International Paper in the spotlight
We interviewed Stan Merrill, Senior Staff Engineer for Finishing and Converting part of the Technology Group at International Paper (IP). He gave us his view on the expectations set on suppliers in the paper industry and the current trends in roll handling.
Stan Merrill has extensive experience in the paper industry. He started as an apprentice at a paper mill while he was working on his engineering degree, worked as a field engineer and in management positions at Lamb-Grays Harbor Co. from the late ’70s, and many challenging projects later landed at International Paper in the late ’90s. Now he’s part of a team of engineers and acting as a subject-matter expert in finishing and converting area. He has worked in close cooperation with Pesmel’s specialists on various projects.
Expectations of Tier 1 suppliers
Tier 1 suppliers are an exclusive group of suppliers that IP primarily works with. IP constantly ranks them in order to find the best ones to work with, so it is a tough category to get into. Stan Merrill talks about their requirements for the suppliers:
“In selecting a supplier, there are a hundred things to look at. One of the most important things is the supplier’s technical knowledge. Are they able to create what we need, do they have the understanding we need, for example in automation and safety? The supplier’s references tell us a lot about their know-how. For example, if I need an axial stretch wrapping system and all they’ve done are radial systems, they’re probably not the right choice. I tend to work on an 80/20 rule in projects, meaning that I’m willing to take a risk on development, you know, to move forward with progress, for about 20% of a project, provided that it’s well-managed.”
“The composition of the engineering team says a lot about the company’s know-how. We look at the mix of talent in a company. Seniors know the history of the industry. Experts who started about ten years ago are the ones who know how the current systems work. Then there are the new talents who challenge concepts and bring in new technology such as 3D modeling and stress analysis. This tells us that the company has a history and experience, but also knowledge of today’s technology and the migration between these.”
“The company should be large and flexible enough to be able to handle two to three projects at the same time in a reasonable timeline. And honorable, in the sense that they take responsibility over their work and provide system support.”
Are there things that the supplier should be careful of, then?
“A vendor should not just push their own ideas and dismiss the customer’s wishes without proper reasoning,” says Merrill.
“The customer may have done extensive research and testing and have good justifications for why they want certain solutions. The vendor should be open to the customer’s research and knowledge. It is a partnership where we’re trying to take the vendor’s knowledge of how to build machines and how to apply the latest technology to the performance of the machine and trying to marry it up with our knowledge of construction operation practices and end-user package requirements.”
Current trends in roll handling
Stan Merrill talks about how the paper business has changed in recent decades:
“At IP, the requirements of the packaging equipment have changed drastically over the past 30 years. There used to be a couple of major suppliers who, based on their offering, dictated what customers could have and when, and what kind of buildings they should build.”
“In the past, installing and starting up a large facility could take almost a year. In today’s world, nobody wants to put twice the cost of the equipment to the construction costs. Everything needs to be tested before moving to the facility; and the costs of the systems have dropped significantly thanks to careful planning and design. Today, nobody’s building new buildings; the new equipment is fitted into existing premises.”
There has also been a significant change in roll-handling equipment:
“Not much of the equipment that was introduced ten years ago is used anymore. The old equipment is big, they have lots of individual machine controls, marginal safety circuits, huge energy usage, and they are costly to maintain. Today’s systems are a lot smaller and faster, they have complicated controls because of the safety systems, and they have minimal energy consumption and maintenance costs compared to the old systems. The system reliability has also improved a lot, which was never a component before,” says Merrill.
“Stretch means less equipment, less energy consumption, and a lot more safety.”– Stan Merrill
Stretch-film wrapping is taking over kraft packing
Stretch-film wrapping is becoming increasingly popular as a packing method in the paper industry. What do you think are the reasons for this trend?
“Previously, stretch-wrapping systems were driven by small companies that did not have the resources to do research on the polymers and the creation of packages. Over the years, they have been able to gain more knowledge and are now able to design better solutions. I think people are starting to understand that stretch means less equipment, less energy consumption, and a lot more safety because there’s not all that complex machinery. The main reason that hinders the migration from kraft to stretch is the fact that changing the packing method for one mill in company would require changing it for all the mills that make the same product, which requires a lot of effort,” explains Merrill.
Cooperation with Pesmel has been a pleasant surprise
The paths of IP and Pesmel crossed for the first time ten years ago:
“With the first project ten years ago everything ran fine, everybody was happy. But there were a couple of failures in communication and execution, and we beat them up pretty badly for that. But as Pesmel assured us that they had learned from our feedback and corrected their practices, and because their technical solution, plan and offering were superior, it was well worth the risk to move on to the next project. This project proved to be a pleasant surprise: they were a lot more open about their processes and designs, they had interesting new concepts, and they were sharing ideas and refining their designs with us. Moving on to the new projects, Pesmel has always learned from the previous one and automatically moved this knowledge to the next one,” commends Merrill.
“We evaluate our vendors continuously. Pesmel has better performance year by year.”
International Paper Company is an American pulp and paper company – the largest such company in the world. It is a leading manufacturer of containerboard and corrugated packaging. It has approximately 65,000 employees, and it is headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee.