Why the Fiber Industry Is Thinking Inside the Box

Monday, February 6, 2017 11:04 am EST


Anne Cooney , President, Siemens Process Industries & Drives Division, U.S.

If there was an industry destined to clash with the digital economy … it was fiber. A big source of business for these paper and pulp producers – none other than newspapers and magazines – are being rapidly digitized. Murray Hewitt, the manager of a fiber company called Greenpac Mill – featured in this video – told us that printing demand is “declining at rapid speed.” Growth, on the other hand, has been possible for fiber companies thinking inside the box in an age of online shopping.

Shopping online by itself isn’t new. What is newsworthy, though, is the huge spike in online sales. 2016’s Cyber Monday sales rose 12.1 percent over the prior year to a whopping $3.45 billion, according to Adobe Digital Insights, while Black Friday sales reached a new record as well at $3.34 billion. Behind the scenes, companies like e-commerce giant Amazon are fulfilling, packaging and shipping from distribution centers globally (Amazon’s fulfillment center in New Jersey is the size of 28 football fields).

All of this new shipping requires a lot of boxes. You might only see one package on doorstep, but, says Hewitt, usually “it’s a box inside of a box inside of a box.” And, this has helped make the cardboard and container manufacturing segment a $56 billion industry, producing corrugated and solid cardboard packaging for a range of sectors and industries. In a study conducted by The Freedonia Group, Inc., demand for corrugated boxes globally will reach 234 billion square meters in 2017, a 4.2 percent increase.  

The company Cascades opened its Greenpac Mill to get ahead of this trend. Located in Niagara Falls, New York, Greenpac is the most state-of-the-art recycled linerboard plant in North America. The plant produces lightweight linerboard made with 100 percent recycled fibers on a single paper machine. Nearly 30-feet long, the machine is the largest of its kind in North America, capable of producing a 70-ton roll of thin, stable linerboard ideal for package purposes every 55 minutes

Siemens technology, says Hewitt, is the “brains behind the mill.” In this smart factory, no human touches materials as they move through the facility all the way to the shipping dock. It’s a fully automated process made possible by Siemens’ integrated technology network of monitored hardware with a process control system (PCS).

This digital overlay allows the Greenpac team to remotely monitor the mill and its systems and track data produced by 700 motors and 3,000 instruments. And “team” is a key word here. Greenpac’s use of the latest technology is what drives productivity, efficiency and reliability in this new era of manufacturing, but ultimately, it still takes workers to run it.

Greenpac employs 135 people in an area where many companies have had to dismiss staff or close down altogether. The $470 million mill, says Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, represented one of the city’s largest investment projects in more than a decade. But it was even more than that. It was a big win, Mayor Dyster says, for a community committed to rebuilding its industrial base – and doing so in a way that will “carry us forward from the 20th century into the 21st century.”





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