Zero-plastic drinking cups from Kotka

The Kotkamills board machine producing non-plastic barrier board is the first of its kind in the world.

Kotkamills Oy, a leading paper and board producer, is currently sending out samples of a new type of disposable board cups to potential customers. Many customers have also made site visits in Kotka, Finland at the factory that has been conducting numerous test runs throughout the autumn. The new board machine is able to produce as many as seven dispersion barrier coatings on the board. This method makes the board liquid proof.

“The innovation is not in the barrier as such, as that technology has existed for years. What is innovative is how everything has been integrated into one board machine. Until now, folding boxboards have been sent for coating to specialised suppliers. We produce the coating directly on the machine,” says Markku Hämäläinen, CEO of Kotkamills.

Kotkamills’ new product is board for disposable cups: a non-plastic, fully recyclable board that holds beer, wine as well as hot drinks, such as coffee.

“All major global food brands have shown interest in our product,” Hämäläinen says.

Packaging boards containing plastic are difficult and expensive to dispose of, which is one of the reasons that make our board with repulpable coatings so interesting. It can be recycled alongside newspapers and office paper waste. Only the possible printing ink needs to be removed in recycling.

Added value through a new production line

The start-up of the rebuilt board machine converted from an old PK2 printing paper machine took place in July 2016.

“We wanted to proceed on a secure basis and started off with folding boxboard, which is not a production innovation in itself. The marketing of drinking cup board will begin in the new year, and before long, the entire capacity will be dedicated to this product,” Hämäläinen says.

The price of barrier board ranges between less than 1,000 euros to approximately 1,500 euros per tonne, depending on the product solution. The price for magazine paper is approximately 600 euros per tonne. In other words, the new product line means considerable added value. The maximum capacity with the machine would be some 400,000 tonnes of board.

“This is our express target, but it will be challenging to meet. For example, our wood chip station needs improvement so that its sorting capacity is in line with the targets,” Hämäläinen says.

Paper machines are being converted for board all over the world, as new packaging trends are increasing its demand. Talking about a “conversion” of product line is in Hämäläinen’s opinion quite an understatement. To illustrate his point, he fetches a laptop to show a time lapse video of the construction ofthe machine which is over 200 metres long.

“This is the hole in the ground where we started building it. All that is left of the old paper machine are a few dryer cylinders, a suction roll and a couple of calenders.”

Yet he is smiling now.

“This project went surprisingly well regardless of the challenging circumstances. The completed machine and its high-end specifications are ‘an engineer’s wet dream’.”

Record time installation and start-up

The main suppliers of the new machine at Kotkamills were Bellmer Vaahto Paper Machinery and Valmet. The project schedule was very demanding, as the time allocated for the actual conversion work was short, from early 2015 to July 2016. The project was quietly prepared and the implementation began once the Finnish private equity firm MB Funds had acquired Kotkamills from the American OpenGate Capital in early 2015.

Bellmer’s start-up manager Jukka Linnonmaa emphasises the importance of competent and sufficient resources.

“When time is at a premium, as it was in this project, we need to have enough skilled people at the start-up and its preparation. And the installation as well, as there was not much left of the old paper machine. In joint deliveries such as this, I really welcome a good partner supplier, such as Valmet.”

The interface between suppliers must be seamless

Petri Aspholm, project manager for Valmet, says that joint deliveries can be challenging partly because the interface between two suppliers is extremely critical.

“This is the point where the responsibility of one supplier ends and that of the other supplier one begins. Happily, there were no problems. Bellmer’s people know what they are doing. Our area of responsibility, including the coating equipment, represented technology that had also already been tried and tested.”

Aspholm agrees with Bellmer’s Linnonmaa and Kotkamills’ Hämäläinen that as a term the conversion of a paper machine does not really tell the whole story.

“In reality, the machine is at least 90 per cent new or rebuilt,” Aspholm says.

Kotkamills moves fast

Kotkamills’ new206 metre long board machinewas launched in July 2016. Of the board machine delivery worth approximately EUR 70 million, Bellmer Vaahto supplied the headbox and Valmet the coating section and the winder.

The total investment amounted to as much as EUR 170 million. This covers a substantial amount of automation delivered by Valmet and the upgrading of old factory spaces – starting from reinforcing the floor to withstand the weight of the new board machine.

Kotkamills Oy is currently employing approximately 480 people at it Kotka plant. The company also has a production plant in Malaysia and a paper machine on a lease contract at Imatra Tainionkoski, Finland.

Text: Jaakko Liikanen
Pictures: Johannes Wiehn