Paper rolls as tall as a man sit stacked in steel supports rising nearly 25 metres high. The rolls appear almost like prized bottles enclosed in a gigantic wine case. Elsewhere throughout the massive Asia Symbol paper processing plant here in Xinhui, in the western Guangdong province, rolls of paper are wound on spinners as others slowly move automatically across the facility floor on their way to the stacking room.
Vapour rises from machines whirling in Paper Mill #12, the newest mill in the plant, extending at least three football fields in length. The life in the mostly automated facility emanates from the machines. A few workers move about from time to time monitoring the process, ripping off ends of tattered rolls, or giving them a gentle nudge over a ridge to send them on their way to storage. Others busy themselves in an office using various technology to test the quality of the paper.
Steven Hung, General Manager of Asia Symbol in Xinhui, moves through the new facility, admiring the processes, which move like clockwork.
“The start of Paper Mill #12 has coincided with an increased demand for chemical softwood pulp,” Hung says. “Metsä Fibre put into production a new line at Äänekoski in August 2017, increasing the amount of commercial pulp on the market. The needs and supply of both our companies have really matched each other, leading to a strategic partnership for all of us.”
That cooperation dates back to 2013, when Asia Symbol Shandong first started to purchase bleached chemi-thermomechanical pulp from Metsä Fibre to meet requirements for producing high bulk ivoryboard, Hung says, leading to a deepening partnership.
Hung says that partnership is extremely important for ensuring there are no gaps in the company’s supply chain. Asia Symbol Xinhui needs at least 70,000 metric tonnes of pulp per month, and while some softwood pulp is imported from Canada, that only comprises some of its needs.
“We need to diversify the source of raw materials, so we look to Metsä Fibre as our partner to ensure our supply,” Hung says.
Once Metsä Fibre had its new production online, technicians arrived in Xinhui to help with guidance for using pulp from Äänekoski. Hung confirms that the trials were successful.
This led to a long-term supply agreement with Metsä Fibre and expanded the cooperation between the factories, not only in Xinhui, but also in Asia Symbol’s Shandong and Indonesia factories. The long-term agreement guarantees the supply of chemical softwood pulp for Asia Symbol, and also provides quality wood pulp for production, supporting its goal of producing 1 million tonnes of paper products per year.
A deepening partnership
Cooperation is likely to increase as demand for high-quality paper products in China and Asia grows.
“The requirements for smoothness, uniformity and other aspects are getting stricter,” Hung says. “Some customers are increasingly demanding greater whiteness and printability. We are now actively expanding our offering of copy and offset paper. Because of this we need a good softwood pulp supplier to stabilise our product quality and meet market demand.”
Acting as a facilitator throughout this partnership has been Ascend Suzhou, which began its own cooperation with Metsä Fibre in 2013, when it first started importing softwood pulp from Finland.
“Ascend has a close-knit partnership with both companies and we help meet the needs of Asia Symbol in terms of planning, supplier selection and other service matters,” Xuan Weiguang, General Manager of Ascend Suzhou says. “With Metsä Fibre we basically help with pre-negotiations, such as volume amounts and price negotiations, as well as long-term planning.”
According to Xuan, overall, the partnership is about marshalling the best advantages and resources of the three companies, combining large-scale production and supply with a wealth of new concepts, including environmental protection and sustainability, which are becoming increasingly important for companies in Asia.
“We all share many values, like the concept of environmental protection, sustainability and our image in the market. Our company concepts are very consistent with each other,” Xuan says.
A focus on sustainability, community
For Asia Symbol, joining these concepts also means working for sustainability near the communities where they operate, whether in China or Indonesia, says Hung.
In Xinhui, when the local government was planning to expand a highway early in 2018, Asia Symbol discovered that around 600 young banyan trees were going to be cut down and instead convinced them to replant the trees around the factory facilities. Around the world, some banyan trees have been known to be up to 300 years old.
“The whole factory has changed a lot in the past six months,” Hung says, displaying the new production facilities, as well as the young banyan trees now growing next to access roads around the plant. “If you come back in a couple of years, you will see big trees. Personally, I’m very proud that we were able to replant them.”
Other projects have included supporting a local marathon in Xinhui and partnering with the local newspaper Yangcheng Evening News for a series of activities that encourage children to write Chinese characters by hand on paper and not on a computer screen.
“Nowadays, there are more and more electronic products, and it is increasingly difficult for children to get familiar with traditional culture,” Hung says. “I hope that in the future, young people will be able to pick up a pen and write a personal letter to their parents or friends. That will be even more touching.”
Asia Symbol Xinhui is also part of a pilot carbon emissions trading system in Guangdong, a precursor to an eventual national trading system that is expected to develop in the coming years. Since the carbon emissions of the facility are below the quota they have been given, they are able to trade those extra carbon credits to companies that need them.
“We are always trying to reduce electricity and gas consumption,” Hung says. “In 2016 we used 600 kilowatts of energy to produce a tonne of paper, and now that is down to 520 kilowatts per tonne. Next year it will be below 500 kilowatts. Our water consumption also used to be six to seven cubic meters per tonne of paper produced, but now that is down to 5.2 cubic meters, and will soon be below 5 cubic meters.”
A nationwide focus on increasing energy and water use efficiency has also helped the industry as a whole to cut older capacity, allowing Asia Symbol to replace it with newer, more efficient production. Overall, through all these processes, Asia Symbol has now been able to achieve top ranking in the copy paper production market share in China, at around 32 per cent.
By joining forces – Asia Symbol, Ascend Suzhou and Metsä Fibre – are set to grow a sustainable partnership in the years to come.