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The production line is now in operation for more than a year. Dr. Stefan Karrer, COO, Joachim Uhl, Mill Director at the Kehl site and Thomas Peter, Paper Production Manager at the Kehl site, look back on the project.
If a company wants to stay in the race, then it’s not only a case of the faster competitor beating the slower: the right time for decisions and implementation can make way for very special performance. An example of this is the Koehler Paper Group’s ‘Production Line 8’ project. The right idea. In the right company. At the right time. With the right team.
Dr. Stefan Karrer, COO at Koehler, Joachim Uhl, Mill Director at Koehler Kehl GmbH, and Thomas Peter, Paper Production Manager at Kehl, look at the interaction between these factors and take stock of the past two and a half years. That’s how little time has passed from the presentation of the idea to the Koehler supervisory board to the first tambour from the new paper machine at the Kehl mill.
According to Greenpeace, 150 million tons of plastic waste float in the oceans. It’s no wonder that the global packaging industry is under enormous pressure to change. Paper is also packaging, but nature gets along better with paper – if people recycle it. While the plastics industry reflects on its problems, the Koehler Paper Group, as one of the world’s major players in the paper industry, has developed a solution. To this end, the company has invested 300 million euros in a new paper machine and a new coating machine, and thus in the future. This way, the company is opening up the market for flexible packaging paper. At the same time, the company is anchoring the issue of sustainability even more firmly into its corporate philosophy and moulding it into a business model. The Koehler family is growing by around 100 colleagues and the existing team has proven itself once again: pulling together in a concerted effort releases a very special kind of energy – and in two and a half years it is possible to do what could have taken twice as much time.
‘The construction of production line 8 did not involve soloists who contributed their special knowledge. It was perfect orchestration. We performed the composition together – and that was the recipe for success!’ (Dr. Stefan Karrer)
The COO of the Koehler Paper Group not only praises the company’s project culture, but also sees its enormous interdisciplinary knowledge as a unique selling point, which includes technology, product development, production, sales, plant engineering and much more. Getting from an idea to the finished product so quickly, which will revolutionize the world of packaging, required the concentrated power of the company’s expertise. The fact that this power could be concentrated is due to a very special Koehler quality. Throughout the more than 200 years of the company’s history, there have always been courageous people during the decisive moments. In 1968, they used this courage to develop the refining capacities for carbonless paper. In 1995, Koehler built the world’s largest coating line for thermal paper. In 2019, production line 8 moved into operation. At its heart: the world’s largest Yankee cylinder with a diameter of 7.3 meters. Its performance: giving paper a unique smoothness.
‘The lifting of the cylinder was an amazing moment for us and triggered some very special feelings. I don’t know exactly how much space was left on the right and left side. Maybe three inches ...’ (Thomas Peter)
The fact that production line 8 produces paper that makes the world a little more sustainable also encourages and spurs on the people working in the company:
‘It’s certainly not an everyday occurrence that colleagues bring us products from the supermarket to ask if we could do a better job of packaging them with our new technology.’ (Thomas Peter)
However, the high degree of identification that the Koehler family, and therefore all of the company’s employees, display, also requires a willingness to embrace tradition – and thus, in the truest sense of the word, a willingness to pass on knowledge and know-how. Bringing together ‘old hands’ and ‘young savages’ within this team is the key to success.
‘We had to think about how to manage the generation change. The project was ideal for doing just that: we brought young people on board at an early stage, who were taught expertise by experienced colleagues. That way we can keep the know-how from older colleagues in-house.’ (Dr. Stefan Karrer)
The decision to develop resources within the younger generation for production line 8, and to do so before production started, was also considered the right move by Joachim Uhl. The project was a unique opportunity for junior staff to help initiate a new era in a traditional family business. With regard to the long-term vision of the company owners and their willingness to give the measures the necessary time, Dr. Stefan Karrer says:
‘It is not a matter of course to take people on board so early on in order to build up knowledge and to be able to carry out tasks thoroughly and successfully, even in the distant future. This is the strength of a family business that thinks long-term.’ (Dr. Stefan Karrer)