The customer dimension

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The customer dimension

March 29, 2010 - 01:28

BRUSSELS, March 29, 2010 (RISI) -Jon Painter, who recently became president & CEO of Kadant, a leading supplier of fiber, energy and quality solutions across fiber processing and papermaking, sees a focus on customer needs as the core competency of his company.

Systems and components for pulping, screening, deinking and cleaning, followed by doctoring, fluid and steam handling solutions at the wet end and dryer section, as well as water management, make up the company offering.

In an exclusive interview with PPI, Painter expresses his vision for the coming years, concerning the industry globally, and in respective markets and segments of the process.

PPI: What is Kadant's greatest deliverable to pulp and paper producers?

Customer focus built around application expertise is our recipe for success. We deliver cost-effective products and technologies that customers need, largely because of our direct mill presence and daily interactions with our customers. When you understand the challenges at a particular mill, and create solutions based upon the input of their managers and operators, you are able to develop customized solutions. We listen. We trial. We refine. And we optimize.

Having regular customer feedback leads to smart trials. Learning from the trials sometimes leads to pioneering breakthroughs, but always to incrementally better fiber processing and papermaking efficiencies and productivity.

PPI: Describe what you mean in relation to your product offering.

While our contribution is often measured by an increase in fiber yield, paper machine efficiency, or properties in the sheet, you could also view Kadant's core competency as the removal of obstacles from the process and taking out operational costs for our customers.

Our recycling and fiber processing equipment for pulping, screening deinking and cleaning separates the unwanted from the highly desirable. We take out plastics, wire, contamination, glue, and an occasional motor block from recycled waste, but we also reduce the steps in processes, which in turn cut energy consumption. We thrive on repeat business, and do so based upon ROI."

Our steam joints, siphons, and dryer management systems eliminate breaks, unscheduled shutdowns, and reduce energy consumption.

Our doctoring systems remove stickies and minimize imperfections in the sheet and costly build-up of deposits which cause sheet breaks and effect paper quality. Our showers, nozzles and filtration systems also eliminate hazards to smooth operations and do so with far less water and energy usage.

PPI: How do you develop new solutions?

We exist to meet customer needs, which we fulfill based upon our business platforms, applications and technology know-how. There is nothing that we do where the customer is not at center stage. And sometimes we make a difference outside of our own business scope, because of our strong understanding of the papermaking processes.

When a sack producer in Italy wanted to lower costs yet increase quality, we knew that gold could be found in using less expensive, difficult waste paper. Working with them in a pioneering way, we helped them extract high quality fiber, eliminate stickies, and also save energy by re-engineering the approach to pulping. They could compete against virgin fiber without making any apologies for strength or quality. Having partnered with them over a period of years on previous advances allowed the level of trust and mutual commitment critical to innovation for them and Kadant.

You can't change the world with every project in a mill, but you can make incremental gains, and earn your ticket to meet the next challenge. Our job is to come up with products and solutions that the industry needs, which are good for the environment at a reasonable price.

PPI: Are you suggesting that you don't provide off the shelf products?

When you make doctor blades, rotary joints and siphons, stock preparation or even dryer management systems, experience and best practices will lead you to application-specific designs. And different customers have different needs. China continues to be the big growth market, where adding capacity is a high priority. By contrast, the U.S. and Europe tend to be focused more on reducing fiber and energy costs.

In China many of the newest most modern machines are running with recycled fiber, which means that our strengths in waste fiber optimization are a decisive factor favoring Kadant. Experience teaches us that every market gains from the development of excellence elsewhere, even when the criteria are different. When you listen to all constituents, and do R & D for a wide range of customers, you end up applying innovations from wherever they occur elsewhere. Just as an R & D focus at 3M was to develop super-glue, but in fact, they accidentally discovered a weak adhesive that became the basis for Post-It Notes, innovations often find a home in unexpected places.

PPI: How does applications know-how and service fit in?

Beyond our applications expertise, a primary way we distinguish ourselves is by service. That doesn't mean phone operators sitting around with earphones taking orders. I am talking about applications engineers spending time at mills, and dialog with customers to understand the way things work. Because many mills don't have the depth of expertise they would like to have, we help fill that gap.

PPI: How do your customers justify the expense of your equipment and systems when money is tight?

Our message to customers is that our equipment will save them money through reduced operating cost. With capital equipment, there's a balance between the up front cost of the equitement and lifetime cost of ownership,through steady production of quality grades, as well as savings in fiber, chemicals and energy.

On the consumables side, products like our specialty ceramic and abrasive resistant blades improve runnability and last longer because of uniform wear-so the overall result is quality at lower costs. We are aiming to make progress even on the nano level with surfaces, based on some of our latest doctor blade product developments. The reputation of our joints and siphons to improve drying is well known, and the reduction of downtime, combined with steam savings pay for retrofits or upgrades quite quickly.

PPI: How much more can be done to reduce fiber costs?

The first thing to know is that in a recycle mill, fiber can be half of the variable cost of papermaking. The promise of a 1% gain in yield makes the eyes light up of any pulp producer. In addition, gaining high performance from lower cost waste mixes is essential. Our advanced fiber processing technologies along with our expertise in virgin and recycled furnish make even previously impossible furnishes something that can work in today's demanding environment.

Getting contaminants out more efficiently and more completely is a real claim to fame for Kadant, resulting from the kind of hands on applications efforts and R & D that I mentioned earlier.

Enhancing recycled fiber is largely a process of separating fiber from contaminants, but this is not easy! Balance is the key here, too, as the issue is always efficiency vs. yield, and cleanliness, measured best by the absence of impurities and stickies at the wet end and beyond the mill at converting and printing operations.

PPI: How do you contribute to the efficiency of water usage and steam consumption?

Water issues facing our customers are bigger than ever. First, the cost of heating up water is high, and the discharge of water is costly in money and community relations.

Why spend money to get the water up to temperature for a single purpose? We can reuse the process water in a variety of applications throughout the papermaking process.

Our PetaxTMsystem for the white water loop allows recycled water to go through shower nozzles. That's a pretty impressive engineering feat. A new unit going into Thailand will demonstrate even greater value than before, because of the purity of the water reused and reused many times over.

Concerning water usage, mills are increasingly seen as competing for a valuable resource with cities, large and small, and need to minimize water consumption and discharge. We recently helped a recycled tissue mill in Israel significantly cut water usage, lowering their costs and also making them a visible environmental contributor to the local community next door.

On the steam side, we are making advances today that were only a pipe dream 10 years ago. Our latest DMS [dryer management system] eliminates steam venting and fully utilizes steam energy in a closed-loop system. Rather than waste heat by blowing off steam into the atmosphere, we are dedicated to recycling and reusing it as many times as possible.

PPI: What's new in deinking?

Our new deinking system is expected to cut operating costs compared to conventional designs. It's compact, and simpler, so it requires less capital investment. Also, a smaller footprint makes it easier to install.

PPI: Any other projects of note?

I should mention the delivery of a complete evaporator system for a Southeastern U.S. mill. Delivered on time and under budget, this system has run well from the start, and has achieved all operating goals, including lower energy consumption. We also received a repeat order for a compact stock preparation system from a major tissue producer for a mill in Latin America. The new $8 million system will have a capacity of 220 tons per day and includes pulping, screening, and cleaning equipment. This compact, stock preparation system is configured to efficiently remove stickies and other contaminants from the recycled fiber raw material. The high-consistency pulper is fitted with an energy-efficient turbine while maximized deflaking and ink removal processes allow for reduced pulping time and improved output quality. The new system is expected to start up in August.

PPI: Knowing that the global economic system is still showing some signs of instablity, how do you see 2010 shaping up for pulp and paper producers and Kadant?

As the capital equipment orders from 2009 mentioned above suggest, we had some very positive developments, which will carry through 2010. Having our "ear to the ground" throughout the world of pulp and paper producers, we do expect that developing markets will continue to fuel some capital projects as their economies are growing. We are also seeing some signs of modest recovery in North America and Europe but there is still reason for caution.