Good morning Jim. We know that you are a known person in the corrugated industry in the USA and worldwide. How did you end up in that sector?
I was introduced to the industry at a very young age. My grandfather opened his first corrugated box factory in Waterloo Iowa in 1938 and my father likewise had a very successful career in the corrugated industry and remains active today at 87 years old running various companies. I also have some uncles and cousins active in the industry so I felt obliged to give try it out once I finished university. I started selling boxes in 1988 for Willamette Industries which eventually was bought out by Weyerhauser and later on International Paper. In late 1990, I joined Goettsch International a leading global supplier of corrugated machinery as Director of International Sales. The main equipment Goettsch represented back then was for Langston which was a very famous US manufacturer of corrugators and converting machinery with a global installation base. I much preferred the technical element on the corrugated machinery side and enjoyed traveling and developing different markets for the company. I was fortunate to spend 7 years growing up in Switzerland from 6 – 13 years old and that experience really got me hooked on travel and meeting new people and learning new cultures. In my time with Goettsch, I was able to build our business throughout Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and more. In 2001 I added the Woosung Autocon (WSA) product line to the Goettsch International offering and was able to successfully build the markets in South East Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America while forming new partnerships in other markets. In January 2011 we opened WSA USA in our Cincinnati Ohio office. Today WSA is a leading innovator of modern material handling solutions and a market leader in North America.
Which are the main changes that you have experienced in your professional life?
The biggest reward I feel from my professional life so far is the friendships I have made with people all over the world of different cultures, religions, and races and what this has taught me as a human. We all see life from our own lens but the more you travel and open up the greater this view expands amongst us and makes us more understanding of each other. For me, I feel very blessed and fortunate to have learned from so many including Joaquim Vila.
As far as changes I would say maybe none is greater than how we communicate today with each other and globally.
Teams/Zoom/GoTMeeting/Webex etc has revolutionized this just in the past year alone. We have meetings with people from all over the globe doing virtual tours or presentations or design review etc. So much has advanced since the early days when I would set out on a two week sales trip to South Africa with a suitcase full of VHS videos, a portable black and white video player (which lasted one trip) and a stack full of street maps. No cell phones and all correspondence via fax. God that makes me sound old but happy to say I survived. 😊
Do you think the companies in the US and Asia have similar problems to those in Europe?
I feel the companies in Europe and the US have the same challenges of shortages of quality labor supply, increased safety regulations, industry consolidation, and rising raw material costs which is forcing them to become that much more efficient to survive. We as an Automation Solutions Provider can offer real opportunities for them to overhaul their manufacturing model and become that next-generation fully automated corrugated plant. It is exactly the types of projects we are so busy with here in the USA with companies like Pratt Industries, ACME, and SAICA. It’s a race to full plant automation industry 4.0.
What are the main worries among the professionals of the corrugated sector?
The COVID Pandemic has significantly affected supply chains globally and probably no sector more than the shipping industry. There is a shortage of vessels, port operators, truck drivers, rail cars, containers, etc. which is affecting the entire world and us as a company. It is taking much longer to ship our equipment and at rates that are significantly higher than they were just six months ago. The other major concern right now is the fast rising raw materials prices and especially steel. All of this we fear could lead to inflation and a slowdown in the market. But for now, we are enjoying record orders and market activity like I have never seen before in my 33 years in corrugated.
Could you tell us your opinion on the WIP vertical storage? Is it revolutionary for the factories?
Yes, I do believe it is, and very much so with the level, Warak has perfected the overall solution. We have been talking to corrugated customers in the USA about our Vertical WIP solutions since 2017. In 2019 we took some customers to Europe to see some installation. Covid delayed most of these projects in 2020 but now in 2021 we already have three systems booked and more to follow.
What are the main advantages to switch to vertical storage?
For me, I feel there are two main ones. Increased WIP Storage capacity being the major one. I see so many large plants struggle with unscheduled downtimes on their corrugator because of some unplanned breakdown event on one of their high-speed converting lines. They run out of WIP space and the next thing you know the whole factory is shut down. Many of these relatively new super plants only have 4 – 5MMSF of WIP Storage which is not nearly enough to withstand these types of events. With our Vertical Solutions, we are designing these to store 10MMSF of the board which gives them lots of freedom in how they run the plant. The other major one for me is that it frees a plant from having to operate in a FIFO world. With a point-to-point delivery system and a greatly expanded storage capacity they now have complete flexibility in how they run their corrugator. They become more efficient and in the process more profitable.
Which are nowadays the main challenges for the professionals in the corrugated sector?
Quality and skilled labor. As plants and plant projects become more automated and sophisticated the need for higher-skilled labor such as Controls Engineers or Project Engineers becomes more critical. Our most successful installations are with companies that have recognized this and have gone out and hired your engineers to help run their factories and projects. I also see a shortage of Trade Schools and a lack of career planning advice in our high schools which further affects the overall labor pool. We have a massive shortage of Electrical Engineers, Industrial Engineers, Controls Engineers, and Mechanical Engineers coming out of our universities. We also have a shortage of basic Trade Skills and Foreign Workers here. There is so much opportunity for careers in manufacturing in the US but not enough skilled labor to support. Everyone is looking for workers right now.
Which changes do you foresee in the coming years in the corrugated industry?
Here in the US, we are behind Europe in terms of the high use of lightweight recycled papers. It’s one of the reasons Pratt Industries has been so successful here as has DS Smith as will be SAICA and others that enter. So I see a continual push to reduce basis weights and increase the recycled content of our paper. Plants will continue to become more automated and machines will run faster and faster. AGV’s are only now just being introduced to our industry and these will surely become much more common in the future. We are already seeing this in other markets globally. For us, we are always looking at new solutions not just in our industry but in others as well that we can introduce to the corrugated world. Our goal is to partner with other leaders in this industry and continue to offer the most innovative and effective solution for our customers.