The twisted heart of the toilet paper roll

The twisted heart of the toilet paper roll

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on the tissue industry. Once the pandemic had reached every continent, consumers around the world were faced with empty store shelves when looking for toilet paper. We can honestly say that toilet paper became a symbol of the pandemic.

The global paper and pulp industry was already facing enormous challenges before the pandemic: digitalization is continuously decreasing the demand for newsprint paper, as well as for printing and writing paper. Political decisions in many countries are influencing global trade, while unstable market situations are leading to volatile raw material prices that are forcing structural change on the paper industry.

Not only must manufacturers meet these challenges, they must also ensure maximum line efficiency and profitability to maintain their competitiveness in the market.

While overall demand is stable at best, there are still several sectors and regions showing solid growth. In this expert blog, I want to focus on one of the most successful: hygiene paper products.

This rapidly expanding industry sector is responding fast to rising demand for tissue paper (toilet rolls and kitchen towels), particularly in developing countries with growing incomes and an expanding middle class.

Rising global tissue production

As a belt supplier to the paper, board and tissue industry for decades, Habasit follows the industry very closely. Our research on global tissue production reveals a healthy upward trend. Here are some of the key facts:

  • China became the world’s No 1 tissue producer in 2012, overtaking the USA, which is now No 2.
  • China’s tissue and towel production is booming, and is forecast to grow to some 16.5 million MTPY in 2019 (about a third of global production).
  • As China’s economy grows, its per capita tissue consumption should also rise (it is currently less than a third of the USA’s). To reach production parity with the USA will require 2000 additional tissue paper lines – an exciting opportunity.
  • In Europe, Turkey is one of the largest tissue producers (over 1 Million Metric tons a year), similar to many Western European countries eventhough the consumption per capita is not even a half comparing to Western Europe. Turkey’s tissue mill capacity has grown faster than that of any other European country (more than doubling since 2008).
  • In Western Europe average tissue consumption is 17 kg per capita per year. Eastern Europe uses 6 kg per capita per year – so there is clearly room for growth, with Turkey and Russia expected to see strong increases in consumption.
  • In North America, tissue market demand has grown at a CAGR of 1.8% since 1996. Tissue capacity additions since 2013 show a CAGR of 1.5%.

A world of opportunities

While production growth is most dramatic in developing countries, demand continues to rise even in wealthier regions, with solid opportunities for industry expansion in many markets. But just like for every other business, the key to success is profitability. Production technology has a key role to play here. Producing products on tissue converting lines is a demanding process, involving tube winding of the board cores using power transmission belts or folder gluer belts. This is an area where Habasit offers expert input.

The low-down on tube winding

To produce the tube at the heart of every toilet roll, two glued sheets of board are twisted together in a precise and continuous process, for example using a power transmission belt.

The application conditions are extremely demanding: sticky glue, lots of dust, heavy loads, and high speeds. The tubes are typically made of recycled board, whose surfaces inevitably lead to belt abrasion. As a result, to satisfy the demands of the process, the belts must offer:

  • A constant coefficient of friction with no glazing
  • High abrasion resistance
  • Good dimensional stability
  • Good flex fatigue properties and the ability to cope with twisting

The downside of using lower-quality belts

What happens when these features are absent? Although the belts used in this application represent less than 0.05% of the overall cost of manufacturing toilet rolls, when they stop working and cause an unexpected maintenance stop, it can cost up to USD 10,000 an hour in lost production (our calculation).

A reference case

Here’s an example. We were recently approached by a customer to find a replacement for their existing tube winding application belts. These not only had short lifetimes, but also required high tensioning and extra maintenance, leading to frequent line stoppages and production losses.

Our solution was a proven power transmission belt with a PET body, moldable layers, and a high-quality NBR rubber surface. This provided the required longitudinal flexibility, precision alignment, and belt thickness for the application.

The customer now benefits from the new belts’:

  • Longer lifetime
  • Easy installation – with 50% less time needed for maintenance
  • Energy savings due to better longitudinal flexibility
  • Lower lifecycle costs, resulting in savings of USD 4,900 per annum per tube winder (with four to six tube winders per line), calculated based on the extended lifetime of the belts and reduced machine downtime costs (but excluding production losses in the calculation).

Focus on lower lifecycle costs

Given that the cost of a belt is a mere 0.05% of the total cost of making toilet rolls, but the losses incurred by poor belt performance and stoppages are extremely high, we believe that the key to efficient and profitable manufacturing is stunningly obvious: focus on lifecycle costs. It’s the best way to improve your bottom line.

Want to know more?

If you’d like more information about our tube winder application belt, or our comprehensive product range for whole tissue manufacturing and converting line, or any of our many other solution for the paper, board and hygiene industry, leave a comment or simply get in touch with me.


2020 April 15  |  Posted by

Editorial Team

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