Innovation: evolution not revolution

What will the future invent next? That is a good question. I have taken out my crystal ball to see what's coming up, but the answer is not simple.

Guy Goldstein

Our industry has moved forward without real breakthroughs for the last 20 years but with constant, abundant technical improvements which in fact have taken the guessing out of papermaking, making it today more of a science than an art. The larger corporations do spend a certain amount of money in looking for new ideas and entertain scientists and technicians to make our life easier and more comfortable.

A fair number of industry suppliers are bringing forward a lot of developments, constituting a great advantage especially for the smaller producers who tap this source of innovation. This is true for tissue machine suppliers but even truer for converting equipment people who often spend millions developing processes which they then make available with a machine purchase.


I STARTED IN THE INDUSTRY IN 1968. Yes indeed, a long time ago, you might say! I have seen many “inventions” throughout my career: some were short lived, some are still around. In terms of real innovations, I would nominate at least two major ones:


- the Crescent Former invented by Kimberly-Clark;

- TAD invented by Procter & Gamble with lots of contributions by K-C and then Scott at the time.


These two technologies are still being used and I can say that the Crescent Former is the former of choice used in 95% of machines ordered today. Of course both K-C and P&G benefited from being first but now that these inventions are of public domain, it has made everyone progress.

You can now purchase from almost any supplier a machine that will deliver premium quality if...you use the right furnish and coating chemicals. K-C has been very successful with its TAD upgrade where they got rid of the Yankee dryer to manufacture an uncreped sheet while retaining the bulk and absorption characteristics of TAD. Various, partly unsuccessful attempts so far at trying to obtain similar product properties are e-TAD by GP, SST by Metso, Atmos by Voith. No doubt these technologies will evolve and improve and may constitute a real alternative in the future. Already the speeds attained are approaching TAD results while consuming less energy, getting closer to the target.



 Successfully using a gas turbine to generate electricity, steam for the Yankee and heat either for the hoods or the building can cut the cost by 12 to 15%, a major savings in today's oil price market. Also in the US, some states are encouraging entrepreneurs to invest in such plants because it relieves the grid and permits to accommodate growth in home usage without these governments having to spend the taxpayers’ money.

One needs to mention as a major progress the DCS (Distributed Control System) and the QCS (Quality Control System) which transformed our papermaking from an art to a controllable science. No more guessing: after a self-learning period, the machine can almost run by itself, like the auto-pilot in commercial flying. This has been made possible by the development of computers, sensors, software and by the miniaturization of components as well as the lower cost of this industry. Going from one grade to another is done instantly without almost any waste, on the run.


MANY IMPROVEMENTS HAVE PROVEN USEFUL, LIKE MULTILAYER HEADBOXES, diffusion control, various types of shoe presses, high temperature hoods with high impingement speeds, dust control, energy saving devices in the days of the US$100.00 + barrel of oil. Really, the industry is moving step by step with increasingly more efficient machines. The stainless steel welded Yankee is becoming a very reasonable alternative to the cast iron standard dryer. More than 25 of them are now in service and the number is growing. Better heat transfer coefficient and lower weight, plus the fact that, since it is stainless steel, there is no need to grind.

Coating chemistry, too, has been developed and is very reliable. Lots of work is being done in creating better forming fabrics and more efficient felts which dewater better and save drying energy. Huge progress is also being made in the use of water, which went from 50+ cubic meters per ton to an average 7/8 today in the most modern machines. The chemical industry has been coming up with coating packages which are now flexible, tailored to a type of product, easy to implement; chemicals that will efficiently control the water system to help maximize recirculation and recovery of short fibers. Preventive maintenance has helped monitor events and spend capital when necessary before breakages and catastrophes happen. It is perfectly managed today and in use. Diagnostics are common and used daily to understand how the various parts of the machine are behaving. One also needs to mention the progresses made in forest development and plant genetics which now make sure there will be ample supply of fibers in the future.


THE REAL BREAKTHROUGHS HAVE BEEN MADE AFTER THE PAPER IS OFF THE MACHINE. Converting is the innovation leader and this is where progress has been showing up. The market leaders in converting equipment have played an exceptional role in developing new technologies certainly leading in many areas. They are spending a high amount of revenue helping the “Big Four” as well as the small guys. In fact, thanks to them, some of the smaller players have grown significantly. Compared to 20 years ago, we now have fully automated processes where technically you could run directly from the tissue machine... to the delivery truck almost without human intervention! Converting speeds have been multiplied by a factor of 10, widths are up to 5500 mm, with total flexibility in product designs.


WHAT HAS REALLY BEEN ACHIEVED IS CONTENT REDUCTION, LEADING TO MORE SOPHISTICATED PRODUCTS AND SAVINGS. Bulk generation is typical of new characteristics achieved together with good ply association. Embossing has made tremendous advances and really moved the industry to a higher level of product appearances. The use of adhesives with embossing has permitted the creation of aesthetically pleasing designs with the potential of adding decoration and color at will. Roll engraving has made tremendous progresses with laser engraving becoming standard. Definition of embossing is as good as printing since the technology used is the same. Surface winding now leads the way for almost all products; some equipment can combine surface with shafts. Electronic drives make the running of these equipments a dream, adjustments can be made on the fly, significant product changes made in a fraction of a second with the use of servo motors and programming. The machine can now run non-stop with automatic splice avoiding lost time and waste.

What has been done for roll goods has also been achieved for folded products in the same manner. High speed and flexibility are now the key words of the industry. Innovation has not been limited to converting: packaging has benefited from progress, too. Changing package formats used to be an operation which needed a full team of specialized technicians and often a couple of well-trained mechanics, nowadays you just need to hit a keyboard to make the changes. You also get more potential for pack sizes in 2, 3 or even 4 layers and up to 50 or 64 rolls of toilet tissue per pack. Different solutions according to different markets – the US being still mostly in corrugated cases while Europe and other continents are in plastic bundles. Fiber and energy costs will probably drive the US to more PE packaging and more bundling.


INNOVATION IN CONVERTING HAS NOT STOPPED THERE SINCE LAYOUTS HAVE BEEN MADE MORE PRACTICAL, ensuring a limited number of employees can perform their duty while assuring quality and output. This is true for automated palletizing at the end of the lines associated with robotics and transfer via laser guided vehicles either to a warehouse or, better, direct shipping. This technology has been developed over the last 15 years and is changing the industry performances.

We are looking at projects very differently today, the most modern layouts are using fewer conveyors or, if they are, they use “smart conveyors”. End-of-line packaging and palletizing make the space required smaller, thus reducing investments. Suppliers are building a full range of equipment which can be tailored to market needs... and to the capital available.

It's sure Big is Beautiful, but often enough you don't need all that overcapacity. I just wanted to emphasize the role of suppliers and their dedication to growing the industry.

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