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Sticker shock.

We all know that the economics of the paper industry are changing, but what about the paper machine? The modern paper machine would still be easily recognized by the brothers Fourdrinier, who built the first commercially successful paper-making machine in 1806. However, the modern price tag would probably shock them. Indeed, the beloved "PM" is a paper company's biggest capital investment--or disinvestment, as we have seen in recent years.

There have been several calls for the radical transformation of paper-making. A.D. "Pete" Correll, chairman of Georgia-Pacific Corp., has claimed that after decades in the executive suite, he could still start up and operate a modern paper machine, as he did early in his career. Correll sees this as a failure of technology, arguing that we need true breakthroughs to revitalize the paper industry, not just refinements of existing technology.

Other voices have said that we must dramatically reduce the capital intensity of paper machinery, creating processes that are less expensive to install, much more flexible to operate, and easier to replace as new technology becomes available. In a well-received article in the February 2002 Solutions! for people, Processes and Paper, Bob Kinstrey of Jacobs Consultancy presented a vision of a downsized, less expensive, and easily replaceable paper machine.

This is a compelling argument, and it was discussed at "Beyond Today's Paper Machine," a special Paper Summit session. During the session, consultant Bob Eamer presented a fascinating view of what the paper machine (if it is still called that) will look like in 10 to 20 years. Eamer argued that the papermakers of today will become the "substrate assemblers" of the future. In his view, paper machines will have a total invested cost of around US$ 40 million and a "footprint" 80% to 90% smaller than today's units. "Machines will be fast, flexible, and efficient, geared to mass customization through frequent grade changes," he said. "No production will be done without a firm order. Just-in-time manufacturing will prevail."

Eamer went on to say that traditional stock preparation and wet end systems will be eliminated, replaced by dry forming and extrusion technology. Likewise, cleaning and refining functions will be gone since outside vendors will deliver precisely created raw materials just-in-time to the paper machine (sorry, substrate assembly process).

Other features of Eamer's process include:

* Retaining 75% sheet dryness out of the press, with no rewetting

* Metering size presses operating at 60% coating solids

* Non-contact "dry coating/painting" processes

* Lamination and extrusion of new substrate layers

* On-machine cutting and trimming--no winders

* On-machine printing and other converting processes, all in-house

* Five-minute grade changes.

According to Eamner, these new technologies are likely to be created by several manufacturers in a segmented development process. Small, private companies are more likely to develop these technologies than large public companies. He also argued that the paper industry must look to other process industries for examples of breakthrough technology.

Some of these ideas are hard to visualize, let alone accept. Yet that is the nature of breakthrough technology--it is a shock to the system. The idea of a paper machine must have seemed inconceivable to the hand papermakers of the early 19th century. Today, it may finally be time to bid a Fond farewell to the fourdrinier.
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Title Annotation:Viewpoint
Author:Rooks, Alan
Publication:Solutions - for People, Processes and Paper
Date:May 1, 2002
Previous Article:My last word.
Next Article:Delusional behavior.

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