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Week of 8 October 2018: The future of quality

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If you have not heard of Industry 4.0, you will. In fact, later this month Paperitalo Publications is launching a new newsletter on the subject as it pertains to the pulp and paper industry. We are calling it Industree 4.0™.

Industry 4.0 means more sensors, more data collection and more data analysis in real time. It will mean higher quality products made at lower costs, for upper and lower control limits will be able to be set even closer to the desired outcome for many attributes.

It will also mean the end of the ubiquitous quality control labs in the mills. For if one can tightly connect early process variables to end product attributes, the lab becomes redundant. The lab has always been an after-the-fact quality control device, resulting in product losses (if the mill is honest and rejects that which is out of specification) or a place to create fictitious reports on quality attributes (in mills operated by dishonest managers).

With better understanding, collection and archiving of data, mills will no longer be playing catchup on quality--they will only make acceptable quality products.

Except--those mills that have been compromising on maintenance or not keeping up with the latest developments in unit process equipment will be exposed and be in trouble. As long as a human has stood between the production and the quality report sent to the customer, there has been an opportunity for chicanery. By and large, this opportunity at fraud will be eliminated by Industry 4.0.


Join us in Guatemala next summer for the 3rd Paperitalo Papermakers' Mission Trip [12.06.18]


I see another development coming as well. This has been a long time coming and strongly resisted by the mills, but as soon as this barrier is broken by one mill, competitors will be forced to do the same thing. "This barrier" is exposing one's data in real time to one's customers. In other words, letting the customer watch their order being made in real time.

This will happen in either one of two ways. The first is that a mill or a company with a fleet of mills will volunteer this data in order to gain a competitive advantage. The other way is a large customer demands this happen so they can control what they are buying.

Who is a big enough customer? Likely not a collection of box plants, for example. Rather, the box plants' customers will do this. I predict that Amazon, P &G or other large box consumers could push this requirement down through the system.

Why would they do this? To ensure they are receiving exactly what they want to buy. It could also become a selling point with their retail customers. An Amazon could say, "The boxes we use are x% recycled fiber and we have the data to prove it--all the way back to the entry point of the containerboard mill."

So, with Industry 4.0 the quality cat is out of the bag. We have entered the era when data collection is cheap and ubiquitous. This necessarily means it is going to be transparent, whether we like it or not. It is like the telephone. Back when the world was land lines, it was difficult to determine who called who and when. Today, with cell phones, the same data, now cheap and ubiquitous, is often used in legal proceedings.

More data will lead to better safety as well. How many people have we lost in the last decade to explosive gases in tanks? Data collection should end this danger before it gets out of hand.

Be safe and we will talk next week.


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