Plans to launch a new product innovation every year in the packaging arena and big investment in capacity and quality control are clear signals that Sappi intends to tap all opportunities to grow its European speciality paper business as it nurtures new international customer markets stretching from the German manufacturing base to Latin America.
Another company ambition is to squeeze every cent of value from exclusively virgin fibre, sourced mostly from its own forests in Southern Africa, using the extensive resources and expertise concentrated at the so-called competence centre, the Alfeld mill in Northern Germany. Development work currently involves nano cellulose fibre, which is claimed to be stronger than carbon fibre, and paper with barrier properties, seen as viable alternatives to plastics with potentially high-value markets.
A tour of Alfeld revealed that the recently expanded capacity for speciality paper was being fully utilized. A new inspection system for the dedicated machine is constantly checking output quality ‘on the fly’ for such ranges as Atelier and Fusion Top Liner, and biodegradable Algro Nature and Algro Guard M with mineral oil barrier, co-developed respectively with Innovia Films and BASF.
With expertise in speciality techniques and established brand owner and end user customer networks to feed ideas into, Sappi thinks Alfeld has the competencies that are needed for all-virgin fibre-based packaging to gain ground especially in countries such as India that regard plastics as a heavy burden on the environment.
Work on a quick-dry liquid coating with barrier properties, which can partly come from nature-based components, is already on the go and one of the challenges is to retain barrier integrity at the folds of carton board boxes. Thomas Kratochwill explained to Packaging South Asia that a policy of serial self-development will keep a growing body of knowledge in-house and the results of which Sappi will be able to supply to customers in the future.
Divisional sales and marketing director for speciality papers since 2014, Kratoch will said that before the change of strategy in 2013 Sappi regarded the speciality paper segment as a ‘nice-to-have.’ Now Sappi is geared up to serve customer markets looking for smart paper-based solutions for lightweight packaging using lower grammages, leaning towards mono-materials and compostability for easier recycling and disposal, and interested in easy to open formats for ageing consumer populations. The focus is on developing packaging with the brand owner by getting into the process sooner as a solutions supplier, Kratoch will added.
Product consistency is key for converters he said and underlined the fact using the example of aluminium-coated paper which is functionally crucial for ‘shooting’ cigarettes into boxes at exceptionally fast speeds. In these conditions tolerances are so small that nothing can be allowed to go wrong. “It has to work, if not you pay for lost production,” said Kratoch will. The pressure to turn out consistent high quality can only get stronger he believes, not least because “the future is inline printing of packaging.”
Quality cannot be left to chance and Sappi ensures food packaging papers get a three-day storage period to check no taint has developed that could contaminate the food inside, and soon it will launch a product suitable for ‘garage-bought food’ designed to prevent contamination from fuel fumes.
Speciality production set-up
One of Alfeld Mill’s five paper making machines PM2 was rebuilt in 2013 at a cost of more than 60 million Euros to produce 100% speciality paper. Previously graphical papers had shared the line. Sappi has since invested in quality management with a web inspection system by Metso that keeps pace with line speeds up to 1,200 metres a minute while catching on camera the smallest production errors and defects across a working web width of 4,700 mm. Two of the measuring beams use a transmission technique that looks through the paper, and a third device checks the online coating for any blemishes.
Due to a live view of production ‘never seen before’ says Sappi, it is possible to precisely locate where problems are arising and react faster to tune the machine accordingly or wash and flush target sections of the web. During six months of running the web inspection commercially, Sappi has noted fewer customer complaints and less production wastage, but thinks it is ‘too early’ yet to put a figure on the savings.
Sappi is using another expensive piece of kit called Paper Lab to test key quality parameters of paper production from all of its five machines. Metso developed a special feeding system that makes it ‘the only device worldwide’ able to handle Sappi’s grammage range of 18 to 400 gsm. For paper consistency, some 280,000 individual measurements a year are made, checking fibre orientation, air permeability, burst pressure, tearing, breaking load, thickness, weight, shine and smoothness.
In addition to attending FachPack at Nuremberg in Germany and for the first time exhibiting at Labelexpo in Brussels, Belgium, Sappi will also be a first-timer at Pack Expo 2015 (Las Vegas, USA) in a bid to extend its release liner business to North America and Latin America.