Unicuique Suum: How Tissue Production travels from Standard to Custom… Final Destination Batman!

In an age of increasingly specific needs, production has had to diversify: and now from bathroom to kitchen, tissue paper innovation is “on a roll”. Behind this evolution stands the know-how of those who design the technology for tissue paper production.

Once there were napkins, facial tissues, and toilet paper. Then came paper towels. Nowadays, there are a thousand types of tissue paper, a clear sign of the dynamic dialog between the market and those in the supply chain.

Let’s begin with toilet paper.

The Evolution of Toilet Paper

In the beginning it was just paper, and it wasn’t too soft, to be honest. But things improved thanks to technology. Further down the line, additional variables were added: shelves filled up with new products, and a growing variety of colors, plies, decorations, and embossing options became available, always with the adaptability of production technology in the background. The Green Era we live in started off in the 1980s, when less aggressive bleaching for pulp came to fore: nowadays, unbleached products are common. Tissue engineers had to sweat over packaging as well: traditional plastic solutions were replaced with biodegradable or paper packaging, and even the possibility of selling loose rolls was considered. As always, we’ve had engineering and technology to thank for enabling news ways of thinking to become reality. How about length? In this respect tissue mills have let rip with everything from standard rolls to maxi rolls for families, compressed jumbo rolls for easier transportation, mini rolls for the hospitality industry, etc.

There was another layer of complication when additives entered the fray: aloe vera, chamomile, mauve, lily-of-the-valley, lavender… And if you think it ended there, think again! The closing strip that sticks to the roll and prevents it unfolding until first usage is constantly being examined and refined, using chemical glues, pressing, even glue-less systems that rely on water alone. The cardboard core hasn’t escaped scrutiny either: at first it was used as a communication medium, then some manufacturers got rid of it altogether. In certain circumstances toilet paper can clog drains, so companies started thinking about water-soluble dissolving paper that helps sewage systems run freely and avoids blocked train toilets…

Collective use brings its own special requirements, and single rolls just aren’t appropriate. Schools, malls and offices need toilet rolls in huge quantities: hand towels (with appropriate dispensers) made their appearance and then – to prevent thoughtless overuse – paper and dispensers with controlled tearing were produced.

Customization is another matter: graphics, logos, images, political messages were printed on every single sheet. On top of that, the request for sanitized products has emerged, together with traceability options for customers: who knows, maybe in the future we will even get holograms!

The Evolution of Paper for Household Use

Many of the developments for away-from-home toilet paper have proved equally applicable to domestic use: in particular, hand tissues were the catalyst for endless folding solutions: Z-folds, C-folds, M-folds, V-folds… all have found their way into the home in one form or another.

At a certain point, napkins started to require certification. It was an essential step for products that come into direct contact with skin, mouth, or other delicate body parts, and this to an extent redefined production procedures and the technology and chemistry of tissue making.

The Evolution of Facial Tissues

Texture, softness, size: not all facial tissues are created equal! And each type requires a unique set-up production-wise, as scents, resistance, essential oils, antibacterial treatments, and much more must be taken into account.

The Evolution of Kitchen Paper

Resistance and absorption are an absolute must for these products. Besides, nowadays there is an increasing tendency towards re-use or multi-use. To make this possible, paper engineers have turned into fiber alchemists of sorts, influencing their orientation, blending short and long fibers, managing the tridimensional finished product, measuring air, heat, and steam during production, creating hybrids with different varieties of fiber.

Paper Is Ever Evolving

Virgin fibers, fibers derived from plants never before used in tissue production, continuous testing: a single variation in each product requires significant input upstream, and considerable skill is required. If paper is ever evolving, those who design paper production facilities have to be ahead of the game.

The Complex Evolution of Paper Production Facilities

Markets and society are already quite a kettle of fish (as we have seen, production technology has to adapt for product innovation to become reality): but those who make machines for tissue paper production also have to keep their own manufacturing processes in mind. It’s not easy but it’s also an exciting challenge.

Water/energy Efficiency

About 30% of the cost of paper production is accounted for by energy. And it’s not only electricity, but also heat and water. Over the years, co-generation solutions have been developed, along with methods for process optimization; lately, smart facilities have appeared: Cognitive Computing, including artificial intelligence, has spawned new production scenarios, oriented towards the lowest energy consumption possible. Both incoming and outgoing water are optimized and use of water has plummeted (thanks to the implementation of closed cycles that allow for water reuse), and the quality of outgoing water is thoroughly tested biochemically.

Reduction of Chemical Footprint

From the chemically-based Kraft method to technologies that rely on mechanical separation, pulp processing keeps evolving. “Cleaner” techniques have been developed: the finished paper product is environmentally safe according to health standards, and production waste is as harmless as possible.

Imagining New Processes

Striving to increase efficiency and production diversification is indeed complicated, yet the hardest step is always to imagine something different. The processes behind tissue production are certainly complex in themselves: from pulping to converting these ever-evolving technologies involve extremely precise and sophisticated engineering. Tissue paper production is structured in such a way that it is extremely challenging for paper engineers to modify their mindset and think about new procedures or new ways of production. In this respect iT’s Tissue stands out, because while preserving and handing down centuries-old know-how, the network is also committed to promote young talent, which is fresh to the challenge and able to think out of the box, to create and design new production strategies.

Best Available Technologies

If one had to choose a superhero to be associated with iT’s Tissue, it would be Batman, because BATs (Best Available Technologies) are the religion that people working for our companies preach on a daily basis. As our mantra goes: It’s BATs, iT’s Tissue.