In an exclusive interview with PPI, members of the Eka North American team express their vision for the coming years, concerning approaches to helping papermakers in the U.S., Canada, South and Central America adapt to changing market conditions, and be more profitable.
Mario Houde (center), president of the Eka Chemicals operations in the Americas, was recently joined by team members Greg Bengtson (left), VP, sales and marketing and Tony Colasurdo, director of marketing and business developmentfor an interview with PPI. Eka is a business unit of AkzoNobel and Houde previously led the AkzoNobel Cellulosic Specialties business, and before that, directed Eka's pulp and Paper business in North America. Houde played a central role in Eka's restructuring of the bleaching and paper chemicals businesses into a single operating unit.
Bengtson, who led the company's global relaunch of Compozil in the 1999-2003 timeframe, brings a branding perspective to the entire offering in North America. Colasurdo, who recently managed Eka's Specialty Oxidants Business in NA and was technical manager for Paper Chemicals NA during the 90's, sees marketing as a means to bring customers and the full spectrum of Eka capabilities closer together.
PPI: Describe what's unique about the North America market?
Houde:There are significant differences between North America and other regions of the world, ranging from a trend toward grade specialization and an emergence of highly focused "regional" companies.
Our approach is to find the right value proposition for North American customers, and then work to put proprietary solutions in place for a particular machine or grade structure.
Because our offering reaches across pulping, papermaking and coating, based on advanced chemistries and know-how, we often deliver overall profit gains to contribute a critical difference to the bottom line, and in some cases, help mills survive in tough times.
In terms of the paper producers themselves, there has been consolidation, streamlining and focus. But even for them, prosperity depends to a large degree on how they perform regionally. Paper consumption is local. Eka is regional to fit the specific needs of producers. I should point out that South America (for which I have management responsibility) is one of the true success stories of our times, concerning pulp in particular, but let's save that discussion for another interview.
Bengtson:Cost competitiveness is of key importance in mature markets. We can make a difference in helping customers enhance productivity. Increasing their efficiency and adding value for the finished product; helping them to provide a differentiated cost effective product.
In the wood-containing sector, which was dominated by newsprint, we are very active in adding value to wood containing grades. Helping customers achieve better productivity and a differentiated end product are part of our capability.
PPI: What degree did Eka restructure and adapt?
Houde:Seeking to match the changing landscape, our shift in business goes back to 2000 to 2003. While it might not seem earthshaking to put two aligned business units together - namely pulp bleaching and paper chemistry, this was huge for us. Anyone who visited most pulp or paper mills a decade ago - even at an integrated location, would know that each unit operated in its own world. We had a range of applications know-how, but only occasionally brought the full benefits of our capabilities to customers.
As the industry shifted its focus and ownership to more strategic streamlined offerings, we realized the importance of changing to meet their needs, and minimize costs. Cut costs, cut costs again and again, became the mantra, boldly expressed by customers and our own management team. This meant that we had to find ways to eliminate steps, functions and divisions from our business. The good news is that we ushered in a new era of IT solutions, saving customers and us a lot of money.
Bengtson:We also realized that papermaking chemistry ideas concerning bleaching and vice versa added a lot of creativity to the mix. Why not gain from the synergies between bleaching and papermaking? Why not also reach forward to include coatings? In addition, we began to see our natural role in water management, because of its importance from start to finish, and beyond the mill from a sustainability standpoint.
PPI: Describe your growing presence in water management.
Colasurdo:While we are best known as a leader in ECF bleaching and Compozil silica nanoparticle technology systems at the wet end, expansion into water management is means of enhancing Eka's product mix for our customers and in fact, a natural organic growth development in our organization. Customers have long expressed an interest in alternatives to traditional biocides, as well as a desire to run cleaner and more smoothly, especially challenging with closed water loops. Eka Purate provides an opportunity to work with our customers on sustainability initiatives, such as water use reduction, resulting in an eco premium advantage.
Bengtson:the Eka Purate, worry-free chlorine dioxide, concept reaches back to the rivers all the way through the process to waste treatment. One customer in Europe suggests that Eka Purate is a means to make water a high value-added chemical. Increasingly, chlorine dioxide is the preferred approach for drinking water for municipalities, so why not purification at pulp and paper mills?
PPI: Isn't everything really about efficiency and quality output?
Colasurdo:Our philosophy has always been about using fewer chemicals at lower dosages to help customers achieve greater efficiency and consistent high quality grades. This philosophy goes a step further with the precise and safe application of Eka Purate, optimizing or eliminating high cost chemistries while improving process water quality. Clean process water leads to the reduction of costly build up of deposits on the papermaking fabrics and equipment and creates overall improvements in wet end chemistry.
Another key consideration is choosing chemistry that does not contribute to corrosion associated down time. Preventive maintenance on your equipment is closely associated with a proactive and preventive approach in treating your water systems. That sums it up, our water management strategy and philosophy is really no different than how we look at the pulp and papermaking process across the board.
Bengtson:Having started out in paper chemical sales, the single overwhelming issue that my customers faced was runnability at high speeds, followed by the unwanted consequence of defects in the sheet. This bar has been raised even higher
Now, the challenge is to run with far more filler content, and for many, employing alternative fibers-meeting the needs of faster printing presses with entirely new inks. Under these conditions, you certainly don't need multipliers of interferences. Just as some of the equipment manufacturers have found ways to help papermakers shift to preventive maintenance, that's what Eka Purate and other chemical concepts should do.
PPI: How is Eka Purate similar and different to using chlorine dioxide for bleaching?
Houde:Other than the fact the same chemistry is employed, the difference is huge. In one case, you employ large volumes. In the other, you employ drops in the bucket, and very tightly dosed, monitored and controlled application. The main point is that Eka Purate is a control system. You remove the noise to be more effective doing other things.
A lot of innovative thinking went into taking know-how from large-scale generation to smaller scale units that run reliably and safely where the water comes into the mill, and nearby the paper machines.
With the Eka Purate innovation, we have studied how to do this on site in a very safe way. Even though,chlorine dioxide is proven, tried and true for large scale bleaching operations, this does not mean that small-scale generation has no impact on the work environment in another part of the mill. Safety is always about local, specific situations; not simply the technology put in place.
Eka Chemicals offers the papermaker expertise covering the entire mill from pulp and paper production to coating operations and the recycled plant. The group has earned a reputation for innovation because its leadership role in ECF environmentally friendly bleaching, as well as the Compozil nanoparticle retention/drainage system, continuously advanced since the original breakthrough in the 80's. Most recently the company has introduced its 4thgeneration silica nanoparticle systems, Eka Purate technology and the addition of coating rheology modifiers, all which it says are proof of strength in developing the most cost-effective solutions for mills.