How DS Smith Paper is leading the way in quality

By thinking differently, DS Smith Paper is developing bespoke strategies and processes to ensure our finished paper products are of the best possible quality. When it comes to quality paper products, you only get out what you put in. Our Head of Paper, Niels Flierman, explores the importance of quality in the papermaking process - from raw material through to the finished paper product.

At DS Smith we are market leaders in the papermaking industry. Our forward-thinking approach means we offer one of widest choices of 100% recyclable and sustainably sourced paper products from corrugated case materials to speciality papers and kraft liners and we are widely recognised for the high quality of our finished product. Our standardised product offering, and extensive supply network of paper mills mean we can ensure consistent quality and service to our customers around the globe.

A commitment to quality is central to our business model. We are constantly innovating ways to make better use of paper fibres. This allows us to maintain the standards our customers expect whilst finding even more sustainable ways to manufacture the papers needed for a fast-evolving packaging market.

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Redefining Packaging for a Changing World

At DS Smith our Purpose is to Redefine Packaging for a Changing World, helping our customers to overcome some of the biggest challenges we are facing in society today. Increasing awareness of the fragility of the environment coupled with huge consumer behaviour shifts are placing new demands on the packaging industry. Providing high quality, high performing packaging papers i­­s key to providing the sustainable packaging solutions that both our customers and society demand.

Within DS Smith our circular business model relies on our Recycling Division supplying quality Paper for Recycling (PfR) to our paper mills who, in turn, feed our packaging plants. Our closed-loop recycling model means that once a cardboard box is discarded we can collect it, recycle it, and then turn the recycled paper into new boxes – all within the DS Smith Group, and all within 14 days.

We work with our Recycling and Packaging Divisions to provide the best possible paper products and services to satisfy our customers' needs. We provide sustainable, high-quality products, all backed by a comprehensive range of technical and supply chain services to support and improve their businesses.

To power this supply cycle, we rely on high-quality fibres. Our focus on quality runs throughout all the key stages of the papermaking process, beginning with recycling. We have constantly campaigned for the separation of paper and carboard at the point of collection because paper is less likely to be contaminated by other materials. Our experience and testing show us that PfR coming from source segregated, as opposed to mixed recycling streams is much more likely to reach the 1.5% maximum contamination rate of the papermaking standard EN643.


Innovation in papermaking

Our recycling depots and paper mills are stringent in the inspection of incoming raw materials and have been at the forefront of the adoption of new technologies that determine the composition and quality of incoming PfR.

With PfR arriving in large compacted bales, it’s not always easy to see any contaminants such as plastics and metals. It’s these materials that affect the quality of paper at the start of the papermaking process. We can only make high-quality paper products out of high-quality recycled fibres. Heavily contaminated paper can lead to increased downtime, machine maintenance costs and lost productivity.

So, you can see the management of the quality of PfR is key to ensure our end product is the best possible quality. That is why our mills have developed and deployed several robust quality monitoring systems. The most recent of these is our ‘Moisture Gates, first tested at our mills in France and Spain and now being rolled out across Europe.

Variations in moisture content can cause the paper yield to differ by as much as 6% between summer and winter alone. Moisture Gates use microwave technology to quickly and accurately measure the moisture content in PfR entering our mills.

Another example is our Near Infra-Red scanners (NIR). First trialled at our mills in the UK and Italy, they are now being rolled out across our European mills and can tackle alarming rates of plastic in PfR, even before the paper is unloaded at our mills.

At Kemsley Paper Mill in the last year alone, the forensic screening enabled by NIR scanners has prevented the equivalent of 4.8 million black bin bags of plastic from entering the papermaking process – with the vast majority of that plastic coming from papers that have come from mixed collections, as opposed to separate collections.


Setting high standards in papermaking

We have invested in the latest cleaning and screening equipment to ensure the purest of pulps. So once we have completed the task of checking and removing contaminants our papermaking process can begin.

A good example of putting this to practice is the award-winning paper and plastic fibre reject separation plant at our Lucca Paper Mill in Italy. With this technology, rejected paper fibres can be separated from contaminates and put back into the papermaking process, meaning that an extra 2,500 tonnes of paper fibres a year can be used to make paper products. Over the next 12 months, the mill plans to double this figure. Rolling out similar technologies across all our mills will provide the capacity for over 50,000 tonnes of paper fibres, that would have been too heavily contaminated, to be recycled.

We are constantly measuring and monitoring production to provide our customers with the quality assurance they need. We have developed considerable in-house knowledge and technical expertise on the detailed measurement and analysis of recycled fibres in real-time to better control final paper properties. Advanced data analytics, high-speed image analysis and Machine Learning, for example, are all used to better inform the papermaking process and to further optimise product consistency and performance.

Although most of our mills have automated paper testing laboratory, all our mills are required to send regular samples into an independent, certified Paper Quality Centre based at our Witzenhausen Paper Mill in Germany. This way we can be sure the quality of our paper will always delight our customers.

By innovating and thinking differently we have found ways to ensure the highest possible quality of our finished paper products for our customers.