In the past four years, Continuous Improvement initiatives have played a significant role in Domtar‘s success by achieving numerous cost saving and production efficiencies. In 2016, Everick Spence joined Domtar’s Pulp & Paper business as director of Continuous Improvement with experience improving the manufacturing of products as varied as motorcycles and tires to fabricated aluminum and industrial heating systems.
Today, CI efforts continue at each of our 13 pulp and paper mills including a new daily management system — a standard system of meetings and collaboration tools to ensure all locations track similar metrics and success measures across their operations.
Spence recently discussed how his team is supporting collaborative efforts across our pulp and paper mills to help Domtar benefit from Continuous Improvement methodologies that drive efficiency, engagement and ultimately, profitability.
Q: What are the keys to success with continuous improvement?
The key is integrating qualitative disciplines and methodologies into your processes. Organizations should be viewed as a system with inputs, processes and outputs. Most organizations have common inputs, but the maturity of the organization’s culture, as it relates to continuous improvement (CI), will ultimately determine the quality of its output. Success in CI requires leadership support as well as extensive employee involvement. If either of the two is missing, it becomes extremely difficult to succeed and sustain.
Q: How is continuous improvement benefiting day-to-day activities at our mills, and the Pulp and Paper business as a whole?
The leaders at our 13 pulp and paper mills are really seeing what CI and our daily management system makes possible. They can see exactly where performance at their mill is really good and where improvement opportunities exist. The daily management system, as well as our monthly business review processes, have been a huge part of getting that visibility and then aligning that information with our cost improvement process to drive progress toward our bottom-line objectives. That’s been really helpful in getting people engaged.
The daily management system is bringing decision-making to the mill floor to get operators more involved in day-to-day operations. Now what’s starting to happen is operators are coming up with ideas on not only how we can improve their work, but also how we can reduce costs. That’s where I think we’re seeing a cultural shift and the value of CI come into play.
Q: Can you give us an example of a continuous improvement project or operator-initiated idea that we’ve adopted?
Our Nekoosa Mill is an excellent example of how a highly engaged culture can drive sustainable continuous improvement. For example, an employee recently identified efficiency issues with the mill’s wash press/brown stock area that were causing the mill to lose more than 500 tons fiber production each month. The employee assembled a CI team that identified 14 process and reliability gaps that enabled them to restore 200 tons of monthly production capacity. This example is proof that the mill leadership’s trust in and empowerment of its workforce are value-added business tools.
Q: How do you see continuous improvement benefitting Domtar in the next year? How about five years from now?
Domtar’s CI journey began in 2014. The company was already doing excellent work when I joined in 2016. For me, 2016 was about understanding how Domtar uses continuous improvement and defining the strategy for the future, which included building our internal capabilities and defining which tools we would launch and when. In 2017, it was about building a team to best support the mills. Today, we have three highly trained specialists who are very capable and who have a good understanding of our CI tools. They’re seen as a resource by the mills, and that’s really helped us drive change. As we ramp up over the next three to five years, they’ll be able to help accelerate that rate of change.
As I’ve watched our business transition over the last few years, I’m proud to see that CI is becoming more and more a part of our language at Domtar. The vision for the next five years is to help the mills mature to the level where our mill operators are able to not only identify an issue that CI can help resolve, but also are able to quickly identify and implement the CI tools necessary to address the problem.
As we go forward, driving engagement within our employee base is key — not only for our success, but also for the sustainability of our CI initiatives. Mill floor employees need to be able to see CI in action and embrace it as a part of how we do business. The only way that can happen is by increasing engagement at all levels of the organization, and by empowering our employees to make decisions and be accountable for the results.
As we meld CI into our annual budgeting process, we’re creating more opportunities for our mill employees to generate their own ideas, which we can bring to life through our team’s resources. Five years from now, I see CI not just as an integral part of how we manage our operations, but also as a critical part of our functional areas in terms of how we manage and improve our business processes.