Outsourcing Protects Trade Secrets

Utilizing Chemsultants' independent pilot coating facilities is saving time and money for Nexfor Fraser Papers and keeping new-product ideas under wraps.

Tim O'Reilly, product manager of release papers at Nexfor Fraser Papers, Madawaka, ME, walks the length of the coating line as his company's release liner is siliconized. Leaning over the coating operator's shoulder, O'Reilly checks the run speed and coat weight as he waits for sample results from the testing lab.

The new liner is slated for introduction to the market soon, but O'Reilly already is testing the product in real-life applications. He isn't using lab samples from tabletop equipment in Madawaka. O'Reilly is at Chemsultants Intl. Network, an independent research and development firm that provides product testing as well as competitive analysis, consulting, training, and manufacturing.

Pilot coating is a typical but important step in product development. It is especially critical for release liners in the pressure-sensitive market. The best tests simulate an environment as close as possible to actual customer conditions to offer the most assurance of success in the field. Nexfor Fraser's personnel know that — they've been supplying paper products nationwide for 75 years. Their customer list includes many key producers in the industry.

“What we're doing is benchmarking our product against competitive products and utilizing this facility for some of our research and development projects,” says O'Reilly as he settles into his temporary workspace in Chemsultants' training center.

Avoiding Public Knowledge
The silicone, adhesives, and paper industry may be large, but the list of players is small. For Nexfor Fraser, like other liner suppliers, confidentiality is a must in new product development. But how do you keep new product introductions confidential in the small circle of the p-s market? One way is to steer clear of conducting pilot runs at your customers' plants — the strategy that brought O'Reilly to Ohio and Chemsultants' coating facilities.

“If you're going to do trials at a customer's plant, there's always the opportunity for that information to become public knowledge,” O'Reilly says.

Throughout O'Reilly's 25-year career in paper, he's seen market pressures tighten profit margins while customer demands for service and innovation expand. Now, increasing market share can lie solely in a supplier's ability to solve customer product problems economically and stay a step ahead of the competition. But no one has money or time to spare when it comes to product development.

In the old days, O'Reilly says, customers were willing to let you bring in a roll and throw it on a machine. “That's getting harder and harder to do, because it takes time and money to run a coater, and customers don't want to take the time and tie up their resources evaluating our paper.”

By outsourcing pilot runs, Nexfor Fraser can present a customer with a total solution rather than an experimental test. Along with faster test turnaround, data analysis, and confidentiality, no one knows when the product succeeds and, more importantly, when it fails.

Today's customers expect more from suppliers. “They want me to come in and say, ‘Here's our liner that we've already run with your silicone, with your adhesive system, and with your facestock, and here's what you get with our paper,’” says O'Reilly.

A Network with Credibility
Fraser Papers is one of three business segments of Nexfor, a publicly traded forest products and energy company headquartered in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Nexfor has 7,000 employees at facilities in Canada, the US, and the U.K. Fraser's mission is to manufacture and market building materials and to market pulp and a wide range of specialty papers.

Most of Nexfor's R&D is conducted at the Nexfor Technology Centre in Montreal, Que., Canada. Although Fraser has the strength and support of its international parent company, cost plays a role in its relationship with Chemsultants.

Outsourcing is the norm in business. In the industrial landscape, it now reaches into R&D. Tight budgetary demands prohibit buying much-needed but expensive coating equipment. O'Reilly says Nexfor Fraser's benchtop siliconizer lacks the ability to provide variances such as low-range coat weights or machine-specific parameters. Chemsultants offers a total package of pilot coating and lab testing, he adds.

“I was aware of [Chemsultants] and their reputation in the industry. They have good, solid people with backgrounds in a variety of areas. There's a certain level of credibility that comes from having Chemsultants' name attached to the tests,” O'Reilly says. “Customers more often trust data when an outside lab generates it.”

Chemsultants' chemists and development engineers comprise a full-service R&D group with a state-of-the-art education center for customized training classes along with a fully functioning laboratory. Two narrow web Dixon coaters and a 40-in. Busch coater (renovated over the years) offer eight coating methods with ultraviolet (UV) as well as thermal curing systems, offering the versatility needed to match specific machine designs in the industry. All three coaters feature up to eight coating methods and UV as well as thermal-curing systems.

The Chemsultants network of companies includes Chemsultants Intl. Inc., the testing and manufacturing division; ChemDevelopment Inc., the full-service R&D group; ChemInstruments Inc., the equipment division that manufactures a full line of testing equipment for adhesives, sealants, inks, and converting applications; and ChemsultantsTraining Network, an education center complete with fully functioning instructional laboratory.

“We're running 17 variables here on different papers, silicones, coat weights, and facestock combinations, all in two days,” O'Reilly says. “We can actually sit down and pre-plan the trial run and know that when we get here, the coaters are not going to be broken down and some emergency won't be delaying the run.”

O'Reilly says utilizing a Busch coater is less like testing on a research coater and more like a manufacturing environment. “It's more a product-type coater in a research environment and that includes a high degree of confidentiality,” he says.

Manufacturers have varying degrees of expertise as well as equipment quality. “To be able to say, we worked with Chemsultants and ran that very paper, at that speed, with this facestock and be able to do so successfully, stripping at X number of feet a minute…it's a tremendous resource for us,” O'Reilly says.

CONVERTER INFO
Nexfor Fraser Papers Inc.

70 Seaview Ave.
Stamford, CT 06902
203/705-2800; fraserpapers.com


SUPPLIER INFO
Chemsultants

, Mentor, OH; 440/352-0218; chemsultants.com



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