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TAPPICon 2023 Recap: A CEO’s Experience

The week of April 22 to 26, I had the great pleasure of attending the TAPPICon 2023 Conference in Atlanta, GA. It was a rare occasion where I played the role of attendee and observer rather than active participant or speaker. This gave me the opportunity to take in the conference from a different perspective, and it reinforced my very positive feelings about the future of the pulp and paper industry.

Although I did not play an active role at TAPPICon, our team did. Pulmac had an exhibitor booth at the event. It allowed our team to meet industry peers and share Pulmac’s vision for the future of the industry. We all walked away from the event feeling inspired and encouraged. Exactly the ROI any business leader wants to receive from investing in a conference like TAPPICon.

Having left the event feeling so great about the outcome, it occurred to me that we have some valuable lessons to share with others about how to make the most out of participating in a conference. And also, others might be interested in understanding why I am feeling so positive about the future.

Conference Ready

We were exceptionally pleased with TAPPICon, but I am sure we would not have been as happy with the event if we had not done the necessary hard work in advance. Success never comes overnight. In my case, my relationship with TAPPI began as a way to learn about the pulp and paper industry. I am relatively new to the industry. I made the jump from telecommunications to pulp and paper about ten years ago.  Although confident in my skills as a business leader, I was a fish out of water where pulp and paper were concerned. It was an odd position for me to be in. I was used to being the guy people came to for information. Suddenly I was the guy seeking information. It didn’t take long for me to understand that I needed to dive into the deep, but it had to be in safe water to get up to speed as fast as I wanted.

TAPPI was that safe water. I became a member in 2013 and quickly joined the Information Technology committee. I was a sponge, soaking up as much as my brain could hold. At the same time our Chief Strategy Officer, Pamela Cowan, also joined. She was the founding chair of the Women in Industry Committee, which quickly grew to become its own division within TAPPI. We both recognized that TAPPI presented us with endless opportunities to network, brainstorm, and eventually collaborate with a diverse range of businesses within the pulp and paper industry. We could see the tide change coming in our industry and understood that there were gaps someone would need to fill. We determined the future of Pulmac would focus on filling some of those gaps.

Like many, COVID washed over our plans like a tidal wave. Instead of planning for the future of Pulmac we found ourselves treading water, barely staying afloat. But we held steady, and as we came out, the other side saw that not only were the opportunities that existed before COVID still there, but a slew of new opportunities had also arisen. It was time to get to work.

Conference Prep

The only reason any company spends the time and money to have an exhibitor booth at a conference is to bring people to that booth. But the idea of “if you build it, they will come,” does not work at conferences. You cannot simply show up and expect people to seek you out. If no one knows who you are why would they look for you? Or why would they stop at your booth if they happened upon it? My team understood that if we were going to exhibit, our booth needed to be one people planned to visit.

Their work began with rebuilding our website; it was time to bring Pulmac into the future. Once that was done, we contacted our knowledge experts and asked them to contribute to the Pulmac Pulp and Paper Blog. The blog aims to share with others in pulp and paper what we are learning about Industry 4.0 and how our industry can harness new technology to improve mill performance. With a new website and an informative blog, we began to reintroduce ourselves to people in the industry. We continued being actively involved with TAPPI but also reached out via email campaigns. Slowly visits to our blog increased. When we set up our booth at TAPPI, we had a long list of people eager to meet us and learn more about what we had been blogging about. We learned that we aren’t the only ones that can feel the tide change coming. Everyone knows big changes are on the horizon whether we like it or not. The best way to navigate those changes is with planning and preparation. The best way to thrive through change is with collaboration. This is the future I am excited about.

Filling Industry Gaps

Change is always difficult. When industries face major paradigm shifts in their operations, the necessary changes to facilitate those shifts can lead to more problems than solutions. Oftentimes the next great innovation leaves an unexpected gap somewhere along the operation line. Pulmac’s goal is to identify those gaps and find the best solutions for filling them. We focus on discovering opportunities to simplify instrumentation without compromising data collection while helping mills chart a transition path with practical data and automation solutions that improve performance.

The pulp and paper industry faces the same challenges as all industries: environmental and climate concerns are changing how mills operate, and labor shortages are making it more difficult to manage those operations. At TAPPICon we confirmed what we already knew. There are several highly innovative companies in the industry developing products that will improve mill efficiency and productivity, while addressing environmental concerns. The problem that many face is difficulty distributing their products in North America. We see Pulmac as collaborators who can help these companies bring their product to our market.

Presently, 75% of paper mills in North American are operating legacy Pulmac products. We have effectively served the industry for over 50 years and are well equipped to bring it into the future. We are excited to have developed two new product suites as first steps to help mills shift to next-generation operations: Automating Refining and Glu-Pulp®.

Automating Refining

Automating the refining process is a necessary but not necessarily easy in modernizing mills. For many mill operators just thinking about the transition is so overwhelming they give up before they begin. At Pulmac we have simplified the transition by allowing mills to choose how they automate their refining process. We have designed discrete steps that all contribute to automating refining so that the mill can benefit from automating progressively in small steps rather than invest millions to transition everything all at once. How fast you transition and the model you chose to pay for automating your mill are flexible. Pulmac also offers varying levels of support, so you never have to tackle your transition alone.


The second product we have developed is Glu-Pulp®. Here, we modify the refining process by taking a percentage of the stock and produce a highly refined pulp which we call Glu-Pulp®. The rest of the stock is not refined at all. The Glu-Pulp® is added to the unrefined pulp. One result is that the same amount of paper products can be produced using less raw material; another is that a cardboard box, for example, can be produced with less weight per square meter than one produced with current processes. Given the high production rate of a typical mill, this can result in large savings for the production process.

We already know that the industry is well receiving these new products. Pulmac is keen to work with more operators to automate and improve their mills. And we will continue to seek out and work with industry innovators so we can offer more exciting new products to the North American market. We plan our next exhibit at PEERS 2023 which will be held in Atlanta, GA from November 5 to 8, 2023.

Contact us anytime to find out how we can help you bring your mill into the future.