Containerboard: Markets and More


Two recent events gave corrugated pros, suppliers, converters, and box plant executives a look at what’s new in the containerboard industry. Here are a few field notes.


From TAPPI’S SuperCorrExpo

With nearly 150,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, SuperCorrExpo 2016 gave more than 5000 attendees an up-close look at some of the newest technologies available in the corrugated industry. The event, held October 17-20 in Orlando, FL, boasted 348 exhibitors and delegates from 61 countries.

Tim Benecke, vice president and COO of The Royal Group, commented, “I’ve been coming to TAPPI and AICC shows since the 1980s and this is truly the best event I’ve been to—certainly the best SuperCorrExpo ever. The number of exhibitors and machinery on the floor is amazing and it’s so good to be able to see so many suppliers under one roof.”


One of the most talked-about sessions was Tuesday’s panel discussion titled “1500 Feet Per Minute Corrugators – Why not 2000 Feet Per Minute?” with panelists Terry Paulson, Schwarz Group (filling in for Greg Grdinich, BHS); Dave Kvitek, Fosber; and John Sofinowski, MarquipWardUnited. Panelists discussed the hurdles associated with operating a corrugator at 2000 fpm, with tips on addressing them. They also discussed the machine specifications needed to make the jump.

Paper360° caught up with the panelists after SuperCorrExpo to get more in-depth information. They all agreed that achieving a speed of 2000 fpm would almost certainly require more than a simple upgrade or rebuild, as the entire corrugator would need to be longer.

“It may be difficult to upgrade an existing line (running 1500 fpm) to 2000 fpm,” says Sofinowski. “The splicers may grow (from a triple dancer to a quad). Dry end order change speeds may require a longer length. Increased heating in the double facer may also require the machine to grow in length.”

Grdinich agrees. “We see this already as we are upgrading to 1500 fpm with longer splicers (triple dancer) as well as longer stackers,” he adds.

According to Sofinowski, the biggest wet end challenge is creating an initial “green bond” at the single facer. “This takes in all of the process factors of heat, pressure, starch, and tension,” he says. “Having sufficient heat in the paper is critical for bonding and curing the board. At higher speeds, the exposure time to heated plates or drums is reduced and must be considered. Starch needs to set up quicker. That is a challenge that might require different formulas. The fragile nature of the initial bonds means the board is more sensitive to tension spikes from splicers. The whole process must be scaled up and in many cases isn’t linear in nature.”

In addition to these wet end hurdles, Grdinich notes that plant personnel would need to consider the ancillary systems. “At 2000 fpm, the condensate removal alone is nothing like we have seen on any low speed corrugator. This will require a change in philosophy on the sizing and design of steam systems.”

On the dry end, the biggest challenge will be to transfer sheets after they are cut to length, says Kvitek. “The stacker and then downstream conveyor systems will need to handle small sheets at very high speed. The challenge will be to create and maintain good stack quality.

“Another challenge will be to fully automate the process to remove the operator from making mistakes and to anticipate problems and ultimately correct them without operator involvement. There will be no time at 2000 fpm for the operator to react,” Kivtek adds. For instance, 2000 fpm equals 33 feet per second; at this speed, only 10 seconds of human response time translates to more than 300 feet of scrap.

Sofinowski notes that a faster running time leads to compressed maintenance schedules—for instance, reducing the number of running hours between lubricating the bearings, or the hours of operation between rebuilding steam traps—but good strategies can help plants deal with these changes. “Machine and process control systems become critical, so periodic maintenance and calibrations are critical,” he says.

“Maintenance departments will need to grow in size and technology to keep the corrugator running at top speed,” notes Kvitek. “They will need to be proactive to stay on top of all maintenance procedures. The advanced automation and diagnostics will hopefully assist the maintenance department and management.”

On the surface, this may look like increased costs, but Grdinich advises not to merely look at an absolute value. “The reality remains that on a cost per MSF basis, the production benefits can be realized with maintenance costs to the respective volume produced.”

The group concluded that a 2000 fpm corrugator really is possible—but plants need to take the “art” out of making corrugated and “quantify” the process first. Plants can prevent downtime with machine design and crew best practices; and, in the end, “if you don’t do it right, you paid too much for the technology.”


Two expert panels—one featuring suppliers, the other featuring boxmakers—discussed “What’s New in Digital Print.” Both sessions were moderated by Cordes Porcher, CSI.

In the supplier session, panelist Jakob Bovin, Bobst North America, said the best place to start is by assessing digital opportunities and weighing the benefits and challenges of the move to digital printing (see Fig. 1). While a move to digital will impact most areas of a converter’s organization, the impact is felt more in some areas—such as sales, planning, prepress, and the actual printing process—than in others. For instance, there is generally low impact on order processing, procurement, quality management, structural design, folding and gluing, or packing and shipping.

Digital printing is “a new way to do business in the corrugated industry,” said supplier panelist Dennis Van Ijzerloo, Barberan. “Large format printers offer high quality, but are very slow. Single-pass digital printers with industrial speed are now a reality.”

A streamlined process is a major benefit of digital printing, he pointed out. The traditional printing begins with file optimization and includes many more steps, such as the manufacture, shipping, adjustment, cleaning, and storage of print plates; ink mixing and storage; testing and printing optimization; and the printing itself. Digital processes winnow that list to two steps, said Van Ijzerloo: file optimization and printing. He also presented case study examples outlining the cost savings of digital vs. the flexo and litho label processes.

According to Sean Moloney, SUN Automation Group, a number of factors have created conditions that support the current excitement about digital. Factors include a convergence of technologies to meet new production demands; new market opportunities that are creating a “pull effect”; and savvy consumers who have reached a “moment of truth” about what packaging can offer.

The “What’s New in Digital Print” boxmaker panel featured professionals currently using or investigating the use of digital printing in their companies. Panelists Ryan Frisch, Wasatch Container; Ben Urquhart, New England Wooden Ware; and Richard Brown, The Boxmaker, discussed the choices they made, market opportunities, and how this technology has altered their business.

The ability for customization is an important benefit of going digital, said Brown. His company has launched its “Fantastapack” interface for custom corrugated and related packaging. Customers can choose a box style and enter the desired dimensions and quantity; they will be emailed a dieline with instructions for uploading their custom art. Orders are printed and shipped within 10 days. For boxmaker customer Costco, the process for creating its individually customized gift boxes is even faster. “We get the art/order info at 3:30 pm, automatically preflight the art and send back files for approval. By 5 pm they approve. We print, cut and deliver by 8 am for packing the day after Costco’s customer ordered,” Brown told attendees.

From RISI’S North American Containerboard Conference

Held in Chicago, IL, November 3-4, RISI’s 17th biennial North American Containerboard Conference brought together leading corrugated professionals and RISI’s own experienced market analysts. The event included a keynote address from Anthony Pratt, chairman, Pratt Industries/Visy and recipient of the 2016 RISI North American Packaging CEO of the year award.


For manufacturers, some of the most useful feedback for improving products doesn’t come from the automation system—it comes from the customer. The conference program provided that insight in the form of a panel discussion on “How Box Buyers View the Economy.” The panel was moderated by Dennis Colley, president and CEO of the Fibre Box Association. He began by asking panelists how sluggish economic growth had affected their businesses.

“Our customers are looking, more than ever, to mitigate transportation and packaging costs—so a slow economy has actually helped our business,” said Earl Lee, a packaging engineer with UPS. Moderator Colley’s interjection—“You know we like big boxes, right?”—drew support from the packed room.

“Actually, reduced packaging is not in our best interest either!” Lee responded. “However, we hope that by helping customers meet their goals we’ll gain and keep their business.”

According to Lee, growth in e-commerce has been a much bigger influence on UPS’s business. “E-commerce means that consumers need improved packaging—yes, more product protection, but also a better customer experience, since they are the ones opening the packaging, not the brick-and-mortar retailer stocking shelves,” he said.

E-commerce has also influenced business for other panelists, including Han Chang, senior buyer, global strategic sourcing for the Clorox Company. “Clorox has a diverse product portfolio—this has protected us. But to stay competitive, we’re trying to get costs out of what the customer doesn’t want to pay for and put that savings into what the customer is willing to pay for. That includes optimizing our products for e-commerce,” said Chang.

Colley encouraged the dialogue to continue in both directions, asking panelists, “The people in this room are your corrugated producers—what do you want to tell them?”

Adam Bushong, global commodities manager for Dell, stressed innovation, saying it’s not only about the box itself. “It’s also the shape, the cushioning. We’re always looking for new types of corrugated, new liner, new fluting, to make things thinner and lighter.”

Several panelists mentioned sustainability. According to Dale Opgenorth, senior buyer for Kohler, their kitchen and bath fixtures help consumers save water and energy, and they need to support that commitment to sustainability in their manufacturing. “We have a zero-landfill goal,” he noted. “Also, we need more flexibility—lower quantities, at lower cost.”

Lee encouraged manufacturers to take the lead in the conversation. “Communicate to us what is going on in the containerboard industry,” he said. “Tell us about new capabilities and trends, and then we can communicate those to our customers. Even if (an innovation) does not change the cost—if it helps me pallet efficiently, or protect my products better, we’re interested.”


Drawing on RISI’s expertise in data collection and analysis, two back-to-back sessions focused on statistical market data: “How do North American Mills Compare in Global Cost Competitiveness?” from Ryan Burgess, product manager, mill intelligence for RISI; and “Global OCC Market Outlook” from Hannah Zhao, senior economist, global recovered paper for RISI.

“Most containerboard is produced in densely populated areas, where recovered paper is locally available or imported, whereas virgin fiber based mills may have more remote locations, close to the fiber supply,” Burgess pointed out. Perhaps even more important to note: containerboard machines in North America have a higher technical age and are larger in size than in the rest of the world.

This disparity is largely due to China’s huge leap in capacity. “China went from accounting for 4 percent of world capacity in 1990 to 27 percent in 2010, and will represent well over 30 percent by 2025,” Burgess said. “China will be the largest containerboard producing country for the foreseeable future.”

Fiber mix is another point of difference. Globally, recovered paper—especially OCC—is the most common raw material for containerboard, said Burgess. Yet historically, OCC costs per ton average higher in North America; North American producers use a lower percentage of OCC than in other regions.

Burgess did note that, generally, global manufacturing costs are down about 15 percent from 2014 to 2016. So what changed? Two main factors include a stronger US dollar and lower global costs for recovered paper. Also, said Burgess, “China’s currency, the Renminbi, is usually rigid, but it has also dropped during this period.”

The global containerboard market is steady, he concluded. Asia is currently producing at costs relatively close to North America; globally, the average cost of recycled mills is on par with integrated mills; and regional competitiveness is heavily influenced by recovered fiber prices and exchange rates.

Zhao focused on the OCC market. She reported there has been no demand increase at all for US OCC exports, and that domestic consumption has also dropped a bit. In contrast, a weak Euro has helped the OCC market in Europe, pushing prices and strengthening European export rates.

According to Zhao, the US remains the world’s top exporter of recovered paper. Also, while US OCC exports to China have decreased, exports to “other Asia” have increased. “We should begin to pay more attention to these ‘other Asia’ markets,” she recommended.

In the future, high global recovery rates for OCC (the global average is about 85 percent) will affect cost and yield. “A higher recovered paper usage rate in the containerboard sector will lead to higher recycled fiber content and lower virgin fiber content, which leads to weaker and shorter fibers in OCC. The result is overall lower yield rates,” said Zhao. “Higher OCC recovery rates will push up OCC collection costs, along with rising transportation and labor costs. A limited supply worldwide will give OCC prices more running room.”

These factors may lead to a global supply and demand imbalance, leading to possible fiber furnish change in some regions. “Trade will remain a big part of the global OCC market,” Zhao concluded.

Champion of the Independents:

Steve Young Inducted into AICC/RISI Hall of Fame


AICC, the Independent Packaging Association, has thrived on the passion of a man who has been with the organization for nearly 30 years. For his record of personal achievement, outstanding leadership, and community involvement, AICC President A. Steve Young has been named the 34th inductee in the AICC/RISI Hall of Fame. Young was inducted during the 2016 SuperCorrExpo, which is sponsored jointly by TAPPI and AICC.

Young first came to Washington, DC, as an assistant to a congressman. From there, he moved to California to join the Manufacturers and Agents Association, where he stayed for four years before heading back to Washington. Young first joined AICC in 1983 as its administrative director.

In the mid-1990s, Young briefly left the association, but quickly returned as its executive vice president. “(AICC Founding Executive Director) Dick Troll was great at discovering the best in people,” says Craig Hoyt, Buckeye Boxes. “He saw Steve and he saw that Midwest culture — that upstanding individual.”

When Troll unexpectedly passed away, Young was the obvious choice to take the helm. He has been AICC president since 1995, leading the organization to amazing growth and incredible partnerships—such as the one with TAPPI that enabled the creation of the first SuperCorrExpo in 2000. “Steve was leading the way on that partnership,” says Joe Palmieri, Sr. with Jamestown Container Companies. Young’s negotiating skills were crucial, notes Phoenix Packaging Inc.’s Tom Skinner, in creating SuperCorrExpo and building it into the machinery show that it is today.

During Young’s tenure, AICC added folding carton membership to its organization in 2011. The association also organized the Washington Fly-In, held in conjunction with National Association of Manufacturing’s (NAM) Manufacturing Summit, to voice the corrugated industry’s concerns with a singular voice to Capitol Hill.

“Steve is someone who wants everyone to be heard and to listen to each other,” notes Michigan City Paper Box’s Al Hoodwin. “He tries to take everyone’s input.”

From an early age, Young evidenced a sense of social responsibility. He is deeply committed to his Catholic faith; several AICC members note attending Sunday mass with him wherever AICC meetings are held, around the US and the globe. Young has been a long-time volunteer within his church in the Alexandria, VA, area and assists with the soup kitchen on Saturday evenings. “That is his idea of a good time,” says Greg Arvanigian of Arvco Container Corp. Young also started a haircuts for homeless program at the Gifts of Peace House in Washington, DC.

As Young continues in his role as AICC president, he remains a champion of the independent corrugated and paperboard industries.

Esther Hertzfeld has been covering the corrugated container and folding carton industry since 2000. 

Fig. 1

OPPOSITE and ABOVE: At SuperCorrExpo, more than 340 exhibitors filled the sold-out exhibit space—giving more than 5,000 attendees an up-close look at new technologies for the corrugated industry.

AICC President Steve Young.