First NTT machine up and running fast at Papel San Francisco in Mexico

The world’s first NTT tissue machine has recently started up at PSF (Papel San Francisco) in Mexicali Mexico, not far from San Diego, California. The new technology from Valmet is said to allow high-speed, energy-efficient production of both premium and conventional grades with easy changeover between the two.

Hugh O’Brian

“We really hadn’t planned on doing this pioneering work with NTT,” says Dario Palma the PSF Operations Director. “Basically we had decided it was time for a new machine and we needed more conventional capacity. The startup of our number 5 machine was truly excellent and our plan was simply to duplicate that with a sister machine for PM 6.“But we were also looking at the energy consumption, as this is a critical cost factor. As we discussed energy, I asked the Valmet guys ‘What is the best energy-saving solution that you have?’ Their answer was: the NTT machine, to which I responded ‘What the heck is that?’ So we started looking at the NTT concept and how it might fit our production goals, market needs and growth requirements.”Thereafter Dario made a presentation to the board considering both conventional technology as well as NTT. “Our CEO Mario Garcia immediately saw the potential,” continues Dario, “and said ‘that’s exactly what we’re looking for because we need to get into some premium segments and develop innovations that we haven’t done before.’ At the same time the capability to change from conventional to premium very rapidly was very appealing. And because of the new technology, it has greater production capacity than a conventional machine.

”No dealbreaker even in the worst case scenario. A PSF technical team went over to Sweden in early 2011 and ran some trials. Following this the production team looked at the risks and benefits of being the first in the world with NTT technology. “We concluded,” says Darío, “that there was nothing major that would be a dealbreaker. In worst case we could simply run as a conventional machine at faster speeds than other machines, which is a pretty good result. Valmet convinced us that all of the technology being used in this machine is already running on different grades in different configurations so nothing is unproven, although it had never been used in this NTT configuration.

”Production record from the start. “We started up on July 24 of 2013 and it has gone very well. At PSF we have a philosophy to run paper machines fast. While of course premium grades such as TAD or Atmos generally don’t run very fast. We immediately broke our production record for conventional tissue as we have never made that much, almost 170 tons, in 24 hours on a 2.7 m machine.”“Because of the advanced water removal capacity, I’m quite sure that this machine has the greatest production capacity, per inch of width, in the world. If we run heavy grades we run close to 2000 m/m, and on premium we have achieved about 1400 m/m so far, although we have not run all that much premium grade yet since what we really need is conventional tissue at this point.”The biggest issue PSF has seen is the belt, which transfers the sheet to the Yankee, and that makes it a whole different game as the chemistry is very different. Startup was good says Darío but there certainly were some issues that they have been able to fix. In the conventional mode NTT uses a plain polyurethane belt with no texture, and to make the premium texture you simply install a textured belt. It’s really a quick change between the two modes, like changing a felt and takes about four hours.“I think that this technology may change the way tissue is made in the future,” states Darío. “For most uses, the premium grade that we can make with this technology is fully acceptable. TAD is certainly the best quality tissue there is but it is over-engineered for most applications. NTT is much more environment-friendly technology because the dryness coming out of the press is up towards 47% versus 38-40% for conventional tissue. There are some increased costs of course such as more expensive chemistry, clothing, forming belts, and an increased capital investment. But from a carbon footprint and sustainability angle, NTT is tough to beat.

”Marketing driven investment and ‘Why Not’ attitude. Mario Garcia, PSF’s CEO explains that it was the market drive for premium grades that made NTT an easy choice. “In the beginning, we fully expected to put in a conventional machine for PM 6, as we were 100% satisfied with PM 5 so a repeat order was logical. Of course we have considered premium tissue like TAD but it is out of our reality considering the markets we serve and the scale of capacity we would have to install. The Mexican market for premium products is small and Kimberly-Clark controls probably 90% of that market. And it’s 100% virgin fiber, whereas we are mostly recycled.”“So our assessment was that we are doing things right in the market by sticking with conventional. But then Valmet presented the new idea to make structured paper that is equivalent to the national brands or TAD with the flexibility to make conventional very easily as well. So I asked my management team here “Why not? Why can’t we do this?” They looked at me and said “You mean we would be the first in the world with this technology? Why us?

”Premium grade private label is growing.“A key motivation pushing us to make premium tissue was the fact that more and more retailers are coming to us with the desire to make their private label storebrand as good as the national brand quality. So we saw a win-win situation since NTT gave us the opportunity to make premium tissue, which we feel we will need for market innovation and growing our market share, while at the end of the day we risked very little. In a worst-case scenario, if the premium mode did not work, we are really losing very little. Probably a little time, and space, as well some money of course but we felt it was a calculated risk worth taking.

”Largest tissue manufacturer in Southwest United States. It’s no secret that PSF wants to grow in the US market. In 2013 only about 10% of the company’s production was exported to the US, although as Mario points out that is the equivalent to its small number one machine. And all signs are that more tonnage will be going to the US markets in the future.The reason quite simply is that PSF is a growing tissue producer, strategically positioned to supply the growing population in Southwest states like California, Arizona and New Mexico. In addition, due to the high water demand the papermaking requires, those states have seen the closure of tissue mills in recent decades rather than increase in production.“You could say that we are the largest tissue manufacturer in Southwestern United States as we are only a mile over the border from California. If you look at the states of California, Arizona, Nevada and some parts of New Mexico, in a radius of opportunity of about 500 miles from our mill, the tissue consumption in that geographic area is equivalent to about 60% of the total Mexican market. So we are the closest mill to the consumption centers, and also to raw material, recycled fiber, coming from Los Angeles area. Thus transportation and logistics is favorable as we can combine backhauls with finished product going to those markets and recycled fiber coming from them.”“For the future, to serve both the Mexican and Southwest US markets we absolutely need to be in the premium sector and NTT gives us that. The American retailers are really pushing to upgrade quality of their private label. Even the terminology has been upgraded starting with Generic, to Private Label, to Store Brands and now National Brand Equivalent is commonly used.”To tell you the truth you don’t need a better tissue than the quality the NTT can provide. TAD which is the highest quality can certainly be considered over engineered for the application. Also NTT can use recycled fiber, which is perfect for us since we use approximately 95% recycled for all our products.Our goal is to make 100% recycled premium tissue that will change the perception of recycled tissue market both in Mexico and in the Southwest US.

”For the record...When the jet-blacked haired Operations Director Dario Palma, who recently turned 50, is asked if for the record there is anything that he feels the team could have done better on the NTT project in startup, he doesn’t hesitate for more than one second.“Actually no. Of course we had some problems and issues we needed to address but that’s normal if your installing pioneering technology. What’s not acceptable is when you install standard proven technology and have problems. But the NTT Technology is now proven and working. It’s not TAD, it’s not Atmos and it’s not conventional. It’s something different.”And about that hair. You just started up pioneering new technology, you just turned 50 years old and your hair is still jet black. You must dye it. “For the record,” smiles Darío, “I don’t dye my hair.” *

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