Voith: a long history, an exciting future

After the breakdown of the JV between Voith and Andritz, Voith has formed a new organization and developed its exciting new Atmos technology with which it plans to continue its tradition of innovation in the paper industry. In addition, it has made the important decision to designate its São Paulo, Brazil, division as the Center of Competence for its tissue activities.

Perini Journal

Voith is a truly enormous company, employing over 30,000 employees around the world and having sales of over Euro 3.5 billion in the latest fiscal year. Based in Heidenheim, Germany, the company history goes back more than 150 years when a locksmith named Johann Matthaeus Voith got interested in the process of grinding wood to make paper. The family involvement has continued over the years and, to this day, the group is still privately held with the Voith family as the principal owners.

Voith is very closely connected with what is perhaps the most important invention ever for the paper industry: The use of wood pulp instead of textile rags for paper making. In 1845, a German by the name of Friedrich Gottlob Keller discovered that wood could be mechanically ground into a fibrous substance which could be formed into paper. His patent for this was subsequently bought by Heinrich Völter, who began work with JM Voith to develop a machine to grind wood on a large scale. This machine was invented in 1859 and in 1869 a patent was granted for the Voith’s wood pulping machine.

Voith has a long and rich history in paper making as well. Its first paper machine was delivered 125 years ago, in 1881, and over the past century and half Voith has developed to become one of the largest and most technically advanced suppliers to the pulp and paper industry. At the same time, it has extended its reach around the globe.

The group is today built along four main divisions: Voith Paper, Voith Turbo, Voith Siemens Hydro and Voith Industrial Services.

Of these, the Voith Paper division is the biggest, accounting for about half of the company’s sales and employing around 10,000 employees.

BRAZIL MAKES SENSE. In 1964, Voith in Germany recognized the enormous potential that the giant South American country of Brazil offered for two of its biggest product lines: Paper machines and hydroelectric power turbines. With immense land areas and a favorable climate for cultivation of fast growing trees, combined with powerful rivers that could generate huge amounts of electric power, Brazil was the perfect location to construct a manufacturing facility.

In over 40 years since the Brazilian operation was set up, Voith São Paulo has become Voith’s second largest industrial site after the headquarters in Heidenheim. It is also one of the very largest industrial companies in Brazil, with sales over USD 200 million, employing 1,100 people and occupying a land site of 300,000 square meters.

In its São Paulo works, foundries and erection halls, Voith can produce a wide variety of machinery and equipment for the pulp, paper and tissue industries. It has the capability to make machines as wide as 12 meters for the graphic paper and packaging paper sectors, while also producing narrower specialty and tissue machines. Yankee dryers up to 16 feet diameter can be cast in the foundry.

THE VOITH ANDRITZ TISSUE STORY. Although Voith has had a separate identity in tissue for a long time, and has been making tissue machines since the 1970s, in recent years Voith has often been associated with Andritz. The companies had been cooperating in tissue for about 10 years, from 1994, with Voith covering the Americas and Australia, while Andritz was responsible for Europe, Asia and Africa.

The collapse of US-based Beloit in 1999 and the subsequent employment of many former Beloit tissue people led to the formation of Voith Andritz Tissue LLC in October 2000, with each partner owning 50%, to strengthen their tissue technology, products and services in NAFTA, meaning the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The cooperation worked well for the first few years and had several important success stories.

However, in recent years each company developed in other directions for various reasons, says Christian Münch, who is Voith’s manager of its Tissue Division. “Eventually, neither of us saw a future in further cooperation. So we began to wind it down in late 2004 and the cooperation completely ended in September of this year. This means Voith will now enter the North American market again as Voith Tissue. Voith is already supplying tissue machines to the European and Asian market”.

TAD NOT AN OPTION. Another important reason for Voith deciding to get out of the cooperation is the different outlook each company saw for TAD technology. “We did not want to go down the TAD road,” explains Münch. ”When you look at it, TAD is technology from the 1960s. Thus we would be a me-too supplier which is never Voith’s way of doing things. Voith is innovation.

In addition, the patents surrounding TAD made it a bit tricky so we therefore concluded that TAD was not worth the risk and investment. Instead we wanted breakthrough technology.” Voith has therefore worked to build its organization to move forward.

Voith Paper São Paulo has been named Voith’s worldwide Center of Competence for tissue, responsible for R&D, the pilot plant, concept development and standardization, as well as worldwide technical support. Other Voith entities around the world in Brazil, Germany, Spain, Italy, India, China and Japan attend to regional markets requirements as so-called System Suppliers.

Nestor de Castro is President of Voith Paper São Paulo. Christian Münch is the key manager at the Voith Tissue Center of Competence, working together with Thomas Scherb, head of the tissue technology center and Ronaldo Parucker who is responsible for product engineering. Another experienced member of the team is Harald Schmidt-Hebbel, the former CEO of the Voith Andritz tissue JV, who is now executive consultant for Voith Tissue.

The tissue pilot plant at São Paulo, which will play a critical role in Voith’s development and is an important reason why Brazil was chosen as the center for tissue activities, was built in 1994. It includes pulpers, stock prep, fiber modification systems and a complete pilot machine from Headbox to reel. The TissueFlex press, which is running in around a dozen mills today, was developed here in the 1990s. Today, however, Voith is banking on even greater developments to take it into the future.

ATMOS – BREATHING NEW LIFE INTO TISSUE? Atmos, the Greek word meaning air, is the name Voith Tissue has chosen for its new tissue molding technology that it claims “can give quality equal to TAD but at a greatly reduced cost both in terms of capital investment as well as production costs.” Atmos, which also stands for Advanced Tissue Molding System, was developed on the São Paulo pilot machine that is capable of making fully dried and reeled up product. Voith has big expectations for it.

“We are confident that this will be a very important innovation for the tissue industry,” says Thomas Scherb. “It is the big jump in technology that the industry has been seeking. And it is the breakthrough that we wanted to set us apart from the others. So this is the key to our future.”

Scherb won’t reveal anything specific about the technology behind the patented Atmos system but it is clear that a key component in the Atmos configuration is the fabrics. The fact that Voith Paper Fabrics is a sister company to Voith Tissue meant that the work could be carried out with an exceptionally high level of synergy and technical knowledge exchange between the parties.

HIGHER DRYNESS SAVES THERMAL ENERGY. Compared to TAD, Voith claims that the same quality in terms of bulk and absorption can be achieved for about 60% of the overall capital cost. The cost saving for energy depends of course on the source of the energy and the unit cost, but savings of 25-30% seem realistic.

“The key thing,” says Scherb, “is that we found a way to get to 35% dryness before we have to add thermal energy for the final drying. This compares with around 25% dryness for TAD. It obviously takes much less energy to dry a sheet starting at 35% solids, compared to 25%. Thus it is clear that Atmos will use much less energy.”

In addition, Voith says, the Atmos technology allows the machine to be run on 100% recycled at speeds typical for TAD machines. It will also operate with fairly standard Yankee release chemicals. When you add all of these features, the advantage of Atmos is clear, says Voith, and the technology will give tissue makers lots of potential to create even more new, innovative products for their markets.

Scherb says Voith is taking a cautious approach with Atmos. “We know it works in the pilot plant. Now we need to fine tune the technology on a commercial machine. We want to wait for the feedback from the first commercial application before we go to the market in a big scale.

That is the Voith way of doing things, long-term relationships rather than quick deals.” The first commercial installation will take place at a confidential site, a rebuild, with the startup planned for the fourth quarter of 2006.

FUTURE IS CLEARLY INNOVATION. Voith supplies a complete range of tissue machines, stock preparation equipments and full process lines. “We have a clear focus for the future,” states Münch, “which is to be an innovative supplier of cost-efficient technology to the tissue industry. The very simplest, basic tissue machines have become commodities but we are not planning to go that way. We offer value, quality and advanced technology at a fair price. We are confident that the cost-effectiveness and value will be evident in the long run.”

Atmos is the key to Voith’s future in tissue. If it takes off as planned, not only will it change the outlook for Voith in the tissue business but it might change the tissue business itself. •

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