verification, where it had to complete two consecutive production-size runs. In late 1994, Weyerhaeuser’s Prince Albert mill successfully completed this phase and was officially qualified to produce Xerox paper. “The process involved a significant investment in both time and money,” said Sylvia Tkach, product quality supervisor, Weyerhaeuser Prince Albert. “But the end result was greater customer satisfaction and a product that will help us generate new business opportunities.”

Wayne Roznowsky, the mill’s public affairs manager, said that Prince Albert is the only Weyerhaeuser facility qualified to supply Xerox.

The mill’s finishing department also successfully completed a separate qualification process to show they were capable of meeting Xerox’ finishing defect criteria.

The mill continues to work closely with Xerox to ensure quality is maintained through on-site tours, random test audits and regular reports that address concerns raised by customers.

“The qualification process is an example of the commitment Weyerhaeuser Prince Albert makes to our customers,” said Tkach. “At the end of the day we are in business for one reason: To provide the best products and services for our customers.”

Roznowsky said the certification process was stringent and involved, taking into account technical specifications and customer involvement. The mill must be responsive to the needs of its customers. “We have to make sure our paper is made to customers’ specs and as issues arise or specs change, we work with the customer to solve problems and face new issues. It is important to us and to them that in working with customers, all issues are resolved.”

At Prince Albert (and other mills), Xerox studies the entire papermaking process from wood handling through shipping. Roznowsky said the mill dealt with a “number of things’ to meet Xerox’ requirements, but could not release details of the process/ equipment modifications.

He adds that the tough standards and the process of working with the customer has helped the mill overall. “It helped bring us a long way.” One example Roznowsky cited was that the employees on the mill floor now know how their role affects customers. “That’s a key.”

The qualification process has two key benefits for mills, according to Armstrong. It upgrades a mill’s ability to produce high quality paper. It also assures a mill of a customer “forever”. “I don’t think we’ve ever cut off a supplier unless they changed their product or went to alkaline. Mills cannot make any changes in their process or product without working with us.”

What’s the problem with alkaline? Initially there were some problems getting the ink from ink jet printers to adhere to alkaline paper. Armstrong said this has been solved and most qualified mills are
producing alkaline paper.

When a mill becomes unqualified, Xerox will work with it to re-qualify if it wants. It can take up to 1.5 years but Armstrong said usually only six months are needed.

Even after a mill meets Xerox’ standards, there is a continual contact — audits, annual supplier reviews. “One of the things we look at, for example, is opacity,” Armstrong explained. “If we see it trending in the wrong direction, we catch it and go back to the mill to ensure it is never out of spec. We do a lot of benchmarking.”

An Award of Excellence is presented annually to the best supplier based on the product and service. It takes on average 1.5 to two years to meet the certification criteria. One mill took almost five years which just shows how important it is to some mills to be able to say they supply Xerox.

“We may purchase some paper from a mill before it’s qualified, but it will only be centre roll. It won’t be full scale until they can supply us across the machine,” Armstrong said

Being such a large-scale buyer of paper makes it imperative that Xerox remains up to date with all papermaking processes and future trends. “We are aware of what technological changes there will be in the future, what our needs will be and what the paper properties will have to be,” Armstrong said. Copiers can now make 135 copies per minute. More stiffness was needed in the sheet so it wouldn’t jam because it’s moving so fast. It also has to withstand more heat.