The Industry Behind Your Paper Straw

The Pulp & Paper industry is amidst a transformation, leaving behind traditional copy paper and focusing on the packaging era. With giants like Amazon shipping over 5 billion packages per year (and that's just through their Prime program), the demand for innovative, sustainable packaging has never been greater. Concurrently, more and more retailors are abandoning traditional plastics in search of new, more sustainable ways to do business.  From Starbucks to the country of Canada, the anti-plastic sentiment is growing rapidly. This, however, presents new challenges for the industry, as costs continue to rise. 

“Paper prices are higher than they've been in years and specialty packaging is up. Additionally, as anti-plastic sentiment continues to grow, new opportunities will continue to arise,” says Mariana Sandin, the Industry Principal for Pulp & Paper at OSIsoft. Mariana works with the world's foremost Forestry, Pulp, Paper, and Packaging firms to help them leverage operational data in digital transformation.  

“Today, about 60 percent of paper waste is recycled compared to just nine percent of plastics, putting paper firmly in the position to replace single use plastics, such as straws. These opportunities are paving the way for a new paper industry, allowing innovative mills to reposition themselves to produce fresh types of packaging products and increase return on capital."

With this new demand for sustainable products and packaging, the industry, which operates with historically small margins, must mitigate rising costs through digital transformation. Regulations on the industry and how it impacts the environment, particularly through the use of water and energy in manufacturing, continue to drive the need for new digital technologies as well.  As Sandin explains despite various misconceptions, the Pulp & Paper industry is  deeply committed to innovating and creating more environmentally sound processes and products.

trees cut Pulp and Paper

“Certified wood promotes sustainable forest management policies.  Inventories of private timberlands, which provide more than 90 percent of the domestic wood and paper products, have increased nearly seven percent since 2008“ says Sandin. “In addition, an estimated 65 percent of the fiber brought to recycling centers get reused. For every paper mill, energy consumption and conservation are imperative to operate profitability.”

While the industry is generally slow to adopt new technologies, Sandin highlights that as digital transformation  continues to demonstrate ever-increasing value, more and more companies will move quickly to integrate it. Various stakeholders within pulp and paper companies need different data at different times and in different formats to make critical decisions. This is where operational intelligence gained from a data infrastructure like the PI System becomes crucial and enables the industry to transform inside and out. 

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This real-time visibility into enterprise-wide operations is vital in a climate where the value chain at many firms is being consolidated through mergers and acquisitions. This means that different business units are forced to combine, and firms must find a way to keep business units working together.

When asked the industry is headed, Sandin explains that we'll likely see new materials becoming more mainstream, especially as environmental conservation sentiments continue to grow.  As bioproducts will start to replace plastics and decrease the industry's carbon footprint. Mills will continue to become more efficient, and consolidation of large corporations, especially those in Asia Pacific, will mean that many of the industry giants will no longer reside in North America. 

The future of Pulp & Paper is bright, with new materials and processes on the horizon amidst a changing culture. The PI System has been integral in helping firms like Verso Paper reduce water consumption by 20% and energy by 9 %. It helped Glatfelter save $896,000 in cost avoidance through six months of asset health monitoring and saved Klabin $10 million in six months with improved monitoring of boilers. With 10 of the top 10 pulp & paper companies using the PI System, OSIsoft is proud to be an integral part of this industry-wide transformation.

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