Julian Long – National Key Accounts Manager at Arjowiggins Graphic
Are you particularly interested in paper and printing processes?
Yes particularly in recent years because there are more and more different digital techniques coming into play. I can only do my job well if I understand at least the basics of how these techniques work and more importantly what types papers are required and how we need to evolve our product range technically to adapt to the new technologies. The pace of change is growing fast.
Are you witnessing competitors you around not being able to keep up with that pace of change?
We tend to be reactive because we have to learn as fast as we can when new technologies are announced, obviously new technology is shrouded in commercial secrecy, when it’s proven and launched that’s when we have to move very fast to provide the right products. And that’s why we work very closed with all the OEM’s (Original Equipment Manufacturer) of the different digital printing engines.
In terms of competitors Arjowiggins has a great advantage in being not the largest player in the paper manufacturing world, we can be very adaptable.
We took a decision in early 2009 that we were going be the “greenest” paper manufacturer in Europe, if not in the world. So we have focused very much on recycled products, part or wholly recycled products, coated or uncoated papers. It’s the recycled products that we are developing for the digital market because we see very little activity from other manufacturers. Larger manufacturers tend to have the disadvantage that they can be less adaptable and it’s more difficult for them to have the ever-growing product portfolio that we have.
Have you had in the past any direct relationship with designers?
In the UK the route to market for paper is primarily through paper merchants. We do a certain amount of backselling, it is our paper merchant customers, the paper stockists, who generally have the larger backselling team and tend to be in closer contact with designers. But because we have a good relationship with our paper stockists we are able to work closely with their backselling teams and garner information on the way they see the market is evolving.
Have you thought about how designers can play a role in systems design within Arjowiggins?
We have had, at various times, designers visit our facilities to learn more about the paper making process and how our products are developed and we take this as very useful feedback and source of information as to the direction in which we should be going. My experience tends to be that designers have an idea of how they want the paper to look like, then it’s the job of the sales team to find something in our product portfolio to give them the type of look they are trying to achieve.
Designers can come up with some absolutely wonderful ideas, but these tend to be somewhat transient. We have to have a very clear remit to our technology and innovation department that we’re asking them to develop and evolve products for which we see a period of life in the market rather than something that just suits one particular designer’s idea for one project.
How do you understand what designers are asking for in paper use terms?
There are fashions in paper, in the graphical arena we see a gradual transition, when gloss paper become very vogue and then in six months time they are looking at uncoated or matt papers then maybe they move back to silk. There are fads for different types of paper and we have to balance that against evolving a product that’s going to have a reasonable life to give us the return on any technology innovation and development that goes into it.
What I really try to encourage, with our merchant stockists and printers that I meet, is they really need to be discussing with designers where they think the trends are going to go over the coming months and years, so that we can be ready in advance rather than just trying to be reactive. I always welcome opportunities to spend time talk to designers, just to get a feel for the way they see fashions in paper moving in the coming months.
What is Arjowiggins biggest technological challenge?
Because we are committed through the WWF climate savers programme to reduced our Co2 and other greenhouse emission over the coming years. It’s a technological big challenge to try and produce paper consuming less energy and with less greenhouse gas output.
The other major challenge, technically, is that we need to make sure that our product portfolio is adapted to evolving print techniques. In the digital areana there are a number of diff technologies and print engines. It is important that we have a product portfolio, which hopefully covers the entire spectrum of the technologies. It is very important that we have a very good relationship with OEMs.
Your main natural resources are wood fibre, water and calcium carbonate for coating. Do you think any of these resources are under serious pressure?
Around the world there are a lot of pulp producers and in some countries, to provide employment and biodiversity, there are new plantations being created. With regards to the wood fibre we’re not overly concerned, although the price does fluctuate as the demand fluctuates.
With regard to water which is our second major resource. That is always of concern to us because there will come a time when, politically, water will become very important to some countries or the lack of water. It is very important to us that our production techniques maximise the use of water and that we recycle it as many times as is practical and we’re certainly not wasteful in anyway.
With regard to the other components there is adequate supply of calcium carbonate, which is one of the constituents of coating mix. We are a little bit concerned about starch. The starch that’s available around the world a lot of it is going into food stuffs, so we are competing against food stuffs and with very fast growing populations in some of the third world countries sometimes there is some quite staggering growth in local consumption of starch. So that is an issue.
We use latex as a binder. We use synthetic latexes, these tend to be produced from oil resources, so obviously there is some pressure there. That is why in the last two year we’ve had a lot of pressure on paper prices because starch prices have been very volatile and we’ve seen some very steep increases in latex prices.
How do you plan on safe guarding your resources in the future?
With regard to wood fibre we are very actively promoting recycling and use of recycled papers so that wood fibre goes through reuse a minimum of five times.
Water is very important. We’re always looking at where out manufacturing sites are located so there is an adequate supply of water for the future and that we are not in anyway depleting the water tables. That’s very important to us.
With regards to latex and starch and some of the other chemical we use we are constantly researching latex products from other sources so that we can try and find ways to insulate ourselves from any possible shortages and the price rises we’ve seen in the last two years.
Are you looking to any alternative fibres to replace wood?
For the high volume of graphical products for the immediate future we will stay predominantly with wood fibre, the reason being that when you look at some of the other fibres there are some issues with the consistency of the fibre in terms of its nature, particularly with cotton and lint based products.
But we are continuously looking at alternative fibres to wood, to see if we can move away, but that’s for the future. With well-managed forest and plantations and with encouraged use of recycled wood fibre it gives us a consistency that we need to produce very high quality print results.
Siôn Whellens – Calverts Printing
You appear to be the connecting element between designers and paper manufacturers, how does your role work in that way?
Paper companies talk to printers and designers in a different way, in quite narrowly focused commercial terms. So designers don’t get a really good understanding of what paper is as a material, and what it’s about.
I’m a great believer in trying to reconnect design and manufacturing, to get back to something a bit more authentic and a bit less in a silo.
It’s great as a printer and as part of a printing business to be connecting our clients, who are designers, with our suppliers. It’s a nice place to be and to be facilitating that kind of conversation. This is the second trip of this kind that I’ve organised.
What’s the importance of designers being able to go to manufacturers directly and see how, for example, the paper process works?
This is part of getting designers to understand what I do as a printer. It’s a way of getting communication designers, when they are working with print, to consider that actually what they are designing is a physical product, not just working in 2-D
It’s really important to understand paper because paper is a natural material. It’s not living product, but it was very recently. So it’s something that has texture and has all sorts of properties in three dimensions. That’s good for them to understand and also to make my job easier, because they then get to understand that I’m manufacturing an object according to their instructions. So they more they understand that process and the materials I am using, the less misunderstandings there’ll be and the better we can do, the better things we can make, the more sensible things we can make.
What’s your relationship with the paper mills? Is it very key to the success of your business?
Our relationship is mediated by the paper merchants, in this case Antalis, Arjowiggin’s distributor sister company. It’s not necessary for us to have a direct relationship with the paper mills, but it feels good to have a better connection and a better understanding ourselves about how all this works.
It’s also strategic because we’re an industry that is under a lot of pressure and has been in long term decline and probably will be. So paper makers being strategic, printers being strategic, and designers being strategic and understanding each other’s thinking is going to be better for all of us, to keep this a great industry to work in and a great thing to do.
Arjo graphical is betting the house on recycled papers, which is just a brilliant thing, because actually that is a major part of the long term strategy for our industry to be successful and sustainable.
What role do you see designers playing in that long term strategy in the context of the circular economy?
Designers are at also at crucial point between end users and manufacturers and printers. Designers can influence public thinking about what makes good communication. Designers can also, if they understand the material and process and they like it, and they understand that it could be a sustainable industry – then they can be advocates for print and paper. That’s actually what we need. We need people who can argue articulately and well for the development of paper communications.
There is a meta argument to counter the myth that all good communication in the future will digital, for instance, or that paper in inherently unsustainable. Designers are also closer to content workers, writers and image makers, which is very important. I hope the story of this trip will get told in the design community, that’s the point. We want to keep telling the story and developing the story.
What are your business’ biggest challenges right now?
Our biggest challenge as a business is the shrinking market and what people are willing to pay. In terms of these relationships in the supply chain what I want to see is that there is still a really good range of paper products.
Because the paper industry has become consolidated into 3 or 4 major global groups, we are starting to see products disappearing from the market. Because paper markers want to make papers in tens and fifties of tons. They want those volumes. Small independent paper makers have disappeared. I think that’s a challenge.
Over monopoly is a problem because we’ll have less choice of products and a movement away from craft in paper making. So relinking the craft end of paper making and the high scale industrial level of paper making, keeping diversity, keeping beautiful products available, that is a challenge.
In terms of our relationship with designers, designers are now designing for 2D in all sorts of different media and they are losing specific skills in designing for print. I want to work on re-educating designers about print. It has to be redone all the time, because it’s not being taught in schools and the apprenticeship system has disappeared.
Traditionally designers might have served some form of apprenticeship in the manufacturing process, now they don’t and there are fewer and fewer opportunities for them to do that. What we’d like to do in Calverts is create an apprenticeship for graduate designers that enables them to participate seriously in the manufacturing side and not have to make choices too early about whether they want to be pure concept people or whether they want to be hands on people. So they can develop broader skills.
Jimmy Edmondson – Designer with Ultimate Holding Company (UHC)
How did you come to be on this trip?
When I started at UHC I didn’t know much about professional print at all and they had a roster of printers and Calverts were one of the main ones. We enjoy working with them because they are a co-op as well and we have like-minded views about how businesses should be run and how print should work. Thanks to our close working relationship Calverts invited me to come on the Arjowiggins tour.
What were you expecting from the experience?
As quite a young designer I didn’t know a vast amount about paper production. I had a few questions in mind, but I was just coming to learn and I think I have learnt a lot more than I expected I might do at the start of the trip. It was so interesting to see the process. I was educated by modernism and the Bauhaus and that holistic approach to design where everyone learns the craft and the design process.
I think that’s so important even learning where your materials come from rather than just the craft of those materials. It’s been an absolute pleasure to come and get a greater understanding of how the process works. It’s been invaluable and is making me want to carry on and look at other factories and other processes. Even the supply chain, even if it’s not where a material comes from or is processed, just anywhere along the supply chain makes you eager to find out every little detail.
What was the most surprising or interesting thing that you learned on the tour?
I was always intrigued about other elements and chemicals that go into paper production. We’ve heard a lot about about silks and matts and different types of inks and papers and how they’re achieved. I’ve been naturally attracted to uncoated papers. It was just interesting to learn about how they’re produced.
I always thought gloss was terrible because it obviously has a glossy finish and I always thought it was created solely by some sort of chemical, but to learn and see this is literally a process of polishing and not actually applying more things was really enlightening for me and maybe will attract me to use other materials in different ways.
Being on the trip, being with like-minded people, and being able to ask lots of questions of people with a vast amount of experience was absolutely brilliant.
Tara Hanrahan of Think Do Studio
What was the most interesting/surprising thing that you learnt on the tours of the pulp and paper mills?
I found the information on the transition from one paper-weight or stock to another really interesting. The machines never stop, so as they alter the composition to create a different paper, a strange hybrid paper is generated where one crosses over into the other. This hybrid is of course recycled back in to the mill, but I instantly wanted to do a project with that transitional substrate.
I found it revealing (about the strict procedures associated with recycled certification, no doubt due to past exploitations) that waste items such as magazines, could not be used in 100% post-consumer papers if they had not been sold i.e. consumed.
Why were you interested in going into these factories?
I’ve always adopted a sustainable approach to my work. By that I mean that my objective is to use the environmental knowledge available today to inform what I design and how I educate. Sustainability by its very nature is dynamic; for it to be effective it must respond to, even preempt, the changing world around us – so attending a trip like this is an essential part of keeping informed and invigorated. Also, my role in design education enables me to collect and impart this knowledge to the next generation of creatives.
Do you think it’s important for designers to learn about production processes, like how paper is made. If so, why?
Absolutely. Knowledge about the materials we use is essential as it needs to inform the design process. As communicators and makers, we must consider how our choices affect resources or impact waste and lead by example. I also think understanding the technology and craft involved in creating a substrate increases the respect designers have when using/specifying it.
Is there anything you took away from the experience that you felt would be helpful in your future work?
I found the team’s passion, attention to detail and desire to develop and improve incredibly motivating. The circular process of ‘office waste into office paper’ was an inspiring model and leads you to think about other processes you might apply that rigour to.