Making the Most of Opportunity in Tissue?

Futura CEO muses about tissue’s success and
how to sustain it from here on

FABIO BOSCHI

The key economic drivers in the world today are arguable, but the following list is widely accepted: population expansion, climate change, the energy crisis, globalization, increasing life expectancy, continuous technological change, the world’s poorest and their strife for a better deal, and economic growth. Most will contribute to the demand for more tissue products in most areas of the world. It suggests tissue is a good business to be in. It also begs the question: Are we making the most of the opportunity?

Let’s consider the modern age of tissue, which dates back approximately 50 years to the first TAD machine. Has tissue improved in every way? Certainly we have become more efficient at making it with developments such as the crescent former and others. And the basic tissue product has clearly improved. The increased reach of technology and the geographical spread in demand for a quality product mean you are never far from a good toilet roll these days.

Tissue products, whether perfect or not, have achieved significant progress and have become more appealing in the areas of softness, bulk, absorbency, strength, wet strength, and product and packaging aesthetics.

PURSUING PERFECTION

No product is perfect, as we all know from experience. Whether it is a car that can be halted by hackers, packaging that is impossible to get into, or information technology that solves one problem but creates another, life teaches us that progress is not always smooth and perfection tends to be elusive in most product categories, from cars to tissue paper.

But this is what drives us. Just like any other sector, the tissue industry breeds optimists and innovators who are motivated by imperfection and the belief that it can be overcome.

The tissue industry is highly dynamic, competitive, technical, and therefore challenging. It takes great skill and resources for tissue makers to bring new-to-the-world products to the market and for suppliers of technology to find new ways to make them. While end-users are not constantly demanding a better product, they appreciate innovation when it reaches the shelves of the store where they buy their groceries, or when they use a product in an away-from-home situation. This consumer appreciation motivates us all. If we are the ones to create an innovation that improves the final product or the way it is made, we can legitimately claim to be leaders, with all of the benefits that bestows.

The tissue market has achieved progress in many areas. Consumption has certainly outstripped most other paper grades, suggesting that those global drivers are having their effect. Tissue has expanded its global reach, and better quality tissue and product developments have also spread to an ever-widening audience. Costs have been tackled and new sales channels have emerged to help the process of spreading tissue throughout the world. There is also a gradual emergence of new markets for high value-added products.

THE EVOLUTION OF TISSUE

While end-users might not be aware of it, the tissue market is constantly evolving. Apart from world market growth, which has driven demand, supply side drivers have included market consolidation, the game of conversions (from other grades to tissue), and the arrival of newcomers through vertical integration. If tissue is going places, then it is an attractive business open to two distinct groups: those who already supply tissue and those who don’t. The costs of entry are, of course, a consideration, but this is a business with opportunities that extend beyond the existing players.

Before they think about bringing their product to market, both groups need to possess two essential items in their kitbag if they are to realize the potential of this business: innovative technological solutions and innovative mill concepts.

Of course, if you want to lead this sector, you have to work with the existing top players, be they multinationals, large independents, or regional trendsetters. Increasingly, however, the key audience is not defined geographically, nor by product or structure, but by willingness to innovate. If new players are willing to take advantage of the clean sheet they have before them, it is undeniable that they have an opportunity to take a strong competitive position with best available technology and mill design.

MEASURING SUCCESS

So how do we measure success within this apparently flourishing industry? What does a successful tissue business look like? Do our products define us, or is it our profits or share price?

Of course a company must be profitable, but that needs to be defined. A sustainable business must be profitable while capable of investing in R&D, internal training, and a decent working environment. It means a business where everybody wants to “wear the shirt” and realizes that success is dependent on customer satisfaction and enduring partnerships. So success is about leadership and having the courage to believe that this is the foundation for a strong business and, critically, a sustainable business—sustainable in the sense that it has the physical and intellectual resources to maintain its success, not just in the short term, but for years to come.

It is important for a business to have definable core values because they are the essential mechanism that brings a business together and causes its people to pull in the same direction. It is equally important to communicate these values, both to your internal and external audience, if they are to have any real meaning.

Communicating core values such as leadership, innovation, integrity, and respect is not based on slogans or clever catch phrases. It’s about the way a business conducts itself on a daily basis and the way its people believe in and represent the core values throughout the world. Clearly, the whole organization has to follow this endeavour without hesitation. My personal experience is that the greatest triumphs are the result of teamwork and developing talent. We should be proud of the “stars” in our midst, but always careful to ensure that their wisdom, experience, and brilliance are used to nurture those who work with them.

When you have instilled curiosity and ambition in your team along with an understanding of your culture and, if it is the case, technical or product leadership, you have created the best advocates for your brand. Ultimately, of course, your customers and their success are the best testament to what you do.

Ambition is important, but this must be supported by clear strategy and goals. In other words, stay hungry, but stay focused. Do you want to be the best at what you do or the biggest? They are not always necessarily compatible.

BE CULTURALLY PREPARED

Product and service are the foundations of a business, but we also need to be culturally prepared for new challenges, particularly those connected with “the Internet of things,” namely Industry 4.0. I believe strongly in the role that intelligent factories will play in shaping this industry’s future.

In the tissue industry, we have taken important steps toward creating a truly intelligent factory, one in which up- and down-stream technology is part of a seamless, integrated solution. It is now a question of joining the dots with the best practices that exist among complementary suppliers, and never forgetting that cost-competitiveness underpins all success.

The mill of the future is an integrated tissue production and converting operation. The new model offers significantly reduced operating costs and enhanced production efficiency, thanks to optimal technology and configuration, full integration, and plant optimization.

With optimized space in which to work, the distances operators need to move to perform their duties are reduced, which means fewer operators are needed per ton of tissue produced, and these operators are working in a safer environment due to the intergration and automation of the process. But these are not the only benefits; this solution also means a reduction in environmental impact.

There are many technological choices out there, and they will have different outcomes. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and as tissue products diversify, the importance of flexible, tailored technology will only increase. But the principle of this optimized factory is valid across the board. I would also emphasise that this is not mere theory. There are already factories in the world implementing these “mill of the future” concepts and reaping the benefits.

For us as suppliers, it’s not simply about improving a technical feature or reducing maintenance costs/times, it’s about re-thinking processes and seeking new ways to anticipate customer needs—in other words, industrial research, which takes us away from the beaten path and looks ahead.

Is tissue perfect? Maybe not, but there is a way to make it better, and an opportunity for everyone with the vision and resources to get involved.

To paraphrase an old aphorism: “Whatever enterprise you undertake, you must have knowledge and power…. but above all the passion to succeed!” 

Fabio Boschi is CEO of Futura, Lucca, Italy, a global technology company that creates new-to-the-world tissue converting solutions that allow producers to capture market share and gain competitive advantages.

Just like any other sector, the tissue industry breeds optimists and innovators who are motivated by imperfection and the belief that it can be overcome.”

Fabio Boschi, Futura CEO

Recent tissue breakthrough converting technologies by Futura include the Andromeda Concept, the Isferica Rewinder, the Duplex Double Head Coremaker, and other innovations.

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