BRUSSELS, April 1, 2014 (PPI Magazine) - Jo Cox is somewhat of an entrepreneur in the industry. As managing director of Smurfit Kappa's Roermond Mill in the Netherlands he has been instrumental in developing a pioneering strategy across all aspects of the mill, in particular its revolutionary focus on bio-based practices.
Cox's achievements and that of the mill have not gone unrecognized as he was named Mill Manager of the Year and Roermond was honored for having the Bio Strategy of the Year for the mill's pioneering developments at the 2013 PPI Awards.
The focus in that industry was mainly on the reduction of energy consumption: tunnel kilns are usually fired with expensive natural gas.
The building industry sector is rather conservative and innovations and investments in new technologies are limited. Most construction materials are not scarce: sand, stone, gravel, lime and clay can be found almost everywhere. This might be the explanation that the business model in the building sector is still a linear one.
How have you applied your knowledge from those industries to the way you manage the Smurfit Kappa Roermond mill? Is there anything that the packaging industry needs to be doing differently? Yes, you are always learning things. The ceramic industry was an interesting environment to learn about customers, quality, service and proactively anticipating to new fast changing situations. Both sectors are capital intensive and sensitive for cyclicality. The packaging paper industry is clearly in a different situation. The building industry is in a kind of survival mode while we are investing and preparing ourselves for the future. My vision is that if we do the right things, we will be not only in the lead to shape the bio-based economy but we also are in the position to realize growth in an economical, ecological and social way.
You are known as an entrepreneur who is not afraid to challenge the status quo? How does this fit in with the more traditional aspects of the industry? The industry has an enormous potential being an important partner and driver for the bio-based industry. It has a lot of knowledge and experience. We should build on this knowledge and turn its more traditional aspects into advantages to become a leading industry sector in the bio-based economy. The paper industry should shape the bio-based economy together with coalition partners. The potential is huge and there are great opportunities for our industry.We should forget about traditions. Forward thinking is necessary to take full advantage of the bio-based economy and a new era has begun. I am convinced that this industry has a fantastic future full of opportunities.
Roermond Papier is one of the frontrunners in sustainability. What has been the driving force with this? How important is your work with your customers in developing this sustainability strategy further? From the end of 2008, when I became managing director of the mill, we started focusing on sustainability much more than before. We started to understand that sustainability is a key driver for innovation. For that reason we embedded circular economy thinking in our strategy, with the conviction that companies solving the problems of resource constraints will have an advantage. In the old days companies considered environmental issues as a concern for government and environmental organizations. They ‘just' complied with legislation. Then companies started focusing on efficiency, realizing that considerable cost savings were possible by reducing consumption of resources and energy. Today awareness is growing that sustainability has become a key driver for innovation: of new products, process improvements and total value chain. What can a recycled paper mill do to get the most added value from its renewable and recycled resources in a sustainable and energy-efficient way? That was the driver for our own team.
We had a look at our past innovations and put them in perspective. We added new ones, pilots and development projects. Forward thinking, using the creative expertise of our people in the mill, is one of our characteristics, and we are in many aspects a real pioneer. A number of today's best practices in our industry are developed in the Smurfit Kappa Roermond Papier mill. Dialogues with suppliers and customers are necessary to increasingly innovate the total value chain for the benefits of all stakeholders. We are learning a lot about the circular economy from our customers and this gives us the inspiration to develop innovative solutions. The technology departments from all stakeholders, upstream and downstream the value chain should work closely together to develop new innovations to create value.
How is the work going regarding your aim to make the Roermond mill a zero waste mill? First of all I don't like the word "waste". The socalled waste streams of today are the raw materials of the future. We, in the Roermond mill, are already almost waste free but the first steps we took were easier than the ones before us. And besides that, the goal is not only to be a zero waste mill and reducing reject costs, please remember that people planet and profit have to be in balance. We also want to have the highest possible applications as well. In descending order: prevention, re-use, up/recycling, energy and disposal. We are working towards this target in a structured way. A good example of up-cycling a reject stream is our unique and robust process to produce a solid fuel pellet, Rofire®. This unique process creates value from rejects. Another initiative is that we take active part in a roundtable, a kind of fair, where all kind of industries meet to exchange reject streams.
You have made considerable headway in your work with people from the local area near the mill. How important is the relationship with the local community and the future success of the mill? What plans do you have to develop this further? The mill can be considered as a city mill, we are only one mile away from Roermond's city center. We are literally part of society. For this reason a good relationship with our neighbors and with the municipality is essential. As part of our communication strategy we present every year the mill sustainability report to all stakeholders in the area.
To develop and to maintain the relationship is an ongoing process. We are organizing visits for authorities, neighbors, schools and local industrial business clubs to show them sustainability in practice. I am chairman of the Willem Alexander industrial zone representing not only the interests of our own mill but also those of other companies in the area, around issues such as infrastructure and accessibility. As board member of the Employers Association I am driving the development of the local area as an attractive location for new companies to establish operations and provide local employment. Roermond Papier also takes part in initiatives such as education and skills training to tackle youth unemployment. It is important to properly promote the attractiveness of our mill to attract and retain the right people because at the end of the day people will make the difference.
The mill has had its tough times in the past, especially after the fire a couple of years ago. What is the key to overcoming tough times and how important is your staff to the future success of the mill? Unfortunately you can't always sail without facing a storm. That is what happened to us in the beginning of 2012 with a fire.
The PM1 fire we had was severe but it could have been worse. The fire looked dramatic from the outside but after the first inspection inside the building and the paper machine the damage was fortunately limited. It was a spectacular fire in the middle of the night and that was the reason for the media to spend a lot of attention on it in newspapers and television. We have been lucky that only a small part of the dryers was damaged. Our heat recovery scrubber, however, was badly damaged and the aluminum heat exchangers were totally destroyed.
I am very proud of our team which worked very hard, around the clock, to get the machine up and running in only a couple of days. The team found and executed provisional solutions to start up the machine only five days after the fire, a remarkable achievement, which shows the spirit of the people. The heat recovery system, scrubber, was so badly damaged that we had to renew this completely during an annual shut down. This affected our energy consumption but, because of smart provisional solutions, not our production capacity. We could only handle this fire and the damage so well because of our staff. Our people, who are very motivated and dedicated to the mill, have a passion for paper and are really professional craftsmen.
The mill is one of the lowest energy consuming mills in Europe. What are your future plans for further energy reduction? Energy reduction is extremely important but on a higher level we find that the energy costs in the Netherlands are far too high. This makes international competition challenging for us despite low consumption. For that reason energy is one of the highest cost drivers and remains one of our spearheads. We have developed an energy efficiency plan with the objectiveto reduce our specific energy consumption by at least 5% in 2018.
Despite the already good performance there is still a lot of residual heat that we unfortunately can't use at this moment. Together with partners we are developing appropriate energy recovering techniques for the near future. But also part of our energy strategy is to reduce the dependency of fossil fuels. The goal is to improve the share of non-primary energy, currently 5%, to more than 15% in 2018.
How important is bio energy to the future of the paper mill? Becoming less dependent on fossil fuels for a recycled paper mill is of course key but certainly not easy. Biomass is scarce, in my view to fire products like straw and wood is a pity and totally wrong. Cascading solutions to realize the highest added value, including energy, from the biomass is necessary. I believe that this alone is not good enough. What we need are ultimate solutions such as breakthrough technologies to achieve substantial lower energy consumption in the paper production process. This is a challenge for the whole paper industry. The outcome from the CEPI ‘Two Team' projects is very promising, and shows an interesting best route for our industry.
Regarding your plan to make a significant investment in the PM 1 lightweight machine. How important is this to the future of the mill and its future output? The last large rebuild of PM 1 was more than 20 years ago. We have been taken good care of this paper machine, pushing output to the limits. Since the initial startup in 1973 the actual annual output is three times more than in the first years. But after so many years of faithful service the paper machine needs a complete overhaul: press section, dryers, drive and film press. The objective is to reduce the energy consumption even further as answer to the rising energy costs. After the modification the paper machine is also capable to produce lighter weight paper grades. After this strategic investment Roermond will be ready for the future with a full range of brown recycled paper grades and with an optimal energy efficient production.
You won the PPI award for mill manager of the year. What does this mean to you? For me as a person it is an honor to be recognized as mill manger of the year but above all it is recognition for the whole Roermond team and the Smurfit Kappa Group. It generated a lot of positive attention in the media the local region and associations of which we are part. It also has a very positive effect on the image of the ‘make industry' as a motor for economic recovery and innovation. The award is certainly a great motivator for the mill and a reason to raise the bar and to improve our performance even further.
How important is it for you and your team to be recognized in this way? The people of the Roermond mill are very proud about this achievement. They see these awards as a reward for the long tradition of innovations by the mill. The current generation builds on this tradition to stay on top and see these awards as an extra stimulation to continue and build on the future of our mill in the spirit of our predecessors. Present and next generations will add new innovations to the long list we already have on our name. We are obliged to do so for those people who have made our mill and company a great one to work for. We will pass this power and passion on to next generations and be prepared for new challenges ahead, making us a frontrunner in the bio-based economy.
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