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Norbert Kytka, Headquarters PlattlingContact
Paper-production enterprises are currently experiencing an upheaval. Calls for sustainability and the circular economy are affecting just about every provider in the market. Despite the fact that order volumes are trending positively, margins are often still under pressure. True: there is high demand for packaging, tissue paper and special papers – but the essential raw materials are becoming scarcer, causing prices to rise. As a result, paper producers frequently find themselves struggling with delivering the promised qualities, meeting deadlines or turning a profit. This means that for enterprises operating in e.g. the printer or office paper business, efficiency and cost management are more essential than ever.
Every order in the paper industry is unique. But whatever the project, it's a business that is always subject to challenging constraints. Consequently, it’s important that paper producers can rely on a fully digitalized value chain as a basis for efficient, flexible planning and production. And if you want to step up process digitalization at a paper production enterprise, you need a partner who understands the paper production business. T.CON has unique experience in this field. We deliver the best SAP solutions for the paper industry, fine-tuning the SAP standard to optimize it for your needs and offering in-house tools where there are no SAP SE applications.
We can produce numerous references from the paper industry for successful SAP installations and special projects such as carve-outs. But that’s not all we’re about: our products can also help enterprises to master individual challenges of the digital transformation. Our industry expertise is also the key to efficient, secure SAP systems for paper production: we offer hosting, maintenance, optimization and evaluation (using Business Analytics for paper producers). Our specialism in this area has been acknowledged by SAP with the certificate “SAP Recognized Expertise in the mill products industry in Germany”.
One approach which offers a variety of starting points for enterprises building resilience is the development of fully integrated IT systems, which can be used to digitalize and optimize all processes along the value chain. The key to achieving this is measuring suitable key performance indicators (KPIs) and using continuous improvement processes (CIPs) to steadily evolve along with current trends.
Successful paper enterprises use seamlessly integrated digital processes to record business and production data. We’re not just talking about the production processes – from recipe to headbox to jumbo reel – T.CON’s ERP solution also integrates planning processes. These have been tuned specially for paper manufacturers and they cover business development and sales, long-term planning, production networks, sequential planning and shipping schedules, financial planning and profitability analyses. Alongside this, the system records data from hazardous substances management and risk management, maintenance, etc., supplemented by information from core company functions such as finance, controlling and HR.
This holistic approach to digitalization establishes a basis for managing the production department profitably. The company’s complete process landscape is reflected in the digital model. So, for example, operations management doesn't just have access to data from the production process itself. The system also takes into account many other areas, such as liquidity planning, investment planning, maintenance schedules, procurement or shipping logistics. This means that the enterprise can react quickly to issues such as critically low stocks, frequent downtimes or quality issues. And while it might take years to implement the necessary process improvements in an analog system, paper producers who have embraced fully digital processes can exploit new opportunities almost immediately.
If recovered paper or other raw materials are not available in the correct quality or quantities, your slitters and cross-cutters can soon grind to a standstill. The stocks available for shipments fall. And when production starts up again, you need to compensate for the lost productivity: overtime looms, “optimized planning” is thrown to the wind and “full utilization at all costs” becomes the new battle cry. But “at all costs” is the operative phrase: costs soar, and quality falls.
Maintaining digital inventories can help the enterprise assess the consequences of a supply bottleneck. You can use the inventories to qualitatively analyze orders, stocks and the customer base so that you can replan as effectively as possible, and calculate the best sequence for fulfilling customer orders.
A contemporary digitalization solution optimized for paper production must intertwine closely with warehouse management. In such a system, the workers can see the current materials situation and determine whether or not maintenance orders can be initiated. Based on the available inventory, they can then decide perhaps to postpone an order, for example if there would be a risk of interruption due to lack of material. That way, the enterprise can avoid unnecessary downtime even if the supply chain gets interrupted and upstream products cannot be delivered on time.
Some printer-paper manufacturers are starting to add heavily in-demand commodities such as labels to their portfolios. Other paper producers are focusing more on packaging, where the trend is to replace plastic with paper. These new directions require new production processes, new recipes, new procurement sources and new distribution routes.
If the paper enterprises are to exploit new opportunities and successfully enter new markets, they must have a foundation of seamlessly digital processes.
The paper requirements for a particular grade can be compiled based on the various customer-specific features needed. The company then mixes up the materials based on the recipes, prepares its stock and feeds it through the paper machine. You can maximize utilization of your machines by using our block scheduling solutions. The generated schedules allow you to combine the various customer and grade requirements and distribute them across specific production cycles.
When changing products or materials, the paper manufacturer doesn’t just have to reconfigure the technical components of their plants. There are also process parameters such as temperatures or speeds that have to be adjusted by the machine technician. By including these dependencies as factors in the scheduling, you can ensure that every order is scheduled for production at the best possible time, using the best possible procedure. We use innovative techniques such as machine learning to improve the optimization, based on the idea of the “golden batch”.
Expenditure for electricity represents a major cost element for every paper producer. Our integrated solutions give enterprises tools they can use to identify cost drivers and leverage this information to reduce expenditure. Users can integrate customized real-time services such as energy data management into their analyses at any time, based on specific requirements. They can also exploit the additional potential yielded by evaluating data from pressure, flow or temperature sensors.
This data is used to help the enterprise understand the effects of particular decisions on consumption costs or production quality. For example, machine startups, which are associated with energy peaks, can be scheduled in advance to avoid periods when electricity is particularly expensive. The product-specific energy consumption recordings can also be used to develop strategies for carbon-neutral, resource-friendly production.
Source: Verband der Wellpappen-Industrie (Association of Corrugated Cardboard Industry)
Source: Aberdeen Research
Batch management and process data are critical to success for any paper-making enterprise. Individual jumbo reels are tagged with the relevant batch data and booked in. The manufacturer can access the quality data that they need either directly as process data from the paper machines, or from manual test result records. Lab equipment can also be used as a source of quality data.
By creating seamless digital chains for recording and documenting all production processes, the paper producer ensures that the product will be manufactured to meet requirements and standards. As a result, reject rates fall, no expensive rework is necessary, and production volumes increase. T.CON’s tools, based on SAP ERP, form an important foundation for introducing standards-based quality management. The systems record all production results, and it becomes much easier to certify and trace quality standards and characteristics.
The tools can also be used to add quality-relevant data to each reel or sheet. It is possible to use the reel distribution pattern to indicate precisely which delivery was prepared from which parent reel, and which raw materials were used.
The paper producer maps the customer formats that they need to deliver onto the best possible assignment of individual webs to reel sets. Our solutions offer rapid, system-supported tools for drawing up cutting plans. These ensure that waste is kept to a minimum and order production can be maximized. Another benefit: the people doing the scheduling have much less work to do. All in all, the paper producer minimizes trim and production waste – and that yields vast cost savings.
You can also optimize cutting plans to minimize set-up time (“rapid set-up”), which reduces the time taken for machine conversion even if there is no automatic adjustment, as set-up time is also taken into account during the optimization. The goal is to be able to set up the machine for a new production process without affecting production flow.
If all your production processes are mapped in digital systems, these systems can also record data from maintenance interventions. Linking the inventory management system for replacement parts with the recorded postings from maintenance orders creates leverage for saving money.
At the same time, you can also quantify and evaluate the risk that production will be halted due to a lack of basic wear parts. This paves the way for developing optimized solutions to avoid machine downtimes – for example, proactively buying in spare parts, or storing certain products locally for faster access.
Specialists are hard to find and not every member of your team can be a specialist in every aspect of paper production – and since every production plant has its own particular quirks, work on the shop floor often relies on knowledge accumulated through experience. However, this is a resource that can sometimes be tricky to access. For example, suppose a technician working on the early shift sees temperature fluctuations on a dryer cylinder and, drawing on their well of experience, succeeds in eliminating the problem. At shift handover time, they don’t remember to mention the fluctuations – after all, the problem is now dealt with. In fact, though, it recurs during a later shift – but as the technicians in this shift are not familiar with this issue, they lose valuable time and quality issues arise.
We have a solution: a digital shift log can help to record this kind of unstructured knowledge (collected through experience) and generate keywords so that the resulting knowledge base can be made searchable. Solutions of this kind are particularly important in light of the fact that the average age of the technicians is rising – that is to say, many of the most experienced machine operators, paper technicians or process engineers will be retiring before long.