Producing paper is a capital-intensive industry. Financial experts dictate how business is run to a large degree. Reducing costs is a key responsibility for a Production Manager. Rightfully so, we won’t argue with the need for cost reduction. What we do need to address is the TYPE of cost reduction that will turn out costly for our future.
The Pros Of Limiting The Number Of Suppliers
A way to reduce costs is to pay lower prices for larger purchasing volume per supplier. Automatically you reduce the number of suppliers for the papermaker.
For papermakers it is convenient to have only one or two paper machine clothing suppliers, because once they are familiar with the papermaker’s situation, they do not only deliver the clothing, but they can also take care of installing felts and fabrics, do regular service measurements, supply consignment stock, troubleshoot and advise on paper machine settings.
The machine clothing supplier won’t object to being the single preferred supplier for a papermaker. It means lower acquisition costs and business continuity when large volume purchases are guaranteed. Plus, with experience of the papermaker’s machine, it becomes much easier to design good felts and fabrics.
Production disturbances can be solved faster through knowledge sharing, especially when you are familiar with each other’s machines, materials, processes and procedures. Not to mention the smaller communication gap that exists between the people of 2 companies that are comfortably working together.
But we all know that innovation doesn’t happen in our comfort zone…
The Dangers Of Limiting The Number Of Suppliers
The capital gains of comfort, efficiency and (large volume) cost reduction are short-term. It is important we see the whole picture to understand the long-term consequence that will inevitably become shorter-term when we near the paper industry’s future.
Having only one or two paper machine clothing suppliers is bringing several risks for both the papermaker and the machine clothing supplier.
The papermaker has a big dependence on their supplier. If something happens (service engineers leaving, delivery problems) they have little to no alternative. Also, every paper machine is unique. It takes years to understand the specific complexity and peculiarities of an individual machine, and then still… you’re never sure. Properties change over time. Realistically, a papermaker cannot expect a supplier to fully understand their machine and I believe it is the Production Manager’s responsibility to monitor and collect data on a machine’s performance and improvement potential.
Failure To Innovate
A preferred Paper Machine Clothing supplier has an enormous competitive advantage over candidate suppliers who do not have the knowledge of and experience with the specifics of the paper machines of their potential customer.
Being in its comfort zone, a paper mill will not look for new PMC suppliers or innovative solutions when the PMC supplier keeps its customer, the papermaker, satisfied enough. Without the pressure of an immediate competitor, reducing risks becomes the ambition for both the papermaker and PMC supplier. As a result, the development of successful new Machine Clothing technology is slowed down.
On A Wider Scale
As we all know, a mindset to reduce all risks is not conducive to the innovation our industry needs.
We may live of paper, but the rest of the world doesn’t
On a global scale, paper must compete with many other materials, media and mindsets.
- Graphic paper competes with electronic media.
- Banknote paper competes with polyester (just check the Canadian Dollar bills).
- Cigarette paper competes with the mind of a health-conscious consumer.
- (Recyclable) Plastics can be a worthy alternative for companies who need strong, lightweight and less flammable packaging materials.
- We may consider Japanese toilets, with water cleaning and a comfy hot air dryer, as too futuristic, but didn’t we think the same about passenger jets or computers in the past?
“Don’t settle for the status quo, when innovation opportunities knock on your door” – Marcel Lensvelt, CEO & founder of Feltest Equipment BV
Any paper mill that wants to stay ahead of current and future competition needs to innovate. Don’t forget that paper mills are not only competing with each other—on a global scale—but are also competing against other materials and alternative solutions to paper.
Paper mills must find new ways to greatly improve the output and performance of their machines. In advanced quality. In reduced cost. In growing volume. In increased worker’s safety, and more.
However, in getting a solid short-term return on investment, the paper industry is playing it safe. Due to large sums of money and the perceived risk involved, the general rule is to follow a conservative strategy. It’s a deadly strategy in the long run, jeopardizing the future of the whole industry.
Fortunately, all hope is not lost. To be continued soon with part two about “What to do, and how…
… in the meantime Feltest has a Papermakers Poll: “How comfortable do you feel optimizing Paper Machine Clothing?”
You can leave your experience here. Thanks for your support!
If you have any questions left, or if you want to share your opinion, feel free to contact me or my Feltest team at email@example.com.
Keep on innovating!