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Management Side

Writer for Nip Impressions

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Week of 3 October 2022: Quality in your workspace

Week of 3 October 2022: Quality in your workspace

Quality starts at home, and that home is often your home, your car, and your workspace. Organization exudes quality. Ever walked into an automobile dealership? Was it disheveled or spotless? How would you react if you walked into an automobile dealership that was untidy? If we are going to talk about quality, we must start with ourselves in the places we live and work.

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Week of 26 September 2022: The Eclectic Management Series, part 4

Week of 26 September 2022: The Eclectic Management Series, part 4

Hidden Costs

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Week of 19 September 2022: The Eclectic Management Series, part 3

Week of 19 September 2022: The Eclectic Management Series, part 3

Nothing is free

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Week of 12 September 2022: The Eclectic Management Series, part 2

Week of 12 September 2022: The Eclectic Management Series, part 2

Spinning the Invoice Printer

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Week of 5 September 2022: The Eclectic Management Series, part 1

Week of 5 September 2022: The Eclectic Management Series, part 1

So, you want to be a consultant

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Week of 29 August 2022: And everything else

Week of 29 August 2022: And everything else

Well, after a few days, the Great Mother came back. She did not mention gorging herself and neither did anyone else. Great Mother, "We have gotten very far behind, and our time is almost up. Til, can you come forward and read the remaining cases? If we have time, we will take them up at next year's conference." Til came forward.

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Week of 22 August 2022: Threats

Week of 22 August 2022: Threats

The Rats took a break for a couple of days. We found a pond for swimming and had a good time. On the way back to the meeting area, we went past a place where the Big Things eat food that they heat up very quickly. Out behind, there were bins full of discarded food, so we had quite a feast. The Great Mother got sick from gorging herself and was very embarrassed. The Great Mother always takes her role very seriously and is very conscious of her decorum. Gorging herself was out of character. She must have felt quite ill, for when we reconvened the Junior Mother was presiding. "Attention, please!" she called us to order. "The Great Mother is a bit under the weather and has asked me to preside over this session. Today, we are going to quickly look at cases where Big Things threatened the companies for which they work. Clerk, please read the cases."

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Week of 15 August 2022: The Big Things are up to their old tricks

Week of 15 August 2022: The Big Things are up to their old tricks

After a brief recess, the Great Mother called us together again. "What is on the docket for today?"

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Week of 8 August 2022: The Rats find a new problem

Week of 8 August 2022: The Rats find a new problem

After three lights, the Great Mother called us together again. "We have heard a particularly disturbing story," she began. "It seems as though the Big Things want to be known for protecting this whole place where we live, but some of them take what they call shortcuts at times. The RBI, or Rat Bureau of Investigation, has been looking into this. I'll let them explain." Phineas Kirby came to the front of the room...

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Week of 1 August 2022: Fos takes control of the computer

Week of 1 August 2022: Fos takes control of the computer

By Jim Thompson interpreting for Fos the Rat ... Yes, it is August again and its is corruption month at Paperitalo Publications. We rats have observed in the past year that the human engagement in corruption is not limited to pulp and paper mills. This last statement may sound naïve, but one must understand our methods of communications are rather limited (basically just walking around and talking to each other) so we perhaps don't get all the information Big Things do.

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Week of 25 July 2022: HR and Regulations

Week of 25 July 2022: HR and Regulations

As we wrap up Environmental and Regulations Month here at Paperitalo, we would be remiss if we did not mention the minefield that regulations relating to Human Resources have become.

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Week of 18 July 2022: Don't make this regulatory mistake

Week of 18 July 2022: Don't make this regulatory mistake

Don't think you can turn regulations into a marketing advantage. Thinking that a customer base must buy a certain good or service and hence this will make an automatic market for you is a potential mistake.

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Week of 11 July 2022: When Regulations get Political

Week of 11 July 2022: When Regulations get Political

The general intent of regulations is to keep order in society and keep the population safe. A dictionary definition of regulations is "a rule or directive made and maintained by an authority." My cynical version is this: "those who have power by fiat telling those who own assets what to do." Over the decades, we have seen many actions that follow my definition here in the pulp and paper industry.

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Week of 4 July 2022: Asphyxiation by Regulation

Week of 4 July 2022: Asphyxiation by Regulation

A little regulation is probably good, but a lot of regulation chokes business to death.

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Week of 27 June 2022: We interrupt the Purchasing Series to talk about Energy Again

Week of 27 June 2022: We interrupt the Purchasing Series to talk about Energy Again

Sorry about that, but the energy news is coming thick and fast for all of us these days. I am sure you remember old Jim telling you to carefully preserve your boilers, regardless of what form of energy they consume (I have also said these are the only types of idled assets to save). I hope you have heeded my advice. It appears the rapid transition to "Green Energy" sources appears to have some problems.

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Week of 20 June 2022: Purchasing and Gifts

Week of 20 June 2022: Purchasing and Gifts

A tough subject and one all of us, not matter what side of the negotiating table we sit, should treat with respect, not forgetting our fiduciary duty.

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Week of 13 June 2022: Procurement Today

Week of 13 June 2022: Procurement Today

Today, we need to know the delivery status of items way before their expected delivery date. We even need to know what ship they are on and where that ship is at any given moment. As shortages continue, this becomes even more important.

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Week of 6 June 2022: Procurement Opportunities

Week of 6 June 2022: Procurement Opportunities

The purchasing department is an area of great opportunities. It is also a place where all the profits of the mill can be dribbled away, and a potential source of grossly unimaginable corruption. The purchasing department must be carefully managed.

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Week of 30 May 2022: Always use less

Week of 30 May 2022: Always use less

As we wrap up this month on energy trends, there is one certainty over which you have complete control. That certainty is this...energy you don't use frees you from others' control. If we think of a pulp and paper mill as a "black box" this means that energy we use inside the mill that we generate ourselves frees us from the vagaries of the markets and external suppliers.

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Week of 23 May 2022: Energy Security

Week of 23 May 2022: Energy Security

If you have read this column for any length of time, I am about to repeat something you have heard before. I am always in favor of removing obsolete and unused equipment quickly with one glaring exception. That exception is this: power plants.

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Week of 16 May 2022: It's Electrifying!

Week of 16 May 2022: It's Electrifying!

The answer to dirty energy today seems to be electricity. For mobile transportation, cars and trucks, electricity moves the emissions from many points (tail pipes) to either single points (power stations) or theoretically no points (solar, wind and hydroelectric). The first thing we need to understand is that our choice of energy is cost, ease of use, and emotions. Notice that glaringly absent from this list is science. Energy choices have long since left science out of the equation.

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Week of 9 May 2022: Energy is Important

Week of 9 May 2022: Energy is Important

Of course, it is. You ask how I can write a column about this. What we don't realize is how rapidly and how important energy has become to modern societies. The following is a column I wrote for my hometown newspaper about six months ago. While not about energy, it describes a real scenario, that while current, could have easily been widespread conditions about 70 years ago in the United States. The boiler, an important object in this piece, was manufactured only about sixty years ago.

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Week of 2 May 2022: Energy Trends Month

Week of 2 May 2022: Energy Trends Month

On the Nip Impressions calendar, May is energy trends month. There is hardly a timelier topic, except perhaps food trends, but Nip Impressions does not cover food and my doctor wants me to lose ten pounds, so I try not to think about it. I would guess a good half of the headlines in the popular press today are about energy. These then fall into two categories, security of supply and what to do about, what I will call "dirty" energy.

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Week of 25 April 2022: Bragging about safety records (and more)

Week of 25 April 2022: Bragging about safety records (and more)

I was doing some consulting in a mill a number of years ago that had a sign by their entrance that stated they had won some "safety award of the year" some years before the time I visited. I chided them and asked what they had been doing since the time of the award? Obviously, they had not won it again. Unfortunately, about five years after my visit, they had a triple fatality at that mill--contractors on an outage. There are a couple of issues I would like to unpack from my opening paragraph.

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Week of 18 April 2022: (Legitimate) drug use on outages (and more)

Week of 18 April 2022: (Legitimate) drug use on outages (and more)

Many of us take OTC (Over The Counter) drugs. These can be abused, too. Especially on outages. I'll tell a story on myself...

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Week of 11 April 2022: Without much time to think

Week of 11 April 2022: Without much time to think

There was a fatal automobile accident in our neighborhood lately that can serve as an excellent study on how we think when there is little time to sort out the situation. There are lessons here for all of us.

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Week of 4 April 2022: A Safety Resource

Week of 4 April 2022: A Safety Resource

I like to remind people of the following resource any time I get a chance. It is a good way to start off safety month here at Paperitalo Publications. It is simply this. On our website, PaperMoney (www.globalpapermoney.com), we have been keeping track of the industry's safety performance. In its sixth year now, the department, "Reported Risks" is a current chronicle of "Risks: Fires, Fatalities and Catastrophes." It is a good learning resource and a source of endless safety meeting subjects.

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Week of 28 March 2022: Additive manufacturing of spare parts moves to an essential activity

Week of 28 March 2022: Additive manufacturing of spare parts moves to an essential activity

It has been over a decade ago that I started talking about manufacturing your own spare parts with additive manufacturing. It is now moving from an interesting idea to a vital necessity. Between logistics problems and world turmoil, the spare parts needed for your machine may not be available. Most, except those of the most critical metallurgy, you can make in your own shop with less skills than a first-class welder or machinist.

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Week of 21 March 2022: Importance of Lubrication

Week of 21 March 2022: Importance of Lubrication

Over the years, I have talked about this miserable old mill that I worked at long ago. When I was young, when I had a choice, I always ran towards opportunities that had lots of problems. My philosophy was that situations in trouble were the best way to advance your career. I have never been interested in career safety, it is boring and leads to complacency. So, I end up at this mill, in the prime of my career. It is large, ancient and a mess...

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Week of 14 March 2022: Will vs. Means

Week of 14 March 2022: Will vs. Means

We have more aids for maintenance today than ever before. Detection instruments, storeroom software, built in monitors, training, you name it. Maintenance has never had more help than is available today. So, why do we still have maintenance failures?

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Week of 7 March 2022: Maintenance Month

Week of 7 March 2022: Maintenance Month

Probably after August (Pulp Rats Month), Maintenance Month is my favorite month of the year on the Paperitalo editorial calendar. My dad was notorious for avoiding maintenance. It was an expense he loathed in the same manner as many mill managers and operations executives do. I followed his example for a while, saw the fruits of such policies and became a maintenance fanatic. A couple of old family incidents are in order.

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Week of 28 February 2022: Logistics up close and personal

Week of 28 February 2022: Logistics up close and personal

I don't think most mills realize how close we are to interacting with robots every day. The box plants are ahead of us on this. The new Super Plants require about two thirds the employment for the same level of productivity. They are all 110" corrugators and they have a heavy component of robotics. I am expecting to see a flurry of box plant upgrades between now and 2030. Super plants won't be super then--they will be the norm. Back in the papermill, a couple of ready for here and now human aids are available.

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Week of 21 February 2022: Frequent Flier Miles for your new Refiner

Week of 21 February 2022: Frequent Flier Miles for your new Refiner

In today's world, you may want to think long and hard about how the new or replacement piece of equipment (or other vital supplies) reach your mill. If you can afford to wait 12 - 18 weeks for those special refiner plates to arrive, put them on a ship. If you are losing production or quality every day because you do not have them, fly 'em, the most economical overall cost.

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Week of 14 February 2022: This old term is your friend now: FOB

Week of 14 February 2022: This old term is your friend now: FOB

Back in the old days, we used the term "FOB." This meant "Freight on Board." There are other terms these days, but they mean nearly the same thing. One could purchase items "FOB seller's dock" or "FOB purchaser's dock." Internal logistics personnel have, for the last couple of decades, thought it smart to handle the logistics and freight themselves and purchase nearly everything "FOB seller's dock." They think they are saving money and justifying their existence. No more. In today's world, I would recommend that you purchase nearly everything, especially capital goods, "FOB purchaser's dock."

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Week of 7 February 2022: What are you doing about logistics?

Week of 7 February 2022: What are you doing about logistics?

If you are like most facilities these days, your transportation system, outside the fence, if not in shambles, is at least limping along. What to do?

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Week of 31 January 2022: Capital Project Done...or is it?

Week of 31 January 2022: Capital Project Done...or is it?

Give your operations and maintenance folks the help they need to make the project truly successful.

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Week of 24 January 2022: After the approval--managing the capital project

Week of 24 January 2022: After the approval--managing the capital project

I've often been asked, "how often should our project team meet once our project is under way?" My answer is based on your average spend over the life of the project and at peak times (especially in rebuilds).

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Week of 17 January 2022: What is acceptable risk in a capital project?

Week of 17 January 2022: What is acceptable risk in a capital project?

I have written assessments on lots of projects. Every one of them follows the same pattern in the same order. Three questions: 1. What are the markets? 2. What are the raw materials? 3. What are the assets (including tangible assets and human assets) that you place between (1) and (2) to have a successful project? If you don't start here, your chances of success are very low.

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Week of 3 January 2022: How to manage your capital budget this year

Week of 3 January 2022: How to manage your capital budget this year

Most of the people I talk to today have not prepared or managed capital budgets under the conditions we find ourselves in now. Well, I saw my first capital budget in an industrial setting in March of 1970. Perhaps I can help you a bit--we had similar issues back then as those we are facing today--the administration in the White House in those days thought they could control inflation with price controls which caused me to miss two planned 25 cent raises as a co-op student, from $2.75 per hour, to $3.00 per hour to $3.25/hour, over a period of 18 months. Glad I could do my part to help tame inflation; as a student operating on the pay as you go plan (no loans), one makes too much money anyway.

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Week of 10 January 2022: Upside down thinking when it comes to capital planning

Week of 10 January 2022: Upside down thinking when it comes to capital planning

Have you ever had a conversation like this? "I was going to by a car from Brand X because it is cheaper and has more features than Brand Y." "Well, you obviously bought Brand Y. Why?" "Brand X didn't have any in stock and didn't know when they would get any." So, really, in the end, Brand X didn't mean anything because you could not get Brand X. Their price could have been twice the price or half the price of Brand Y, it just didn't make any difference. You may find yourself in this place with certain pieces of capital equipment now. You may have to become a "satisfier" instead of an "optimizer."

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Week of 27 December 2021: Is there a magic elixir for an energy marketing advantage?

Week of 27 December 2021: Is there a magic elixir for an energy marketing advantage?

I don't think this is a one size fits all question as you look at your marketing going forward. Some customers will be interested in your energy usage, others will be interested in what your products can do to save them costs in their manufacturing and logistics schemes. Please note that in all scenarios in this column, I will be talking primarily about business-to-business sales, not business to consumers.

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Week of 20 December 2021: Changing ROI in Power & Energy

Week of 20 December 2021: Changing ROI in Power & Energy

I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal which was discussing the write down coming in some energy assets, such as coal reserves, as the economy switches to "greener" energy sources. Like it or not, agree with it or not, there seems to be a move afoot to completely change our acceptable energy sources. You can interpret this as follows: energy is going to get more expensive, a lot more expensive, in this new world.

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Week of 13 December 2021: Identity Energy

Week of 13 December 2021: Identity Energy

What concerns me today is that we seem to be more interested in the form of energy rather than its efficiency or cost. Energy has taken on somewhat of an "identity politics" persona. In earlier days, it was security of supply and efficiency. Today it is products of combustion that seems to garner the attention.

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Week of 6 December 2021: Now more than ever

Week of 6 December 2021: Now more than ever

If you have read this column for any length of time, you know that old Jim has told you countless times to carefully mothball energy assets that are out of favor, for sooner or later, they will come back into fashion again. This statement is a corollary to my principle, all energy decisions are political. This calendar year has seen a sudden swing to an overwhelming global opinion that climate change is "settled science" and we can't decarbonize fast enough. Couple this with ESG (Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance) principles and boards of directors worldwide are moving at warp speed towards these extremely popular ideas.

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Week of 29 November 2021: Innovation in the near future

Week of 29 November 2021: Innovation in the near future

The components and devices to do what I will describe here exists now. Someone just needs to assemble the bits and pieces.

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Week of 22 November 2021: Innovation is possible for anyone

Week of 22 November 2021: Innovation is possible for anyone

If you think you can't innovate, the problem is purely mental. Creativity can be learned and you can use it in many ways to make your work environment more productive and safer.

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Week of 15 November 2021: Innovation speed

Week of 15 November 2021: Innovation speed

Getting innovation right is crucial to optimizing profitability. Too soon, and the equipment may not be able to deliver as promised. Too late and your competition may have already eclipsed you.

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Week of 8 November 2021: Innovation as you go

Week of 8 November 2021: Innovation as you go

There have been many attempts to institutionalize innovation. Sometimes the domiciles of higher education seem to think they have a lock on innovation capabilities. Likely, in some areas, they do. The innovation with near term payoff, however, often takes place at the millsite. It is an activity in which everyone can participate and can be made into a fun (and profitable) activity if structured correctly.

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Week of 1 November 2021: Innovation Month

Week of 1 November 2021: Innovation Month

We are in the process of revitalizing and restarting the Light Green Machine Institute, a 501c3 educational institute we created back around 2008. The Light Green Machine Institute's mission statement is "Holistically reducing the environmental impact of pulp and paper processing."

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Week of 25 October 2021: The fourth step in Quality

Week of 25 October 2021: The fourth step in Quality

The fourth step in quality is the training and morale of your personnel. All your employees need to be thoroughly trained for the job at hand and not only trained but taught to think so that they can take action when they see something occur that can affect quality.

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Week of 18 October 2021: The third step in Quality

Week of 18 October 2021: The third step in Quality

The third step in Quality is the quality of your raw materials. Some might have thought this is the second step. No, it's the third, for you don't know the quality of raw materials required until you know the quality you are promising your customers.

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Week of 11 October 2021: The second step in Quality

Week of 11 October 2021: The second step in Quality

The second step in Quality is a solid standard of product performance. If you are in the tissue and towel business, these are likely internal standards. If you are in the containerboard or other paper products businesses, these are likely recognized industry standards. You don't know what quality is if you can't define it.

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Week of 4 October 2021: The first step in Quality

Week of 4 October 2021: The first step in Quality

The first step in the path to producing a quality product is the housekeeping in your facility. I know I sound like a broken record, but in truth, housekeeping is the first step in many actions in your mill or converting facility. I have never seen quality products consistently produced in dirty or sloppy facilities. It is just not possible.

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Week of 27 September 2021: Get out of your office

Week of 27 September 2021: Get out of your office

If you are the top person on your site, get out of your office and visit your people regularly. I recommend 6 a.m. rounds, with flashlight and small notepad in hand to take notes on what you find (or put them on your phone). Shake hands, get to know your people. If you are over a large facility, don't do it all in a day, but make sure you visit every department at least once per week.

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Week of 20 September 2021: Human/Machine Interface today

Week of 20 September 2021: Human/Machine Interface today

Where human/machine interface is going in our paper mills is hard to guess, it seems to be just at the cusp of arriving as we implement Industry 4.0. On one hand, it will make us better papermakers, but on the other, like my automobile experiences, we will likely have many of the unconscious dependencies...

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Week of 13 September 2021: Video Games and Paper Machine Operation

Week of 13 September 2021: Video Games and Paper Machine Operation

I was assistant project manager in the engineering department at a mill back in the early 1980's. I have referenced this experience a number of times in this column over the years. One of the upgrades we made at the time was to go from pneumatic controls to digital computer control. This means that the machine, which only a few days ago was operated from benchboard on the floor was now operated from a control room. Now a mere month later, the bench boards are gone. Keep in mind, the crews on this machine had been running it from benchboards for about 14 years...

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Week of 6 September 2021: Management Today

Week of 6 September 2021: Management Today

This is my 52nd September in the workforce. I think management is tougher than ever. Think about it--when I started even OSHA did not exist. People were glad to have jobs and they put up with all sorts of things at work that simply aren't tolerated today, both from the standpoint of society's mores and from a labor regulatory perspective.

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Week of 30 August 2021: Fos wraps up for 2021

Week of 30 August 2021: Fos wraps up for 2021

Silas, the CEO of REO, wasn't finished last week. He had another story he wanted to relate.

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Week of 23 August 2021: Fos continues...

Week of 23 August 2021: Fos continues...

After a few lights of recreation, the Great Mother convened us once again. "Rats," she announced, "Let me introduce the Rat 'Em Out Detective Agency. You can just call them "REO" for short." Six wizened looking old rats came to the front of the room.

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Week of 16 August 2021: Fos continues...

Week of 16 August 2021: Fos continues...

The Great Mother called the meeting to order after a short break. "Who has a case for us?" Dis came up the side aisle. There were a lot of rats at the meeting. They had been attracted by the thoughts of a trip to the Big Things capital city and to their building where the biggest rats of all congregated. The Great Mother seemed to be in a benevolent mood, "And what is your story, my child?" "In the mill where I work, there is this female Big Thing. I should say, 'there was.' She is in jail now."

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Week of 9 August 2021: Fos continues...

Week of 9 August 2021: Fos continues...

The Rats arrived at the big building with the big half ball on top. What we didn't count on is how bad it stinks inside! Don't know how the Big Things stand it, but after a day or two, we pretty much got used to it. I guess because it has been here a long time and gotten saturated with the residuals of Big Thing's activities causes it to stink so. The Great Mother called us to order. "Thank you for coming. As usual, the Big Things have been working overtime again creating havoc and committing crimes throughout the land. What's on the docket today?"

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Week of 2 August 2021: Already, it is corruption month again!

Week of 2 August 2021: Already, it is corruption month again!

By Jim Thompson interpreting for Fos the Rat: You Big Things may think we rats are in the dark about your activities. Of course, if you have been reading this column for any length of time, you know that is not true. I (Fos) have been reporting on your misdeeds and malfeasance since August of 2015. Yes, this makes the seventh year Mr. Jim has yielded his column to me for the month of August.

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Week of 26 July 2021: Environmentalism--an (un)educated public

Week of 26 July 2021: Environmentalism--an (un)educated public

If you have read this series of July columns, you might be thinking I take a dim view of environmentalism principles. I don't--as long as they are measured in their application or make good economic sense. Don't trust the public to be informed. I'll use an example that is not necessarily environmental to prove my point and to show you some of the ways misinformation abounds...

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Week of 19 July 2021: Environmentalism--Marketing

Week of 19 July 2021: Environmentalism--Marketing

You would be hard pressed to find a topic or concept more universally and shamelessly exploited as a marketing aid than environmentalism. Positive vibes from environmentalism are used by nearly every marketer on earth to show alignment of their products and services with clean air, clean water and less landfill waste. It is a safe bet--who doesn't want clean air, clean water and less landfill waste? Sadly, as an industry, we were a bit slow on the uptake.

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Week of 12 July 2021: Environmentalism--Weaponized

Week of 12 July 2021: Environmentalism--Weaponized

Never heard of the Sunrise Movement? You should check them out--www.sunrisemovement.org. On 28 June 2021, they blocked all entrances to the White House to get attention. Some were promptly arrested. One might characterize the Sunrise Movement as Greenpeace on steroids. Youth oriented, the Sunrise Movement has a multifaceted activism focusing on the environment and the Green New Deal. On their website, they list twelve principles. You will have to deal with them.

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Week of 5 July 2021: Environmentalism--Science

Week of 5 July 2021: Environmentalism--Science

In the innocent days of the 1970's, the US Environmental Protection Agency was formed. It came into being on 9 July 1970. Other countries had formed similar bodies in the same era. Sweden's was founded in 1967, for instance. Others were formed as late as the 1990's. Back in those days, air and water pollution were spewing forth with little control and little was being done about it. The correct approach was science coupled with appropriate regulations. This has happened worldwide now, by one of two methods.

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Week of 28 June 2021: Procurement Expediting Tales, part 3

Week of 28 June 2021: Procurement Expediting Tales, part 3

In this final set of scenarios, I was in the role of Services Manager (responsible for maintenance, engineering, and the technical and power departments) at a mill in Ohio. We were having trouble with contaminants in our recycled fiber supply. The state-of-the-art solution at the time was to replace screen baskets with holes with ones with very small slots. Of course, like all such situations, this solution had spread around the industry as fast as it would on Facebook today (but this was pre-internet). We had screen baskets of the requisite specifications on order, but delivery was months away.

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Jim Thompson, left, is shown with Andy Cochrane, middle, and Allen Hunter.
Jim Thompson, left, is shown with Andy Cochrane, middle, and Allen Hunter.

Visit to Industrial Air, Inc.

On Thursday, June 17, 2021, I had the great pleasure visiting our client, Industrial Air, Inc., of Greensboro, North Carolina. This visit was a year in the making, given the travel restrictions of the lost year of Covid 19.

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Week of 21 June 2021: Procurement Expediting Tales, part 2

Week of 21 June 2021: Procurement Expediting Tales, part 2

We were in the middle of engineering and planning a rebuild. Our instrument engineer comes strolling into my office one morning. He's concerned about the delivery of the new distributed control system. On the paper machine, we were going from bench boards on the operating floor (with pneumatic controls) to a digital system in a new control room. Huge change. Our instrument engineer, I'll call him Jeff, was getting conflicting stories from the supplier concerning delivery. I told him to make a couple of more calls, and if he was not happy with the answers he was getting, we would jump on a plane. We jumped on a plane.

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Week of 14 June 2021: Procurement Expediting Tales, part 1

Week of 14 June 2021: Procurement Expediting Tales, part 1

As I mentioned last week, we are in a new era of shortages, delays and high costs. Back when many of you engineers and purchasing agents in the mills in the United States were still watching Sesame Street, some of us were going to extraordinary lengths to get the goods our mills needed to stay on schedule and operating. You may need to start thinking this way, too--but be sure to read the safety cautions at the end of this column.

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Week of 7 June 2021: Procurement Month Arrived Early This Year

Week of 7 June 2021: Procurement Month Arrived Early This Year

This is the month I talk about procurement. If you buyers or purchasing agents have been moping around for years, thinking you are not getting any recognition, those days are over. Suddenly, you are the center of attention. Pricing and schedule are paramount these days.

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Week of 31 May 2021: Energy Decision Caution

Week of 31 May 2021: Energy Decision Caution

As I wrap up the energy columns for this month, I wanted to leave you with a few words of caution.

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Week of 24 May 2021: Energy Strategy--does this make sense?

Week of 24 May 2021: Energy Strategy--does this make sense?

We have traditionally calculated the investment in energy projects based on savings against alternatives, fuel supply availability or regulatory requirements. What if we drag the marketing folks into the equation and ask them how much more product they could sell or what kind of a competitive advantage they could realize if they could say your facilities and products are more favorable on the carbon question than other manufacturers? Is there a piece of the economic question that could be answered with this discussion?

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Week of 17 May 2021: When your infrastructure is worth more than your mill

Week of 17 May 2021: When your infrastructure is worth more than your mill

For decades I have been saying the pulp and paper industry is one of the most exciting sectors in the manufacturing world. It is full of surprises, never ceases to be entertaining and is continually offering new ways to succeed. Now an outfit called Allrise Capital has once again reinforced my beliefs in this thinking.

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Week of 3 May 2021: What is your energy strategy now?

Week of 3 May 2021: What is your energy strategy now?

Regardless of your personal beliefs or the science you (do) (do not) believe, carbon neutrality is in your energy future. There are many high-profile companies and CEOs involved in the "CEO Carbon Neutral Challenge" including our own advertising partner, SAP. The Carbon Neutral Challenge has a list of six guiding principles.

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Week of 10 May 2021: What is your energy strategy now? Part 2

Week of 10 May 2021: What is your energy strategy now? Part 2

Here in the United States, with a change in administrations, there is often a change in energy policy. It seems no different this time. If you will recall, many times I have said all energy policy is political. This has not changed. My confidential touchstone on energy activity tells me energy research requests are up, too.

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Week of 26 April 2021: The Extremes of Safety--Discernment

Week of 26 April 2021: The Extremes of Safety--Discernment

Occasionally you will run into a safety situation that is not covered by your training. What to do? My approach to such situations is multi-pronged. Urgency, risk, obvious and unknown are adjectives I would use to describe my approach in these matters, coupled with a heightened awareness of my surroundings.

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Week of 19 April 2021: The Extremes of Safety--Routine

Week of 19 April 2021: The Extremes of Safety--Routine

Last week, we talked about excitement creating dangerous safety conditions. This week let's talk about the opposite--routine creating dangerous safety conditions. Because we work around large machinery, clamp trucks and so forth, which, for the most part behave as they should, we become complacent that about these items. Paper machines can kill--and they have. Clamp trucks can kill--and they have. Dynamic accidents (things flying apart, things falling) are dangerous.

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Week of 12 April 2021: The Extremes of Safety--Excitement

Week of 12 April 2021: The Extremes of Safety--Excitement

One of the most dangerous times, at work, home or wherever is when we get excited. When excited, we often don't think about safety. How many times have you come into the mill excited (perhaps by the traffic you had just driven in)? How many times have you left the mill excited, with plans to go on vacation or do something else exciting when you got off shift that day? How do we fix this?

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Week of 5 April 2021: The Safety Conflict

Week of 5 April 2021: The Safety Conflict

The pressure to meet production goals is directly in conflict with safety procedures unless you work hard and creatively to take the conflict out of this scenario, for there is a conflict here, no matter what anyone says. In reality, doing tasks the safest way is often the most efficient way.

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Week of 29 March 2021: Boneyard Blues

Week of 29 March 2021: Boneyard Blues

I hate boneyards. These piles of junk provide a false sense of security, causing clueless managers to think there is something there that can get them out of a maintenance jam. I haven't kept track, but my perception is that boneyards in my past caused far more problems than they cured.

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Week of 22 March 2021: Overdependence

Week of 22 March 2021: Overdependence

From July 1925 to December 1970, Popular Science Monthly, a familiar magazine here in the US, ran a feature called Gus Wilson's Model Garage. The typical story was an automobile owner who came to the garage with a vexing car problem. Gus, through his experience, wit and intuition, could figure out the problem and put the driver back on the road, problem solved. In our pulp and paper mills today, perhaps we need more Gus's.

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Week of 15 March 2021: Maintenance--it is not just wrenches and volt meters any longer

Week of 15 March 2021: Maintenance--it is not just wrenches and volt meters any longer

Risking raising the hackles of the IT department, this writer thinks it is time to fold IT into maintenance, for that is what it often is. IT should be held accountable for downtime, just like regular maintenance. Downtime should be broken into scheduled and unscheduled, just like regular maintenance and KPI's should be kept on it. Recently, one major company in our industry experienced a ransomware attack. Within two months, the CEO suddenly retired. Coincidence perhaps, but who on the outside knows?

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Week of 8 March 2021: Who dominated your mill design--operations or maintenance?

Week of 8 March 2021: Who dominated your mill design--operations or maintenance?

With experience, one can walk on to an operating floor and determine which faction, operations or maintenance, had the larger influence in a paper mill's design. It is really quite easy. The first giveaway is the width of the operating, or tending, aisle versus the drive aisle.

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Week of 1 March 2021: Maintenance Month

Week of 1 March 2021: Maintenance Month

Is there anything left to be said about maintenance that I have not already said in the last twenty years of writing this column? Yes, there is always something to be said about maintenance. We have more tools, monitoring devices, tracking systems, more than we have ever had before, yet we still have unscheduled maintenance above the levels that should be acceptable in most mills. What should be our standard for maintenance? May I suggest the airline industry?

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Week of 22 February 2021: Improving Society One Boxcar at a Time

Week of 22 February 2021: Improving Society One Boxcar at a Time

By accepting graffiti laden railcars on your site, you are approving of a certain level of mediocrity and malaise associated with your business. Further, you are contributing to a plague on society, every time those railcars pass through any town in the country, not just when they are near or on your property. Cleaning up the railcars will be a huge boost to the overall morale of society.

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Week of 15 February 2021: Horizontal Transportation

Week of 15 February 2021: Horizontal Transportation

The containerboard industry sorely needs its own "conex" for rolls wider than 110 inches. This needs to be a system that allows rolls to be placed horizontally, or perhaps, at an angle to reduce the height normally achieved by vertical rolls.

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Week of 8 February 2021: Vertical Transportation

Week of 8 February 2021: Vertical Transportation

Vertical transportation systems, that is, those which stack goods vertically, tend to occupy disproportionately more space than one would first think due to the need to have aisles to retrieve those goods in storage. From a floorspace allocation perspective, only half of the floor is devoted to storage, the other half is devoted to space for retrieval equipment to operate. One system I have seen that overcomes this problem is a vertical storage finished roll warehouse.

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Week of 1 February 2021: Electric Trucks

Week of 1 February 2021: Electric Trucks

In transportation month last year, we talked about electric trucks. We are still talking about electric trucks today and for years to come.

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Week of 25 January 2021: Do not forget to purge your files

Week of 25 January 2021: Do not forget to purge your files

Engineers and scientists have a propensity to save their data. Saved information can come back and bite your company and you. Many a career has been ruined by a fastidious hoarder. Even worse, most think, "it can't happen to me."

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Week of 18 January 2021: Capital Project Leadership

Week of 18 January 2021: Capital Project Leadership

Project management is about leadership, not democracy. The objective is to complete the project at the least expenditure of time and money. Treat others with respect, yes, but have clearly defined roles for each person and hold them accountable for their piece, replace them if they cannot successfully accomplish their role. These days, we often spend too much time with our eyes off the prize.

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Week of 11 January 2021: Learnings from quasi-public funding for Capital Project Management

Week of 11 January 2021: Learnings from quasi-public funding for Capital Project Management

Much of the mismanagement of capital projects could be eliminated, from my experience, if companies adopted the discipline of quasi-public funding project monitoring. These are projects which are not financed through balance sheets but by issuance of tax-exempt or taxable project specific debt. In the last thirty years, I have had experience as the Technical Advisor on 22 such projects (in pulp, paper, energy, steel, medium density fiberboard and cement) with an installed capital base of billions. I have seen a few things.

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Week of 4 January 2021: Capital Projects Month

Week of 4 January 2021: Capital Projects Month

After nearly fifty-one years in the business, my anecdotal guess is that about half of capital projects are successful, meaning: on time, on budget and fulfilling the original scope. The rest suffer from a myriad of deficiencies.

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Week of 28 December 2020: Energy in the Future

Week of 28 December 2020: Energy in the Future

To wrap up this month on energy columns, I thought I would go to the brightest group I know in the energy business--the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (www.nrel.gov) in Golden, Colorado. NREL had an end of year seminar on the future of energy generation in the United States, 2020 - 2050.

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Week of 21 December 2020: Hydrogen?

Week of 21 December 2020: Hydrogen?

As we continue to talk about energy this month, we would be remiss if we do not bring up hydrogen as a potential fuel. Of course, hydrogen is the "perfect" fuel for combustion, for the "exhaust" is water (H2 + O => H2O). The problem in the past has been that it has not be plentiful or economical.

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Week of 14 December 2020: Solar becomes serious

Week of 14 December 2020: Solar becomes serious

In a decade, I've moved from being a skeptic to saying some alternative energy sources just may be possible for our industry right around the corner.

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Week of 7 December 2020: Power and Energy--I told you so

Week of 7 December 2020: Power and Energy--I told you so

Several times in this column over the years, I have told you to not demolish energy assets (that are in good shape) just because you stopped using them. Properly secure and preserve them and wait for policies to change. With an impending change in federal administrations here in the United States, expect an energy priority change within a year. This may come about by regulation changes or economics (the ranking of various fuel costs changing). These changes may be so severe they push some mills out of business.

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Week of 30 November 2020: Strategy

Week of 30 November 2020: Strategy

This is supposed to be innovation and strategy month but up to this point, I have focused on innovation. Strategy is important, too, but strategy must be focused on solid science, statistics and mathematics. I have seen many strategic initiatives fail over the years. That does not mean we should stop doing them, it means we should make sure our foundation was solid.

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Week of 23 November 2020: Innovation by Elimination

Week of 23 November 2020: Innovation by Elimination

We usually think of innovation as being creative and coming up with some gee whiz new idea. If you have been in business for more than a week, it is easier than that. Just use a critical eye to eliminate the unnecessary. The unnecessary comes in many forms.

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Week of 16 November 2020: Innovation--be aware of your surroundings

Week of 16 November 2020: Innovation--be aware of your surroundings

There are many failures in innovation. One chronic failure to keep in mind is to be aware of your surroundings. You may think you have a fantastic idea. But if it is not obvious that it solves a problem or it is a solution more complicated than the original problem, it likely will fail.

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