The unfolding of the past several months has led to more unpredictability than any of us could have imagined. Stay-at-home orders, social distancing guidelines and consumer panic buying have created major irregularities in tissue and towel market dynamics and consumption patterns. These challenges also present a great opportunity to help tissue and towel producers adapt and respond to these sudden changes.
Pushing for Productivity
As consumers around the world actively stockpiled supplies and household staple items, tissue makers were pushed to maximize production. In some countries, bath tissue sales increased by more than 50% during the early months of the pandemic. Though machine utilization rates spiked to nearly 100%, there were still difficulties meeting demand. For Solenis, being part of a larger effort to help customers increase output through higher production efficiency was an opportunity to transform our expertise and capabilities into tangible benefits for our customers and, ultimately, for consumers who rely on their products every day. Our teams partnered with tissue makers across the globe to help optimize wet-end process and coating stability to improve productivity and paper quality. These efforts have helped multiple customers achieve record machine speeds to meet the unexpected surge in demand.
Beyond great chemistry and applications, many of our customers have also leveraged the Solenis OPTIX™ Applied Intelligence adaptive analytics platform to optimize their papermaking processes and meet quality targets. We have documented successes in reducing off-spec tissue production by helping customers significantly improve wet tensile target adherence and reduce variability.
Managing Fiber Supply Challenges
Tissue made from recovered fiber accounts for approximately 30% of global production. Over the past few months, the recovered paper market has experienced extreme volatility. An unprecedented surge in tissue and packaging board demand, combined with reductions in office wastepaper and old corrugated cardboard availability, has tightened supply.
This has forced some tissue makers to switch from higher quality office waste to lower quality alternatives, which can result in lower strength and increased wet-end contamination. We have collaborated with a number of these tissue manufacturers, helping them evaluate and modify their dry-strength and contaminant control solutions to overcome these challenges.
An increasing number of tissue makers are also producing tissue made from non-wood alternative fiber, such as bamboo, which is not related to the pandemic per se, but it is exacerbating some of the other challenges affecting the industry. Non-wood tissue accounts for approximately 10% of global tissue production. Though more common right now in the Asia Pacific market, non-wood tissue will continue to expand across the other regions. In fact, several recently launched direct-to-consumer tissue brands are selling 100% bamboo tissue outside of Asia.
This type of tissue is seen as a more environmentally friendly and sustainable alternative. However, non-wood pulps typically contain higher levels of contaminants, such as silica and fines, which create Yankee coating challenges related to hardness, dusting and abrasiveness. Solenis has partnered with tissue makers to address challenges related to improving softness/hand feel, machine runnability and extending doctor blade life.
Preparing for New Paper Towel Opportunities
In the wake of the global pandemic, there is a renewed emphasis on hand hygiene that has resulted in more hand washing and hand drying occasions. Many establishments are also replacing hot and jet air dryers with paper towel dispensers in public restrooms. In addition, experts recommend cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces at least once a day to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission via surface contact. All of these trends are driving an increase in paper towel usage and pushing manufacturers to enhance their product requirements.
Solenis is well-positioned to help tissue makers produce more — and higher quality — paper towels. Our extended network of field professionals and application experts collaborate directly with paper producers to customize solutions to their unique needs. At the same time, our global manufacturing footprint allows us to deliver a variety of wet- and dry-strength products efficiently and cost-effectively to any mill, anywhere in the world. Our additives have enabled towel producers in all regions to enhance product quality in the areas of wet strength (for improved durability when used with disinfectants/cleaners), absorbency and scrubbability (to ensure the towel can clean a wider surface area).
The New “Normal”
Post-COVID-19, the world will likely operate very differently. Suppliers must evolve as much as the customers they serve, which is why Solenis is actively working to enhance, extend and redefine our capabilities to align with the changing world. We have an exciting pipeline of new activities planned for the next 12 months and look forward to helping producers navigate through these tumultuous times.
About the Author:
Richard Cho has held the position of global marketing director for Solenis Tissue & Towel since 2016. In this role, he is responsible for developing the global strategy, driving the innovation pipeline and leading digital communication for this vertical market. Prior to Solenis, Richard was the director of global marketing for Industrial Specialties at Ashland. Earlier in his career, Richard held brand management positions at Diageo and Campbell Soup Company. He holds a Master of Science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.