The pulp, paper and packaging industry is responsible for much of the industrial traded wood. Its operational practices have a tremendous influence on global forests, which is why the industry leads the world in responsible sourcing, clean manufacturing and recycling. However, staying on top of constantly changing regulations and adapting to variable market forces is not easy. Packaging companies must manage an increasingly complex global supply chain and provide detailed product transparency. Fortunately, new technology solutions are helping executives leverage data to develop and implement insightful, sustainable operations.
Paper, pulp and packaging organizations are used to operating in an environment with stringent third-party oversight and extensive government regulations. International regulations for derivatives trades, such as European Market Infrastructure Regulation and the Dodd-Frank Act, monitor the financial aspects of forestry transactions; while programs from organizations like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative focus on the environmental aspects of management practices.
As a result of these regulations, maintaining accurate data for certification has become increasingly important. Selling a product certified by the FSC, for example, means the wood can be tracked at every stage of the supply chain process including originating from a certified forest. Other non-governmental organizations such as Greenpeace provide additional third-party audits of their wood processes.
In addition to forest-related certifications, the industry also must contend with increasing air and water regulations. From greenhouse emissions to national standards for air pollutants to the Clean Water Act, many laws exist to evaluate the environmental impact of the cradle-to-grave manufacturing process.
Optimizing resources is also an important concern, which is why the forest industry supports initiatives to reduce waste and recycle. In 2008, Walmart launched an initiative to reduce overall packaging by five percent. This has led to industry-wide research and development efforts to find new designs that reduce packaging but maintain strength.
Manufacturers that do not abide by these sustainability-focused regulations, certifications and initiatives face possible lawsuits and significant fines. Additionally, there is the substantial risk to their brand, image and reputation.
Fortunately, technology now exists to help companies use real-time data to streamline business processes and increase efficiency. Below are a few examples of how technology is helping to implement cost-effective, sustainable business operations:
Today, sensors are being embedded in everything from cartoning machines to conveyor belts. The amount of information flowing to and from these smart machines is staggering. According to a report by IDC and EMC, the data being generating is predicted to reach 44 trillion gigabytes by 2020.While the world is just beginning to realize the innumerable benefits of a digitally connected workplace, sensors currently are being used on the manufacturing floor to monitor and instantly adjust equipment performance. For example, sensors are being used to identify vibration in bearings or track the consumption of electricity by a pump and motor. This data can not only help predict machine failures but also can help detect potential deterioration in product quality, which can then be corrected in real-time through process and machine adjustments.
> Supply chain tracking and insight
Meeting industry regulations and certifications requires precise information on the materials used to produce paper products. From the forest groves, wood chips and pulp processing, the entire chain of custody can now be tracked, traced and presented to buyers for insightful purchasing decisions. Customers looking for environmentally friendly products can now see exactly what percentage is, and is not, made from woods that are certified.
Production of paper and packaging is a very energy-consuming process. Companies want to keep energy consumption low without affecting quality. Using real-time data streaming directly from the machines, operations can be adjusted online to maximize machine usage and produce products in the greenest possible way.
> Connected fleets
Connecting the shop floor to other business systems allows decision-makers to optimize material movements among production, warehousing and delivery. Connected fleets combine vehicle telematics data – such as tire pressure and engine speed, driving behavior data such as speed, accelerating, braking and time spent loading and unloading – and business data to save on transportation costs. For example, by viewing fuel consumption under various conditions – such as a full load, no load and idling – companies can determine the optimal route from a distribution center to drop-off locations. Also, transportation vehicle capacity can be calculated in real-time and adjusted to ensure vehicles transport loads that are full.
> Real-time reporting
Combining data with intuitive, easy-to-use interfaces places critical information in the hands of the right people at the right time so that action can be taken when it is needed most. Some paper, pulp and packaging companies utilize sustainability performance management tools to ensure their operations and products are in compliance at all times. Real-time reporting also can combine internal and external data to find patterns and track trends. One example is sentiment tracking, in which companies follow changing customer perceptions about the corporate brand.
In what has been described as the “era of big data,” paper, pulp and packaging companies are finding new ways to use data to make smart decisions, allowing them to meet industry regulations while simultaneously saving money through more efficient operations. As time goes on, industry leaders will be the ones who embrace all the possibilities data-based innovations have to offer.