AFT refining technology benefits The Fapajal Tissue Boutique: Old, new & customer-centric

In 2016, a group of entrepreneurial telecommunications investors purchased Fapajal Tissue, focused on modernizing the company’s infrastructures and processes, and developing new products, markets and international customers. At just under €30 million in annual revenue and employing about 200 people, Fapajal is by design a creative player in a vast global business segment.

Following a successful strategy of the previous Fapajal owners, coming from the Inapa Group and the Papelariea Fernandes Group, the new owners are increasingly converting tissue into finished products for the away-from-home and athome markets. Custom-made parent rolls for export markets are central to their strategy. What’s entirely new about Fapajal today is their boutique mindset—building entirely new dimensions into a company with an epic history dating back to 1765.

Digital age mindset & human touch at the core

Imagine this scenario in 2015. The turnaround team of the Portuguese telecom company ONI Communications was looking for their next project. Xavier Rodriguez-Martín and Rui Sequeira Martins were determined to breathe new life into another business. As unlikely as it may seem, they landed on Fapajal, a tissue producer on the edge of Lisbon with origins going back to the 18th century.

The mill was founded by monks seeking refuge after Portugal’s famed earthquake of 1765. It has faced severe floods and neglect several times over, so anyone might ask, why buy this place? It’s true that the last owners of this small tissue producer made great strides with modernization and building export sales. But why Fapajal for the financial and marketing whizzes of ONI?

Says Rodriguez-Martín, president, “When we discovered Fapajal, we immediately saw a fit for our business approach. We could use digital expertise to build a future around existing and new customers. With customers at the Fapajal core, we could transform a traditional company into a globally focused niche player. Passion, soft technology and customer-centric practices could create something different, even a model for all of Portugal.”

The hands-on digital boutique model

When you consider some of the biggest successes in recent years, like Uber and Airbnb, traditional, if not boring, businesses have been ignited by the digital marketplace and strong customer-buyer relationships. The same principles applied at the remaking of Portugal’s ONI telecom provider, where close interactions with customers are the central business asset. In Fapajal’s case, the tissue manufacturing and converting facilities exist to support each individual customer. Everyone who works at the company has a mission to satisfy what customers want and expect, much like a boutique hotel.

“Of course we must deliver quality tissue, as we are not simply selling sunshine. Our existing customer relationships and new ones are being strengthened because of our responsiveness to them as individuals. We are adapting our products and our supply chain to fit unique requirements. We utilize sophisticated software and IT to bring us closer,” continues Rodriguez-Martín.

Fapajal’s parent rolls go primarily to Europe, Africa and America. Major retail companies serving corporate customers, wholesalers and distributors specialized in market niches, buy converted ready-to-sell products.

What they call Papercare is their concept built around the reinvention of comfort. As Carla Marreiso, chief marketing officer, likes to say, “We contribute actively to the wellbeing of our customers and their customers, who make and use napkins, toilet paper, couch rolls, paper roll towels, table covers and wipes.”

Rodriguez-Martín continues, “Global brands like Makro, Elis and Cannon Hygiene, as well as local brands including Recheio and Progelcone appreciate our approach to business. Each customer’s feedback is crucial for our modus operandi, based on prompt and flexible responses in view of continuous improvement.”

Machines spanning 150 years, continuously improving

Fapajal has three tissue machines. One of them is a notable European living antique, dating back to 1870. It’s driven by belts and pulleys and runs very slowly but it is still producing quality tissue products, like tablecloths and novelties. TM2 uses recycled paper and virgin pulp for specialty grades, and TM3, a Toscotec machine installed in 2012, is a 55-t/d workhorse, producing most of the parent rolls.

The hardwood and softwood furnishes, as well as recycled fiber, are refined separately. The mill management team recognized that optimizing refining was critical to increase capacity and lower production costs.

Sergio Faria, production manager says, “Even though we have our own cogeneration, lower energy costs matter. We were certain that AFT’s refining know-how and Finebar® plates could help us increase fiber yield and cut energy usage. What we didn’t expect was the degree of gains to maximize fiber quality, increase production and save more energy than expected.”

AFT has supported Fapajal with workshops on refining and delivered tailored patterns for their refiners. “Continuous improvement is maintained by well-trained and ambitious operating personnel, thanks to the support and leadership from top management” says Claus Grunow, technical leader with AFT. “Their old refiners have new life because of Finebar plates. However, the fine tuning of performance comes from the way their team maximizes the way the factory functions.”

Faria likes the latest technology from AFT, lightweight and easy-to-install Finebar MiniSegments ™ for refining. Notes Faria, “A single operator can change a plate very quickly. Because they are long-lasting and easy to install, we have a productivity and safety gain.”

Continues Gonçalo Malafaya, COO, “The success at Fapajal is largely about a trusting and open supplier/customer relationship. Intense co-operation satisfies common interests and maintains an achievementoriented environment.”

As Rodriguez-Martín explains about partnerships with suppliers, “AFT is an ideal fit for our customer-centric philosophy. They have global experience and know-how, yet they focus on very specific needs, one customer at a time.”

AFT, www.aikawagroup.com

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