What is our quality promise and why do we talk about “uncompromised quality?”
Our quality promise is based on the interaction of two key principles:
- Maximum understanding of our customers’ quality specifications;
- Maximum process consistency (100%) and production quality during the manufacture of our specialty papers.
We put these two principles into practice without compromise. The result is the best possible quality to meet the customer’s requirements.
Our customers’ quality specifications relate to the final product. But when we talk about quality specifications, we are also referring to those that are important for converters along the value chain. We also have to comply with current regulations and guidelines, such as standards for toys, products intended for use in public buildings, Ikea standards, etc.). External qualifications are also important here and our papers are certified for all digital printing machines in common use today, such as HP Indigo. By tailoring our products’ specifications performance to our customers’ machines, we ensure the functionality, compatibility and quality of the end product.
We translate all our customers’ quality specifications into production process parameters, so that they can be measured and controlled, and we sit down with our customers to define maximum tolerances for these parameters. Reliable compliance with these specifications depends on establishing and consistently using standardised production processes. We believe that process consistency and reliability are crucial to achieving our ideal: 100% product quality.
How do we comply with keeping our quality promise and translating it into reality?
Four key factors are essentially responsible for compliance and implementation of our quality promise:
- Top-quality raw materials
- reliable production plant and equipment
- a highly trained workforce and
- standardised production processes.
Of course, issues such as R&D and analytics also play a role in quality. Nevertheless, these four key areas play a special part in the realisation of our quality promise on a daily basis.
Purchasing tested raw materials and managing suppliers
The raw materials used to make our products have to meet high quality standards. For example, our purchasing department insists on our suppliers providing comprehensive test reports for each delivery. Our products come with a guarantee that they contain no toxic pigments and do not cause toxic emissions. We apply the same consistency standards to our supplier management as to our processes and set great store by long-term supplier relationships.
However, our raw materials also have to meet high standards in terms of sustainability. It is therefore important to us that the pulp we buy, for example, comes with certification that it has been sustainably produced. The Felix Schoeller Group was the first company in our industry to have full FSC® certification (FSC® C020254) for all its business operations. This certification – a guarantee that all the wood and pulp used in our products was sustainably sourced – is one of a series of environmental certifications Felix Schoeller has been awarded, which includes the PEFC label.
Modern production machinery and ongoing investment
Our modern machinery also enables us to respond quickly and flexibly to our customers’ wishes. We have over 10 paper machines, six extruders, four coaters and a high-performance slitting facility at a total of eight manufacturing sites in Germany, Russia, Canada and the USA. Quality is monitored at each individual stage of production and any defects are identified. Our 100% in-line inspection on the paper machines, extrusion coater and coaters recognises more defects than are visible to the human eye. We also have pilot plants for all the stages of production from paper manufacture and extrusion through to coating, which enables us to test new products on a small scale before releasing them for 100% scale-up.
Over the past 10 years, we have invested over 500 million euros in production machinery. We also plan to invest a further 122 million euros by 2018; this investment is earmarked for new or modified headboxes for a number of our paper machines, for example, and for additional production capacity for PRIP®, our pre-impregnated product.
Highly trained production workers
Our production workers are specialists in their field and have unique expertise across the entire process chain. Their extensive knowledge, combined with many years of experience with hi-tech products, machines and processes, is one of the mainstays that enable us to make our quality promise a reality on a day-to-day basis. In controlling the machines and monitoring the various process and test parameters, our employees have a direct influence on the quality of our products.
We train these skilled workers at our various sites to make sure we can continue to count on highly qualified workers in the future. Last but not least, our production workers give important input into our continuous improvement process (CIP), which we use to continually optimise our production processes and process capability.
Process standardisation and consistency
Customers have to be able to rely on the properties of the product they buy being consistent. To achieve this consistency, we use standardised processes across all stages of production, which are audited and certified at regular intervals.
Based on specifications agreed with the customer, we define a whole raft of parameters that are then measured and monitored during the different stages of production. The main concern here is to monitor process parameters during all the production stages from pulp furnish right through to the rewinder. Compliance with specified tolerances, including those dictated by our principal raw material – pulp - is monitored.
We have developed test schedules for each product, which specify which quality and process parameters are measured and when. Furthermore, a tolerance range is defined for each parameter at each stage of production, which the values measured may not exceed. Each stage of production checks compliance with the tolerance defined (Felix Schoeller: paper machine, extruders, coaters, slitting facility, rewinder; Technocell: paper machine, rewinder).
Instructions about specific recipes and machine settings are also documented on process dockets. These instructions must be adhered to as long as the values measured remain within the tolerance range. Based on the vast experience of our workforce, corrective action process flow charts have been developed over recent decades, which are used to take prompt targeted action to correct any deviations from the target value.
The shift managers are responsible for quality. Based on process consistency and test protocols, they decide which goods are approved and which require closer scrutiny. We believe that this relies on clearly defining job descriptions, competence profiles and responsibilities for each individual employee, along with detailed documentation and structured visualisation of our processes, using tools such as swim lane diagrams.
What do we do to ensure we continue to develop?
Continuing professional development based on the latest technical and scientific knowledge, along with optimisation of our processes, is also an important element of our quality promise. Although process consistency is one of our two key principles, it nevertheless goes without saying for us that efficient organisation of the overall value chain relies on continually reviewing processes to check if there is potential for improvement. Thus, in 2011, the Felix Schoeller Group was one of the first companies in the paper industry to introduce Lean Management. We see lean management as both a philosophy and integral part of our corporate culture and as a way of making our production processes even more efficient and optimising them so that work processes run smoothly and waste is avoided (whether in the form of inventory, waiting times or unnecessary movements).
Using lean methods, we begin by analysing existing processes and systematically identifying potential for improvement. To do this, we use statistical methods such as Lean Six Sigma to validate our insights into complex production processes. The next step involves developing a number of different ideas about how to make processes run more smoothly. These ideas are then explored to establish possible risks and impact on the interfaces. If, after these considerations, an idea is thought to be practicable, a new process standard is introduced and subsequently trialled to see if the change produces the desired outcome. If this is not the case, the whole cycle starts again from scratch – which is why we refer to it as a continuous improvement process (CIP). We have also established this CIP as a suggestions scheme in the company. Employees can submit suggestions as to how processes within the value chain might be optimised.
Thus, we carry out controlled and systematic ongoing improvements, but only to those processes that are not yet running to best effect; as long as a standard process runs smoothly we leave it intact. In this way, we maintain our principle of process consistency.