Productivity Through Innovation in a Commoditized Industry

Wausau Paper is a pulp and paper company based in Mosinee, Wisconsin.

Wausau’s management believed that innovation needed to be ongoing and pervasive in order to combat the massive commoditization that was affecting them. Therefore, they decided to instill a long-lasting culture of innovation throughout the company. They started with their older Maine facility. Although the more modern facilities could make almost any grade of paper, the machines at the older Maine facility were limited in their processes and capabilities. In order to increase margins while avoiding the high costs of establishing a new manufacturing facility, Wausau wanted its Maine factory to make additional grades of paper, freeing up the modern plants to manufacture grades that are impossible using older technology.

Wausau worked with SIT facilitators on a “productivity by innovation” project.  One of the tools used was SIT’s Multiplication technique, where a portion of a product or process is copied, with the extra copy slightly modified. The result was the “double bump” method. This pioneering method includes calendering, (compressing paper with heavy roller pins and heat to create different levels of smoothness) the paper twice, in two different fashions. This produces a glossy paper with the same effect as silicone coating, but more efficient and less expensive to produce. The project also led to the following results

Additional Results

  1. Microwave bags using only 1-ply paper which are more eco-friendly than multiple-ply bags
  2. A special paper for teachers that operates as a whiteboard for educational use
  3. 40 individuals, from all organizational functions, trained to innovate constantly by applying the SIT method
  4. 5 Wausau “Innovation Coaches” – staff certified to operate SIT mini-workshops for their fellow employees

Most importantly, the company now had the confidence that it could transform itself and succeed even in a highly commoditizing industry.

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