A Saga of Passion

India’s Second Coated Paperboard Plant Comes On Stream


In the verdant countryside of Sonagadh, a little over 80 km east of the city of Surat in Western India, J.K. Paper Mills Ltd.(JKPL) have integrated a 60,000 MTPA state-of-the-art coated paperboard mill with their existing pulp & paper plant. This gives them a logistical advantage, being positioned near a large consumption area – the industrially developed western region. Another paper & pulp plant is located in Orissa on India’s eastern seaboard. All plants are ISO 9001-2000 and ISO 14001 certified.
JKPL is one of the largest paper manufacturers in India with a total annual production in excess of 185,000 MT and sale of around 215,000 MT with a sales turnover of around INR 9.50 billion (USD 237.5 million) in FY 06-07. They are reputed to hold a market share upwards of 40 per cent in the office copier paper segment. According to a statement made by their Chairman, Mr. Hari Shankar Singhania, the organisation plans to double its production capacity within five years covering all segments. He has already announced an investment of INR 7 billion (USD 175 million) for capacity enhancement. The paperboard consumption in India is stated to be around 1,350,000 MTPA of which the high-end varieties consume 150,000 MTPA. A coated packaging board plant size of 60,000 MTPA appears small in the marketplace but internal prudence dictated that JKPL should first get its feet wet in the new product category and understand the paperboard market nuances – commercial and technical, before making a quantum jump. Scandinavia, it should be remembered, has quite a few manufacturing plants with capacities between 75,000 – 80,000 MTPA.

The per capita consumption of paper and board in India is at a very low level of about 7 kg / year compared to 11 kgs/year in Philippines, 42 kgs / year in China and 250 kgs / year in Japan ! The growth rate, however, is expected to be much higher than the GDP growth rate particularly for the high-end coated varieties. Some estimates put this annual growth at close to 15 per cent. The massive thrust in organised retailing presently sweeping through India will help to fuel this growth.

JKPL’s strategy
The strategic planning in JKPL was to concentrate on segments which are growing at rates above the industry average and move up the value chain. Coated paperboard, which had only ITC as a player, was an area which synthesised with this business plan. This is expected to add over INR 2.7 billion (USD 67.5 million) to the turnover. Breaking the “paper mindset” was the biggest internal challenge faced within the organisation. A brisk discussion with the Managing Director, Mr. Harsh Pati Singhania and detailed interaction with other senior personnel Mr. Ashish De, Chief Executive (New Business), Mr. Rajiv Sheopuri, Chief Executive (Market & Business Development), Mr. S. Goswami, Chief Gen. Mgr. (Manufacturing) and many other plant personnel from production, engineering, quality assurance, instrumentation, plantation etc., gave an interesting insight into the quiet but steely determination of the organisation to succeed.

The coated paperboard plant, with an investment of over INR 2.6 billion (USD 65 million) has been commissioned and vertical start-up with saleable production commenced 3 months ahead of schedule in April 2007 with an overall effective efficiency (OEE) between 86 and 94 per cent.

Product range
JKPL will be manufacturing coated folding box board, cupstock and coated bleached board in the range from 185 gsm to 450 gsm. Downstream in-house conversion involving PE coating is a natural progression as presently this is being outsourced for the cupstock. JK coated folding boxboard has just received approval from STFI-Packforsk, Sweden, certifying that the board quality conforms to FDA, CFR (Code of Federal Regulations)21- Food & Drugs 176.170, 176.180, USA (May 2006). “This means that J.K. Folding Boxboard may safely be used in packages or other products intended for direct contact with dry, moist and fatty foodstuffs”, states the report.

Interestingly, JKPL started their market foray into coated board by initially importing superior grades of coated board and marketing this within the country under their own brand name (coated paper still continues to be sourced for augmenting own production) The experience gained from this will no doubt be put to use in future strategies. Once the US$ stabilises, the export market would be tapped as buyers abroad are said to have validated the quality. Rajiv Sheopuri sees “no reason why we cannot compete with global players in the marketplace”.

JKPL import high quality ECF pulp for use in their virgin boards. Increase in the price of imported pulp is a source of worry to JKPL who are heavily dependent on this (in-house production of pulp is used as a blend) affecting the profitability due to higher raw material cost. Logistical advantages of shorter delivery times resulting in lower inventory at customers end, lower transport costs and innovative pricing, however, help to narrow the cost gap while arriving at landed prices to customers. A product mix of high end board quality also results in higher averaged out prices compared to competitors. It is also expected that JKPL will push the price envelop higher.

Plant design
Ashish De is comfortable with the entire technical progress and deliverables of the plant supplied by Voith of Germany. A person with many years of experience as a pulp & paper technologist, Ashish De is proud of the fact that they have even achieved a saleable production of 250 MTPD which exceeds the rated capacity of the mill. The mill is practically totally covered with a high efficiency hood. Machine dryers, including the underside of the mill, are covered to reduce heat loss and increase energy efficiency. The main production buildings have a stainless steel wire mesh on all the openings to make it completely insect proof – an important criterion while making a product to be used in food and pharmaceutical packaging, which are two thrust areas for JKPL. The paper machine area has extensive use of air curtains and PVC hanging strips for added safety from infestation.

New generation mixing technology “Hydromix”  in the short circuit loop of the Approach Flow System in all the 3 layers helps to ensure uniform fibre distribution and fibre orientation. The “Duo-D Former” at the middle ply further contributes to the uniform formation across the web. Market specification by JKPL is for ± 3 per cent variation on substance (gsm) but internal production parameters are stiffer. There are 3 stage combi-blade coaters to achieve a very high surface smoothness. IR dryers using propane as the heat source ensure that the coating solution is immobilised quicker with minimal absorption thus resulting in an excellent top surface. The new generation multi Fourdrinier machine results in producing paperboard suitable for performing on high speed packing machines which run at over 400 cartons per minute such as those for toothpaste tubes and hinge-lid cigarette packs.

Quality control
The investment in Quality Control and Assurance is quite remarkable. As Ashish  De emphatically points out, “JK has to compete internally to succeed”. This point is further beautifully amplified by S. Goswami at the plant who says “every section is a business centre”. Every morning, crew and staff gather at the Gemba, which is the Japanese term for workplace (front of the mother machine), to take a pledge for quality enhancement and work ethics. Total Distributed Control System (DCS), instrumentation and digital drives by leaders such as ABB and Yokagawa have been integrated into the entire process control system.

Banks of computers in every section staffed by fresh young graduates & ITI diploma holders (70 % of the staff and crew are freshers with the average age in the plant being 27 years !) monitor and control the process parameters using diagnostic and correction features inbuilt into the system. The programme has been customised to suit anticipated customer requirements.

This young workforce carries no mental baggage !

Five on-line auto scanners from Honeywell, installed at strategic locations, constantly scan the web to detect anomalies allowing real time quality management A lot of emphasis is placed on pre-preparation and consistency of input materials. Several stages of auto cleaning filters constantly filter the various inputs for the coating process as well as the final coating colours to ensure removal of all contaminating particles which could affect the coating performance.

Equipped with world class testing equipment, a lab located next to the machine provides a detailed QC report of every jumbo reel before the next roll is complete. With a wire speed in excess of 280 M/minute and a deckle width of 2.5 M, each Pope reel takes about 30 minutes to complete. Reel changeover is achieved on-the-fly with no wastage.

A formal customer feedback session held in Mumbai in end July 2007 has revealed very encouraging & positive reports. Comparative analysis on market samples with principal competitors’ products showed JKPL having an advantage in some important attributes such as:
ISO Brightness (T/S), = 91.8 to 92 per    cent
PPS = 1–1.3
Bulk (cm3/g) = 1.28
Fluorescence (B/S) = 17.6.

Comparative print samples show excellent reproduction of vignettes and fine screens (eg: facial skin tones, hair etc.) Reproduction of colour was very good, apparently due to better ink hold-out on the board.

The converting and packing section is equipped with two synchro fly sheet cutters supplied by Pasaban, Spain. Another is due to be shipped soon. These twin lane sheeters deliver sheets with a length tolerance of ± 0.5 mm. Sheets and reels are stretch wrapped in PE instead of being bundled in the traditional manner using paper and hessian / HDPE woven fabric. Edge protectors are incorporated wherever required to cushion the material from physical handling shocks especially in reels and bulk pallets. A customised racking system is under installation in the finished goods storage area to further preserve the material. Quality material needs to be handled qualitatively!
The mill has received many awards for Total Quality Production and safety including the prestigious JIPM  TPM Excellence 1st category Award from Japan.

JKPL are committed to environment management. Over 53, 000 hectares have been planted with millions of seedlings and clonal plants sourced from their Plantation division – a non profit operation. These include varieties of eucalyptus and bamboo rhizomes. The organisation is working towards accumulating carbon credits.

The plant recycles most of its waste water and is proud of the fact that their emission levels in waste water are lower that the limits prescribed by the state Pollution Control Board. The small amount of water which goes out is used to irrigate surrounding fields. Efforts are on at the mill to further reduce the water consumption to international levels.

An aggressive Product Development Cell has its work cut out to ensure a steady stream of new products and applications. Ashish De has committed plans to offer a slew of performance based value added products.

With another reputed and large manufacturer in the market, customers will be more comfortable with the trend towards use of higher quality packaging board and this comfort level will be one of the drivers of growth for the coated board market in India.

After speaking to a diverse spectrum of people within the organisation, one begins to understand the words of Ashish De when he says that this project is a “Saga of Passion”, because the passionate belief and the courage of commitment it carries pervades through the environment. People talk about the value of investment made – not the cost !

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

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– Naresh Khanna

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