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Visiting Sappi’s Gratkorn Mill, Austria

Print Monthly recently got to visit Sappi’s flagship mill location to see how it’s advanced its technology

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Gratkorn Mill includes areas for pulp and paper production, paper finishing, as well as its woodyard, warehouses, utilities, and water and wastewater treatment facilities

Sappi Europe, a global supplier of pulp, biomaterials, and a range of paper products, has recently showcased the advancements and future plans of its company and Gratkorn Mill, which has completed a major part of its three-phase modernisation project.

Print Monthly got to visit the Austrian paper mill in order to witness first hand the production of multi-coated papers, label paper, and containerboard, all of which are distributed for a variety of applications across Europe.

In the UK and Ireland Magno Paper is exclusively distributed by Elliott Baxter & Company (EBB) which operates via a number of offices and warehouses throughout the UK and Ireland.

Gratkorn Mill is based next to Graz, the second-largest city in Austria

With the modernisation of Gratkorn as well as a number of Sappi production sites, the company is looking to demonstrate the consistency and quality it can provide customers, but also the help and influence it can provide in creating a more sustainable and circular economy.

Welcoming visitors to the mill was Peter Putz, mill director at Gratkorn, who was keen to demonstrate the company’s dedication to safety and a successful future for Sappi due to the commitment and values of the company and its employees.

Just outside of Graz in Austria, there is a 400-year history of paper making in the area, with the mill today employing around 1,060 workers, excluding service teams. Today Sappi continues a strong connection with the local area via training, Town Hall meetings, and the provision of district heating to Graz. 

Factoid: Sappi generates around 4.7m tons of paper production per year

For its recent modernisation project Sappi worked with suppliers like Honeywell and Siemens to upgrade and increase process visibility and better operator efficiency leading to a more stable and productive environment.

The upgrade has allowed processes at Gratkorn to operate on a single automation platform which needs less hardware therefore saving costs on spares and maintenance.

Putz along with Sandrina Machado, Sappi’s product stewardship and environmental specialist, emphasised the mill’s commitment to reducing CO2 emissions and to decarbonising operations by investing in new water turbines between 2018 and 2020 and shifting from a coal boiler to a multi-fuel boiler in 2022.

Peter Putz, mill director at Gratkorn Mill

The changes have meant Gratkorn Mill has increased its hyrdo-electric generation by almost 10% and has reduced its CO2 by over 30% along with reducing its dust and nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions.

Machado and Putz said that the water consumed by the mill is almost entirely recycled back to the local river (around 90%) as it is oxygen-aerated and fully treated in the wastewater treatment
plant before returning to the pure-water river Mur.

Factoid: 60% of the energy used at the mill is renewable energy and 40% is natural gas

Another big dedication for Sappi has been its water stewardship programme, with an average use of 25m2 per tonne of water used each year, Sappi wants to create a case study for the rest of the industry and Europe as new laws define the parameters and KPIs of what will be required regarding water treatment in the future.

Up until now Gratkorn has succeeded in modifying the pulp bleaching technology used on site, enabling more circularity of water and wastewater and the reduction of water consumption in a partially closed circuit.

By also decreasing the effluent load from the oxygen bleaching and reducing organic matter in the wastewater, Gratkorn’s characteristic magnefite pulping process remains “Total Chlorine Free” while still delivering high-yield and high-quality pulp. 

Throughout the company and its mills Sappi has been shifting energy sources and exploring green electricity to help it on its road to decarbonisation.

Switches to biomass and e-boilers in Finland and the Netherlands have also significantly reduced emissions with the company target set to reduce specific emissions by 25% by 2025 and 41.5% by 2030.

Sappi is now working on its Decarbonisation Plan for 2025-2030 as well as preparing for the European paper industry to advance towards climate neutrality and create a more responsible and transparent supply chain.

Navigating a turbulent market

A large paper reel loaded onto one of Gratkorn's large machines

Also attending the mill was John Clinton, Sappi’s European sales director since 2021 who previously oversaw the UK and Ireland business for eight years.

Clinton discussed the challenges Sappi is tackling in the industry and how it is navigating a changing marketplace.

In 2016 Sappi changed its model of how it goes to market by prioritising direct sales channels and strong distribution in certain markets, for example its distribution via EBB in the UK and Ireland.  

By seeing the changing trends and statistics in the industry Sappi is now looking to significantly increase its label papers offering by becoming “the biggest label supplier in Europe.”

With the cost of freight, energy, and pulp increasing and many paper products or markets now reduced, Clinton said the company was not looking to “reverse the trends” but make the market a more “positive picture” by investing in the promotion of print and its sustainable aspects.

Sappi emphasised that Germany’s more troublesome rebound from the pandemic has had an effect on the market as its gross domestic product output was lower than the US and the rest of the Eurozone over the past five years.

Factoid: Gratkorn Mill transports 60% of its products out of the mill by rail and 40% by truck

In order to navigate the changing landscape Clinton said that the paper and print industries would continue to see large companies consolidate but at the same time technology advancements will mean small businesses will take on bigger print jobs.

A knock-on effect of this is that companies will therefore want fewer big deliveries of stock but more small and frequent deliveries to meet shorter print runs and the short turnaround requests of customers. 

To meet these changes Sappi is reacting in the way it produces and delivers its paper but also the way it supports customers through learning material like its ‘Marketer’s Guide to Marketing in Print’.

The company’s line: “Sappi is here to help you” means as well as promoting the power of print through its own channels and different associations, it is also there to help customers with its knowledge of paper production to help processes like auditing and waste reduction in order for businesses to run more efficiently. 

Sappi also said that the industry’s evolution of paper mills in Europe is to continue to reduce the risk of damaging the graphic paper sector through the closure of small mills as well as the production of label papers.

John Clinton, Sappi’s European sales director

Clinton said Sappi wishes to improve the overall paper business by delivering quality and reliability throughout its portfolio.

The big takeaway regarding Magno is the new investments and changes at Sappi’s European mills meaning that the Magno Paper range can be delivered and produced with a consistent quality and availability throughout all its supply chains.

By focusing on the efficiency and quality of its larger mills Sappi sees the best plan forward is to turn its locations into Product Hubs that can transport stock via more sustainable routes to better supply the industry quicker and more efficiently. 

Speaking about the investment in Gratkorn Mill upon its phase two completion, Rens Huijnen, product manager at Sappi Europe, said: “This investment demonstrates Sappi’s belief in the strength and power of printed media & paper-based solutions, driving its constant investment into its production location to secure the portfolio for the long term.”

Factoid: Sappi has invested around €25m (£21.2m) in the modernisation of Gratkorn Mill 

Dominik Strommer, project manager of the modernisation project added: “By using state-of-the-art automation and electrical systems, we can not only ensure paper production for our customers at the accustomed high level, but also guarantees an easier support by our suppliers.”

By visiting Gratkorn Mill it was evident to see the strength and power driving many parts of the print industry with a realistic but positive view presented by Sappi. The industry is clearly in the right place to show that paper and print can continue to thrive and cut through the noise of digital alternatives, especially when its eco-friendly process is highlighted. 

Gratkorn Mill is based next to the river Mur

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