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Event Report: Specialty Papers US

Professionals from large and small specialty papers manufacturing companies, along with industry suppliers and end users, converged in Chicago, IL, September 21-23 for Specialty Papers US 2016. The event was sponsored jointly by Smithers Pira and TAPPI.

Featuring five sessions over two days, the event focused on providing insights about market opportunities, new products, and alternative fiber breakthroughs, all designed to give attendees a competitive advantage in the specialty papers sector. Tabletop displays and networking rounded out the event. “This event is like the Silicon Valley of the paper industry,” commented TAPPI’s Scott Springmier. “There’s so much information about new markets and the latest innovations.”

Attendees at Specialty Papers US, held September 21-23 in Chicago.

Thrive and Survive
Fisher International’s Matt Elhardt, vice president of business development, kicked off Session I with a discussion of “What’s Next For Specialty Paper Mills.” During this session, Elhardt explored how specialty paper mills are transforming themselves in order to stay applicable.

Frank Perkowski, president, Business Development Advisory, discussed “Trends and Opportunities in NA Specialty Papers Markets.” He addressed recent trends driving specialty paper markets and applications, changes that will affect demand and supply, and emerging opportunities and risks. Companies not willing to adapt to rapidly-changing end-user requirements “risk obsolescence,” said Perkowski.

Specialty papers is a sector that has been particularly affected by incursions from digital technology; but efforts to support markets for paper must go beyond “myth busting,” said Phil Reibel of Two Sides. He presented results of a Two Sides consumer perception study related to the environmental and social benefits of paper and print, and shared the successes of the Two Sides “anti-greenwash” campaign. For instance, Two Sides was able to convince BMO Harris to remove the term “paperless billing” from its website, replacing it with “online banking.” It’s all part of the effort to remove unfair stigmas and barriers regarding the use of paper. “Many companies and people do not consider the environmental footprint of the digital infrastructure,” Reibel noted.
One Mill’s Transformation
One of the day’s most talked-about sessions was a presentation from John Leness,
president and chairmen of the board; and David Mika, CFO, both of Southworth Company. They described how they completely repositioned their 175-year old company to meet the challenges of the 21st century specialty papers market. Following the 2012 sale of their niche-market, high-end writing papers business, they needed to evolve the company culture from change-resistant and “inward-looking,” Leness said. The mill has a single PM—a “small machine that runs slowly,” said Mika. “We didn’t even know what the machine could do.”

Today, the company has capitalized on that to create a unique and successful company that operates something like a job shop. “We’re willing to try things other companies just can’t do,” Mika said. “We’ve actually played with synthetic fibers on a fourdrinier machine, and it works.”
Specialty Paper Packaging
Session II began with a presentation from Huston Keith, principal and founder of Keymark Associates, with an insightful overview of the flexible packaging market. He outlined three key segments of flexible packaging (display and transport, labels and tags, and “other”, which includes retail bags, household and deli wraps, and more.) He also noted the opportunities for paper within these segments—and offered strategies for how to regain lost market share. “We’ll need to improve properties, maintain competitiveness, and develop capabilities,” Keith said. “This is the time for paper to regain its share of the flexible packaging market.”

One interesting sector within the flexible packaging market is pet food packaging. Dave Long, VP of business development at Coveris, offered his insights into how this sector represents overall flexible packaging trends. The pet food packaging market was once dominated by paper and cans, he said; but there has been a high level of transition away from paper based packaging to plastic packaging, due to changing market needs and demands driven by big-box retailers such as Walmart. Key to regaining this market share? Higher strength, more visual options, and packages better suited to conveyance and e-commerce, for starters, Long says.

Session II ended with a specialty packaging panel discussion, with question-and-answer period, featuring Scott Mingus, Glatfelter; Janet Ohlert, Domtar; and Rachel Van Wychen, Twin Rivers Papers. “We see two major areas of growth: nonwoven production, and other industrial-based applications for paper,” said Mingus. Van Wychen noted, “It’s been very important, as the market evolves, for us to be able to evolve with it.”

Panel discussion on specialty paper in packaging included Rachel Van Wychen, Twin Rivers Papers; Janet Ohlert, Domtar; and Scott Mingus, Glatfelter.

New Technology, New Fibers
Sessions III and IV offered exciting insights into cutting-edge developments in specialty papers. Speakers and topics included:

  • Mark Crable, a consultant to X-Rite Inc.: Continuous Coloration of Coatings for Coated Paper and Board;
  • Katariina Torvinen, VTT Technical Research Centre: Foam Forming Technology Enables Utilization of Long Fibers;
  • Victor Breedveld, Georgia Institute of Technology: Controlling Wetting, Adhesion and Absorption of Water and Oils on Cellulose-based Substrates;
  • Dr. Lokendra Pal, NCSU: Specialty Paper Substrates for Printed Electronics; and
  • Dr. Bryan McCulloch, Dow Chemical: Fluorocarbon-Free Oil and Grease Barrier Coatings for Paper and Paperboard.

Session V gave attendees new information about the alternative fibers and pulps being used to create specialty papers. The session began with a presentation from Rich Cohen, founder and president of Distant Village Packaging, who discussed how packaging produced with alternative sustainable plant fiber papers can provide an innovative and strategic advantage. He said that consumers are looking for a “brand experience,” and that need can be met by specialty papers. “The great thing about specialty papers is that they are unique and original—and create an appealing aesthetic experience,” Cohen noted in a Smithers Pira interview conducted before the event. “The growth opportunity for specialty papers is not a certain paper, fiber, or message, but rather understanding the trends and needs of the marketplace and providing the canvas for the story to be expressed.”

Don't miss the next event!
Does the Specialty Papers Conference sound too good to miss? Fortunately, 2017 will offer two opportunities to attend. The next Specialty Papers Europe will take place April 3-5, 2017 in Cologne, Germany. Sponsorship options and opportunities to present are already available; visit specialtypaperconference.com/europe to learn more. The event will also return to the US in 2017; check specialtypaperconference.com/united-states for updates.


For a modest investment of $174, receive more than US$ 1000 in benefits in return.
Visit www.tappi.org/join for more details.