To measure or not to measure that's the question

08-07-2016

In 70% of the plants I visit I see a lot of experienced people who really know how to produce good board without measuring anything – neither temperatures nor moisture levels. Often there isn't even a temperature gun in the plant.

If you don't measure, you can't control

If you don't control, you can't improve

This philosophy is still not in common use in corrugating plants I visit all over the globe.

A corrugator crew often has more than 40 years of experience. They are pro's. We all know that when we talk about process changes "it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks". Other plants have a younger crew and there it may be easier to change some habits. There are also plants where less wrap and lower steam settings are already in use and good board at good production speeds is being produced, even without the use of temperature guns. But in my opinion these plants are rare and they could still improve their process by starting to measure process temperatures and moisture.

Sometimes the corrugator is in quite bad condition and I respect the crew that still is able to produce relatively good board. They work around all the problems and I am impressed about the visual board quality they produce. The strange thing, however, is that this experienced crew usually don't have any idea about the on-going process. They know exactly how to produce relatively good board and what to do when problems occur, but if I ask them: "why are you doing this?" I hear the same reply over and over: "that´s what I always do".

The crew may sometime see me as a threat and they will ask me how many years I have been in the business. I tell them that I have more than 50 years of experience in cardboard and show them this picture.

Apparently this is an important issue.

When I explain my philosophy and theories, 99% of the crews are willing to try my proposals. They are still often quite sceptical as they see the suggestions only as something that will create more work.

Together we measure temperatures, lowering them step by step at the Double Facer and/or Single Facer. After every single change we go to the stacker to look at the board quality and I ask them to tell me if the board is better, worse or the same. If the board is better or the same, we take the next step.

Only when the operators actually see that the board quality is improved by measuring temperatures, and acting accordingly, are they willing to take the next step. Sometimes they become quite enthusiastic and I have to fight to get my temperature gun back. But any plant can acquire temperature guns in a few short days so I insist on getting my own gun back. The key is that the crew understands the benefit of measuring temperatures! Together we also ask the sheet converting crew if they notice any quality differences and in most cases they say there has been a positive improvement. These improvements, using the right temperatures, typically also reduce glue consumption.

This is the next, hard, step that has to be taken: reduced glue application. I like to change the upwards spiral "more heat - more glue" to a downwards spiral "less heat - less glue". This is only possible when you start measuring process temperatures. It is not a purpose in itself to use as little heat as possible, the goal is to use just enough to produce good board.

In the beginning it is logical that, when something goes wrong, for whatever reason, the crew wants to revert to their old habits of "more heat and more glue". But when they gain experience and feel comfortable with temperature guns or temperature sensors, they will no longer want to change back. When they reach this point I feel fulfilled.

The job of a Trainer is challenging yet rewarding. It is not easy constantly to be traveling all over the world, visiting new plants, meeting new people and finding ways to help them improve their corrugating process. But the reward lies in seeing the improvements. That makes my job worthwhile!