Andreas Granieczny learned papermaking from the ground up. The North Rhine-Westphalia native grew up in Hesse and would start his journey as a papermaking apprentice in 1987. After finishing his apprenticeship in 1990, he started off as a second assistant before becoming a first assistant and then receiving training as a machine operator. Then, in 1997, he began attending the master craftsman school in the town of Gernsbach in Baden in order to finish his training as an industrial supervisor for paper production. After this, he worked as a foreman and shift supervisor, which allowed him to gain precious experience before leaving his home, the Rothaar Mountains in Hesse, to join Koehler Paper at the latter’s Kehl site as the foreman for paper machine 1, which was primarily used to make thermal and carbonless paper. When plans for a new production line for flexible packaging paper kicked off at Koehler in 2018, he switched positions, which meant that he’d be there from the start all the way to the moment that Production Line 8 was set up and put into operation. And throughout this long career in the papermaking industry, one thing has remained constant: his focus on specialty paper coating. Flexible packaging paper is, to put it simply, his new challenge. In this interview, he talks about his work, the opportunities offered by the new production line at Koehler, and how different divisions at Koehler work together.
How did you come to join Koehler Paper?
Well, a whole lot of paper mills shut down back in the mid-90s and the beginning of the 00s, and at the time, Koehler was one of the few companies that had the necessary courage to think and act with a focus on the future. A perfect example is when they built paper machine 6 and paper machine 2. As a young master craftsman specializing in papermaking, that was a really good reason to leave my old employer, a specialty paper manufacturer in Hesse, and “go to Koehler” in Kehl. And to tell you the truth, the fact that I already knew the Baden area due to my time at the master craftsman school in Gernsbach made the move very easy. After all, the differences between Hesse and Baden are not that big – with the exception that the weather’s a bit bitter here in Baden!
What does your job as the deputy production manager for Production Line 8 look like specifically?
Above all, I’m the stand-in for the production manager, but our actual day-to-day tasks are actually a bit different from each other. While the production manager concerns himself primarily with the areas of management systems, budget ownership, planning, and investments, I’m the link between the departments that are responsible for the day-to-day business of our production line. First and foremost, this has to do with overall system efficiency, the qualification of new products, optimizing the paper and coating machines, and training employees.
What’s special about Production Line 8?
Well, the thing that’s special about Production Line 8 is that it’s designed in such a way that we have everything we need to make the products of the future. In fact, we can already make products that didn’t even exist a year ago. The systems are not out-of-the-box systems, but were instead customized specifically for our needs. They really are one-of-a-kind. Basically put, they’re built in such a way that we can produce anything related to machine-glazed paper. It doesn’t matter what coat weight, grammage, beating, leak tightness, opacity, barrier properties, etc. are needed: We’re able to deliver the paper that our customers want thanks to parameters that we can adjust individually as needed. And that’s the art that we master as specialty papermakers and that sets us apart from others.
The State-of-the-art paper machine and an extraordinary coating machine: How do humans and machines work together?
Our systems have more control circuits than a jumbo jet. Except, of course, we don’t have pilots controlling the machine, but papermakers instead. In other words, technology makes a lot of things easier, but the challenges brought about by all the customization options are also huge: There’s no set routine and every single day is different from the next, partially because the settings on the machine keep changing as well. And that’s why we’re tremendously proud of our well-trained paper technologists, who tackle these challenges day in day, out. The combination between a one-of-a-kind machine and a team with young and older people with new ideas and impetuses and decades of experience is what makes Koehler so special. It really is amazing that people can and want to play a part, and I think it’s something that makes all our lives a little richer.
What are the biggest challenges when it comes to production?
That no single day is the same as another. People used to always say: “Papermakers are lazy.” And the reason they said that is that papermakers always try to set up their machines in such a way that they will run and require as little work from humans as possible. But that’s not how things are here. Even when it comes to products already on the market, we’re always trying to optimize things. And the challenge is that even when you make tiny changes, you can end up getting something completely different at the end.
However, the biggest challenges have to do with the coating machine that we use to apply the coatings for various barrier properties. Even if we make outstanding paper here in Kehl and are able to apply the coatings well, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will pass our internal laboratory tests – and when they don’t, we have to improve things. Ultimately, the reason why we run so many tests is so that we’ll be able to provide top-of-the-line specialty paper. And on top of that, you have to remember that it’s a new product range and that no one really has any significant experience with it. In other words, there’s no one to tell you whether something you’re doing is right or wrong without a shadow of a doubt.
Production, Technology, and Sales work closely together at Koehler: How do you make sure that our customers get high-quality packaging paper in the end?
That’s real teamwork right there. For instance, when we’re dealing with a new product or want to implement a customer request, our co-workers from Technology come with suggestions that they’ve developed and tested in the laboratory or the test coating machine. After that, we have preliminary talks regarding testing, and representative of the Process Technology participates so that they can accompany tests and record everything in writing. We then need to make sure that we set up the coating color and the machine in such a way that they will run on our large industrial systems. Of course, the challenge is that the things that work in the lab or in smaller scale tests are not easy to transfer or scale for industrial systems. In other words, if something works on the test coating machine with eight meters of drying line, we need to make sure it’ll work on a machine with a drying line ten times longer and with a width ten times as wide. Then, in a follow-up discussion, we explain how things ran, what we tested, and whether the quality’s right. And on top of that, we can continuously monitor all quality parameters on paper machine 8 and coating machine 8 with our live monitoring capabilities. The end result is the fact that we can always guarantee consistent quality for our customers.
Is there any way our competitors can keep up with us?
When it comes to production stability on large industrial systems, we’re way ahead of the pack simply by virtue of the fact that there’s nothing comparable out there. We’re able to produce large quantities with consistent quality, and I’m not talking about just one or two rolls. And on top of that we have our team, in which every individual can play a part to bring innovative specialty paper to the market.
Where will our journey take us? What kind of possibilities are still out there?
In principle, anything is possible. Here at Koehler, we’ve laid the necessary foundation and have everything we need to effectively replace plastic packaging with paper. My goal is to one day walk through every aisle in the supermarket and not see any plastic packaging there anymore. I want to see paper packaging only. We’re well-positioned to make that a reality.