Effective Strategies for Papermaking Challenges
From managing costs and increasing uptime to improving efficiency and answering workforce attrition, many challenges face the papermaking industry.
The challenge of Workforce Attrition deserves the most up-front consideration because it is a new kind of technical challenge. With the already-recognized difficulty in replacing lost technical skills, manufacturers need to consider a future that includes 50% or even 80% net reductions in technical staff in the coming decades. Technical productivity, therefore, becomes not only a necessary objective, but a performance indicator by which every element of the technical strategy is developed and evaluated.
Our point of view is that three main concepts will underpin an effective plan.
Simplification – Reduce to the fewest necessary process steps, interfaces and physical assets
Standardization – Only allow technical variety where it adds net value
Digitalization – Fully exploit virtualization, automation, integration and remote support
Seven key challenges that plague the papermaking industry
Thirty percent of the U.S. industrial workforce will become eligible for retirement during the next decade. Manufacturers already experience difficulty in finding new talent to replace retiring skills. Papermakers may face increased difficulty due to mill locations often outside of technical talent hot spots.
Papermakers as a group have achieved an injury rate below the U.S. average. Nevertheless, U.S. paper manufacturers reported 11 fatalities in 2014, underlining safety as a continuing top priority across the industry.
Predictable uptime is the foundation of flexible, high-quality paper production. In a fast-moving, competitive environment, mill managers need the capability to run when they want, at the rate they want, for as long as they want.
Aging Asset Base
The average age of the capital asset base in U.S. process manufacturing is 35 years. Aging equipment is less reliable and more difficult and expensive to maintain.
Papermaking is closely monitored by environmental agencies and NGOs due to its high energy and water usage. Large paper producers consequently strive to be recognized as more environmentally proactive than reactive.
Energy costs are historically low in many countries, yet energy can still represent 10-20% of operational costs in paper production. As fuel prices rebound, paper production will feel the impact.
Cost competition is a constant threat to domestic manufacturing. The markets into which paper products are sold typically have high price sensitivity and low switching costs.