LPC ready to make history with new pm 2 and XXL line

LPC is investing ₤50 million in a major expansion that includes the world's first TissueFlex PM. In addition, it will be the first company outside Italy to have a superwide XXL converting line. The investments look certain to cement LPC's position as the UK's largest independent tissue supplier.


Although the LPC Group, based in Leicester, UK, is well known in the UK tissue business as a supplier of high quality tissue mainly to the private label (or retailer brand) sector, the company is not yet all that familiar to observers outside of the UK.

From humble beginnings in the early 1980s, LPC has now grown to be the UK's biggest independent supplier of tissue products.

Through this period of fast growth, the family-owned company has seen little reason to make much noise about their successes, preferring instead to get on with building the business. Indeed, the Group MD Amin Tejani is a soft spoken gentleman who makes it clear that he does not want to be the center of attention of any article about the company. "The other employees, the equipment, the community, those are the important aspects of our story." However, Tejani does admit that, given the current investment projects that are going on in the company, and the attention that those investments will focus on LPC, now might be the right time to raise the company profile. At the moment, LPC is in the middle of a £50 million (USD 75 million) capital investment project that will greatly expand both the papermaking and converting capacity of the company. Tissue paper production is scheduled to increase by over 200% from 24,000 tpy to 74,000 tpy, while converting capacity will increase by 30,000 tpy to 100,000 tpy. The main item that will put LPC in the spotlight is the fact that the company will be making history later this year with the planned start-up in September of its new 5.2-m wide tissue PM 2. The new machine is the world's first purpose-built TissueFlex shoe press machine, using the newly developed arrangement whereby the sheet is pressed against the Yankee dryer with a long-nip shoe press, thereby preserving bulk in the sheet. Supplied by Andritz, PM 2 will be capable of making 50,000 tpy of tissue at speeds up to 1,800 m/mm, making it one of the fastest and most modern tissue machines in the world. In addition to the new TissueFlex machine, the project will also include the first Perini XXL Sincro converting line to be installed outside of Italy. Thus, the new 5.4-m wide XXL will be placed alongside the new PM 2, thus reducing the need for rewinders and additional handling of much of the tonnage coming from PM 2. The XXL is expected to convert about 30,000 tpy of tonnage from PM 2 with the remainder going to the existing converting lines across the road.

IT STARTED WITH A SMALL RETAIL UNIT. The LPC Group is owned by the Tejani family, a family with roots in India but who came to the UK in the 1970s from Uganda where they had been in the coffee business. After settling in the Leicester area, the family ran a small retail business. At one point in the early 1980s, the outfit encountered difficulties in sourcing tissue products. After a study of the market, Shiraz Dharamshi, the group chairman, decided that this tissue shortage was really an opportunity for them and therefore made a move into the tissue converting business. "We could not find any tissue to buy. It was a strange shortage in the early 1980s that started us thinking about making the product ourselves instead of relying on others to supply the store with toilet tissue and kitchen towels," says Shiraz Dharamshi, "So we bought a second hand Hobema machine from a company in Norway, got hold of some jumbo rolls and we were in the business." That was 1980 and the company has been profitable every year since. In addition to tissue, LPC also got into the baby diaper business in the 1980s, a move which also proved to be profitable. As they grew the tissue business, the Tejanis brothers (there are six in total making up the company's major shareholders, with three of them sitting on the main board of directors) decided that they would need to make larger investments to fulfil the demand coming from the market. In 1982, Leicester Paper Converting, as it was then called, became a Perini customer for the first time with the purchase of two Perini rewinders. The addition of the new rewinders moved LPC to a higher level in the tissue business and as the company grew its market penetration and coverage grew as well. Finally in 1992, the company had outgrown its original premises and moved to the present 35 acre site on Waterside Road in the Hamilton Industrial Park outside Leicester. There a dedicated converting plant was built and more Perini equipment was added. All told, this ultra modern converting operation now has an annual capacity on the order of 70,000 tpy (before the XXL starts). The equipment includes 7 Perini Sincro lines making both toilet and towel grades.

PAPERMAKING ADDED IN 1998. In a move somewhat comparable to the venture into converting in the early 1980s, the company decided in the mid 1990s that it did not want to be as dependent as it had been on outside suppliers for its jumbo tissue rolls. Just as it had decided to make converted tissue rolls instead of buying them, LPC felt it would be more secure for the future to build a paper machine to guarantee its supply of jumbos. Comments Tejani: "Four or five years ago, we saw a big jump in the price of jumbo tissue rolls, which made us consider our position very carefully. We then decided to build our first paper machine. Of course, since we had no experience in papermaking, we needed to build up that competence within the company." Instead of simply hiring an entire crew of skilled papermakers, LPC decided to employ a management team of several key players who would in turn be responsible for training the locally hired labor force. Thus it truly was a greenfield paper mill, including all of the operators. LPC went with a simple concept for the first machine, as it did not want to make the project any more complicated that it had to. The machine supplier Beloit helped out with training programs and LPC set up additional training sessions with two other tissue makers with which it has very good relations, Celtech in the UK and Duni in Sweden. Bury College was also involved in the training program. Adds Tejani: "We recognized our shortcomings and understood that we needed to keep it simple for our first machine. I think that strategy has paid off very well as the machine came up to speed very quickly and we are now in fact running full speed, even above the design speed." PM 1 is a Beloit Crescent former unit which is 2.7 m wide and is really a rather standard tissue machine. LPC's first tissue machine started up in October 1998 in the new machine hall that was built across the road from the converting operations. According to paper mill manager Steve Lawe, who is one of the key managers that was brought in to build the paper machine crew, the start-up went very well with only few teething problems. "The Yankee dryer gave us some problems in the beginning so that slowed our start-up curve a little bit. But after that we have just moved right up the speed curve so that e now can run up to 1,500 m/min, which is above the design speed of 1,400 m/min." Of course, the fact that the machine supplier Beloit went into bankruptcy shortly after the machine started was not exactly welcome news at LPC but the company says that they had outstanding issues with Beloit that were all subsequently resolved. Regarding the building of the PM 1 machine crew, Lawe says it was a matter of recruiting some experienced PM supervisors from the industry and then filling out the crew with local hires. "It was a real learning process for all of us. We hired some key supervisors, who then built the team from there. The enthusiasm and dedication of the entire team has been excellent, and the willingness to learn has been impressive. Of course there have been one or two employees who did not quite fit in and have left but overall we have had very low turnover. I think everyone realizes that LPC is spending lots of money on the newest equipment and they see it as a good opportunity to be part of an exciting project. You have to admit shut a paper machine is a pretty impressive piece of equipment." PM 1 runs on a mixture of virgin pulp purchased on the international market and wet lap deinked pulp (DIP) bought from suppliers in the UK. Pulp bales are slushed in either of the two pulpers and then fed through the stock prep system, which is designed for maximum flexibility to optimize the softness and strength requirements of the grade being made. The machine has a two layer headbox which is primarily used when producing the ultrasoft grades, with eucalyptus pulp used on the Yankee side of the sheet for additional softness. Under the present configuration of the layout of the operations, jumbo rolls coming off PM 1 are wrapped in plastic stretch wrap before being transported by truck to the converting operation across the road from the paper mill. As part of the PM 2 project, the material flows will be smoothed out considerably with a series of roll conveyor systems, which will automate the process and reduce the handling of jumbo rolls.

TISSUEFLEX CONCEPT WILL FACE FULL SCALE TEST. Although Tissue Flex shoe presses have been used on several rebuilds of tissue machines, the LPC machine will be the world's first totally new machine in which the TissueFlex concept is being incorporated. Andritz has developed the TissueFlex concept in recent years as an alternative to the through air dried (TAD) concept that has traditionally been used to achieve super soft, high bulk tissue grades. Andritz has focused on finding ways to get softer, higher bulk tissue from a conventional tissue machine design. This has led to the development of the TissueFlex system in which a shoe press is inserted in the location where the suction press normally is, against the Yankee dryer. Extensive research with the Andritz pilot tissue PM, as well as with machine rebuilds, has shown that the TissueFlex arrangement is a good middle road between the basic crescent former with suction press and the high-bulk TAD products. Essentially, the TissueFlex system is thought to achieve 20-30% more bulk at the reel than the conventional suction press arrangement, at constant dryness levels. Or, for better economy in the drying process, the press can give higher dryness at constant bulk, thus decreasing the amount of energy consumed for drying. LPC's PM 2 will be an important test for the TissueFlex concept and it will certainly be the focus of a lot of attention once it is up and running, both within the company and from outside as well. Says Steve Lawe: "We are expecting that PM 2 will be a real challenge. Although it is in principal very similar to PM 1, there is one big difference and lots of little differences. And, as with any machine start-up, there are always a number of mysteries that occur for one reason or another." The one big difference is, of course, the location of the turning suction roll and the TissueFlex shoe press. The machine design is essentially a traditional Crescent former, with the sheet being formed between the felt and wire and then being carried on the bottom side of the felt towards the Yankee. However, instead of going directly to the nip formed between the suction roll and the Yankee, the suction roll has been moved forward do that it is not loaded against any other roll. It is simply a turning suction roll, dewatering by vacuum but having no pressing function. After passing the suction roll, the felt and sheet travel to the nip formed by the Yankee and the shoe press.

Here through the gentler pressing achieved due to the longer nip zone, the bulk of the sheet is retained to a greater extent than in a normal shorter nip press zone. After pressing, the sheet travels around the Yankee and is wound up on the reel.

DEINKING LINE ALSO IN THE WORKS. Like PM 1, PM 2 will also run on a mixture of virgin and deinked pulp depending on the requirements of the grade being run. As part of the present capital investment project, LPC plans to add a new deinked pulp (DIP) plant to the mill site. The project is budgeted at £12 million and, as a first the company recently bought six acres of land adjacent to the present 35 acre site where the PMs, converting lines and warehouses are located. Although the timetable is not yet firmly established, the DIP line will probably start-up sometime during 2003 or 2004. The new line is expected to consume 100,000 tpy of recovered paper to produce around 60,000 tpy of usable fiber for the tissue machines. LPC is presently working with the Leicester City Council to set up a collection system to supply the row material for the process.

Continues Tejani: "We have had a very good relationship with the City Council over the years. They are very supportive of our plan to add a deinking line. We have worked hard to be good for the community and we are proud of the fact that we have brought quite a few jobs to the area. It is also important for us to make sure that our impact on the local environment is minimal. For example, we have a residential area quite close to the mill, so we have to keep our noise level below 34 dB, which we have been able to achieve through solutions such as super quiet motors on our equipment and double walls in some of our buildings."

BIG PERINI LINEUP. The XXL line will be a 5.4 m wide Sincro unit converting about 30,000 tpy of tissue into two-ply toilet rolls. The XXL line will be the third one that Perini has built with the first two being sold to the CartoInvest Group in Italy. A fourth line has also been sold to another customer, which is confidential at the moment. LPC had looked at various alternatives for its converting needs, but in the end saw the XXL as the best option as it offered a lower capital cost, as well as savings in material and labor. LPC's lineup of Perini equipment is today quite impressive, including the original 813 and 348 lines from the early 1980s, as well as Alfetta and Alfina lines from the early 1990s and seven Sincro lines that were installed between 1994 and 2000. Of course, the lines also contain various other pieces of equipment from Perini such as embossers and log saws. The giant XXL line, set for delivery in autumn 2001, will be LPC's eighth Sincro line. "We have been buying Perini equipment since 1983 and we have always had a close relationship with them," comments Tejani. "It is our company philosophy to build close and loyal relationships with a small number of key suppliers. Perini always seems to be a step ahead with technical developments so we have benefited from that as well. Actually, we consider the Italian tissue equipment companies in general to be a step ahead of the other players on the market. For example, we are also big customers of TMC on the packaging side and OCME for the handling and robotics since we think they serve our needs very well. "Robert Natzel, head of production at LPC agrees: "We continue to add Perini lines at a steady rate and we have been very pleased with the quality and productivity of the equipment." Natzel is part of the experienced mill management team at LPC that also includes Steve Lawe, the paper mill manager, Dave Milligan, paper production manager and George Mudd, chief engineer.

REVENUES INCREASED BY 60% IN 2000/2001. LPC's tissue manufacturing capability has seen tremendous growth in recent years, with revenue in 2000/2001 on target to reach £76 million, a giant 60% increase compared with 1999/2000 (Group turnover £100 million). As the mergers and acquisitions in the tissue sector have reduced the number of options available to retailers, LPC has been able to step in to provide a quality alternative. Says Tejani, "The retailers are not comfortable when they have just one or two suppliers. In the private label market, we are the third option with SCA and Georgia-Pacific (Fort James) being the other two. The retailers have seen that we offer them a good alternative and that has clearly been reflected in our growth in 2000. In addition, the fact that we have our own paper machines also gives us added credibility and respect because our customers know that we can provide them with a higher level of flexibility and service, as well as quality control, since we control a good portion of our paper production - we are no different from the big companies." As far as future plans go, Tejani makes it clear that the company wants to consolidate its position in the UK as the largest independent supplier. "We have these present major investments that will keep us rather busy for now. We also have some other ideas about areas of expansion but for the moment we want to concentrate on the growth that the new paper machine and converting line will allow us." From all indications, it doesn't look like LPC will have too much trouble staying busy, and profitable, for the foreseeable future.

Login or Register to publish a comment