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Delighting the customer: the Liberty Paper dreamworks: coating solutions projects: adding an off-machine coater has helped Liberty Paper Inc. differentiate itself from its competitors and produce new grades of coated paperbound.

The words appear on business cards, under corporate logos, and in conversations with employees of Liberty Paper, Inc.--" Dedicated to delighting the customer," They describe the underlying philosophy behind everything Liberty Paper does, including its latest effort that involved installation era 98-in. wide coater adjacent to its 100,000 tons/year linerboard mill, which uses old corrugated containers (OCC).

Liberty Paper Inc., Becket, Minnesota, USA, is a component in an 80-year-old, privately held company owned by a holding company, Liberty Diversified Industries. Since its inception in 1995, the company has embodied the entrepreneurial spirit of taking risks to "delight the customer" since the customer is the only reason for bringing Liberty Paper into business.

The new coater is a large North American installation. Producing coated paperboard makes the company an important player in the rapidly growing paper and board segment of paper grades in North America and the world. To understand how the Liberty Paper Dreamworks Coating Solutions project arose, one must understand the entrepreneurial spirit and risk-taking attitude of the company.


When Liberty Paper started operations, management wanted the company to double in size every 5-7 years. Looking at this goal and its customer orientation, senior management asked, "What can we do to add value for our customer? How can we differentiate ourselves from our competitors?"

The answer to this question seemed obvious. The company would add a second paper machine. The only question was whether the machine would make linerboard or specially paper. That was late 1999--a time economic slowdown. Simultaneously, overseas paper mills were booming and increasing their imports into North America. Since mills were closing and companies were consolidating, management discarded thoughts of another paper machine.

For any other company, that market situation would be a time to retrench and determine how to survive the downturn. For the people at Liberty Paper, it was a time to examine other options.

"The other approach to our strategic plan was to investigate adding customer value by installing an off-machine coater," said Larry Newell, general manager of Liberty Paper. "We started looking at greenfield opportunities and searching the market for used machinery."

Liberty seized an opportunity to acquire a used coater. Although it was in Europe, the machine seemed to fit the size capabilities that Liberty wanted. To say this was risky is an understatement. The used coater was old, with no guarantee that Liberty could make it work. "We purchased the coater and made Matt Rovnak the project manager for the undertaking," Newell said.

Moving the coater from Europe to the United States depended on cooperation of various groups of people. "We had a six-week window in early 2001 for disassembling the coater, putting the parts into crates, and shipping each part to the United States," Rovnak said. Liberty worked with a company in Holland to dismantle the coater, placed the individual parts in containers, and put the marked boxes on barges for shipment. Liberty worked with LDI Transport, another division of Liberty Diversified Industries, to facilitate the transportation.

The goal was to bring all the parts except the coating heads to Minnesota. "We sent our two coater heads to Kohler Coating in Uniontown, Ohio, USA, for refurbishing and converting to a Mayer rod arrangement," Rovnak added.

When the parts arrived in mid-May 2001, Rovnak formed an assembly line in the company parking lot to unload the containers. He had production technicians steam clean, pressure wash, and sand blast the equipment. "while we were cleaning, we had millwrights laying out the machine and doing some foundation and engineering work until the framework was in place to start the erection process," Rovnak said.


Rovnak said there were many good reasons Liberty brought the coater to the paper mill instead of building a greenfield operation. "We already had the building, the workforce, time utilities, and the rail dock," he said. "For us, the situation was simply extending our production and manufacturing process instead of establishing a new process."

Assembly started in the first week of August 2001, while waiting for the two refurbished coater heads. Liberty also sent the infrared dryers to Krieger for refinishing so they complied with operational standards in the United States. "We bought a slitter rewinder from Webco Engineering, Inc. of Westboro, Massachusetts," Rovnak said. "The reel also required replacement. We asked Beutel Engineering & Consulting in Appleton, Wisconsin, to design and build a custom reel."

The tricky part of the installation process came when Liberty bad to cut three feet off the height of the coater to fit into the existing building. Rovnak said, "It took us time to understand the repercussions of the cutting."

One major repercussion was that the unwind stand that was under the original machine design required moving outside the framework. "We changed the web path, but we had no assurance the web would track through the machine with the new configuration," Rovnak said

Internal engineers at Liberty created the web path drawings. Kohler Coating verified that the web path was credible. Liberty technicians did the detail work, such as purchasing and cutting the steel. For moisture and coating weight, Liberty added an NDC gauging system.

For drives and controls, Rovnak hired Lebbing Engineering and Consulting, Bocholt, Germany. This Company represents Siemens equipment. The organization spent 8-10 weeks at the mill acting as a systems integrator for drives and controls on the machine according to Rovnak. "Everything was assembled, except fine-tuning of the drives, by December 15, 2001," Rovnak said. During the Christmas to New Year's Day shutdown, Liberty fine-tuned everything.

When Liberty Paper started its 98-in wide Dreamworks coater on January 10, 2002, it looked nothing like the old coater in Europe. "It had a different color; different configuration; new drives, motors, controls, tension control system, and winder; and rebuilt coater heads," Rovnak said. "We installed a new turnbar to flip the sheet so we could apply two coatings on one side. We allowed some space in the web path design to add a third coating head and additional drying."


When the time came to move the coater from drawings to final assembly, Liberty worked closely with and relied on suppliers to fill many roles. "When we purchased the winder, it had a dual function," Newell said. "One was to rewind and slit coated paper. The other function was to salvage paper made on our paper machine and wound on paper cores." For this later operation, the backstand required interchangeability from a reel spool to a paper core. The supplier met specifications for both functions.

Vendors also helped with training. "Kohler Coating helped us considerably with training. We also brought faculty here to teach the TAPPI Principles of Coating Short Course," Newell said. "We used coating suppliers as trainers."

Liberty hired consultants to perform on-the-job training for the employees. "When you are doing things that are not typical, you must pick and choose your training aids and really customize them," Rovnak said. Liberty currently has trained two people to be lead operators on the coater. These people understand the entire coating process and can perform any job required on the coater.


On January 10, 2002, Liberty began operating its Dreamworks Coating Solutions Project. It currently focuses on the containerboard market and runs one shift per day. The ultimate goal is to run the coater 24 hours a day for seven days a week similar to the operation of the paper mill.

"We have coated an array of products, and we are not locked onto only our machine," Newell said. "We have brought in heavyweight linerboard (69 lb.), mottle, bleached, and other linerboard. We have coated almost every possible substrate from our customers."

Liberty primarily does functional coatings to make paper fire retardant, grease resistant, water resistant, and scuff resistant. "One new niche is switching our Dream-catcher colors to the coater from the paper machine," Newell said. "We have put some very vibrant colors on pop-up displays for people trying to sell a product."

Although Liberty's Dreamworks Coating Solutions Project is finding its niche in the containerboard segment, this is not stopping the company from exploring other markets. For example, it is examining fine paper coatings. Because the white fine paper area is sensitive to new coatings, Liberty would not reveal any additional details of this operation.

One product exploration it did disclose is creation of a repulpable wax product. "We are investigating creation of a repulpable product coated with a chemical solution or coating that has the same characteristics as a wax product," Newell said.


Although the off-machine coater "delights the customer," it is not the sole reason for installing the coating operation. "it has given us a niche in the marketplace," Newell noted. "Producers must learn how to differentiate themselves from competitors."

Producers must be different and flexible. Producers must be near their customers to understand what they want in the future. The new coater allows Liberty to differentiate its products and add to its bottom line. With its new off machine coater, Liberty is producing new linerboard grades that combine the strength properties of linerboard with the printing and appearance properties of a coated surface.

Newell notes that Rovnak is currently working on some paper grades "that nobody in the marketplace is investigating." This stems from asking customers what they want and how Liberty can meet those needs. Liberty tells its customers: "This might help you save some money in long-term packaging operations. Do you want to think about it? Do you want to try it?"

Liberty's Dreamworks Coating Solutions Project is still new. Nobody can be certain it will be successful. Still, the entrepreneurial spirit and risk taking attitude of Liberty Paper separate it from its competitors and give it a distinct advantage in adding to the bottom line for the company.


* Why Liberty Paper decided to install an off-machine coater in a stagnating marketplace

* What Liberty Paper decided to transform an antiquated coater into a functional, flexible coating operation

* How a "delighting the customer" philosophy at Liberty Paper translates into new coated paperboard grades and products.


* Liberty Paper Co:

About the author: Jerome A. Koncel is a freelance writer who has covered the pulp and paper industry for more than 15 years, most recently with American Papermaker and PIMA's North American Papermaker, Contact him by calling 847-524-6210 or by email at:
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Title Annotation:Coating
Author:Koncel, Jerome A.
Publication:Solutions - for People, Processes and Paper
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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