Aikawa Fiber Technologies (AFT)
About: Jacques Beauchemin - President & CEO
Canadian CPA with over 35 years of experience in an international manufacturing environment. A strong belief in continuous improvement philosophy and sharing best practices. A collaborative management style with a reputation for building teamwork within the global organization. Focused on aligning the input of multidisciplinary, talented people who can tackle problems and turn them into opportunities for improvement to better serve AFT customers, contribute to their productivity, and support sustainability efforts.
1. With advanced components, capital equipment, and system optimization service, AFT is a worldwide supplier serving clients in many key markets. How do you feel in such a manner?
AFT is specialized in pulp and paper stock preparation and approach flow systems. With over 100 years of experience in that domain, we focus on sustainability by offering solutions that allow our customers to produce more while using less energy, water, and chemicals. Our solutions are tailored to the customer’s furnish, their application, and the end product being produced to optimize their return on investment. We have our proprietary simulation software called SimAudit™that helps in the evaluation and selection of appropriate equipment to fit the specific customer needs.
2. What expansive abilities do AFT have that permit manufacturing of equipment and specialized engineered components, as well as rebuild services?
AFT has five manufacturing facilities strategically located around the world to serve our customers: one in the Americas, one in Europe, and three in Asia. Our engineering team is using a collaborative data platform to share information and manage each customer project with the highest expertise inside our group.
3. How does AFT bring innovative technologies, equipment, and services to support its clients in stock preparation?
AFT has access to a full-scale pilot plant that belongs to our parent company Aikawa Iron Works in Japan. This allows us to do real-world experimentation and gather relevant data to prove our product concepts. We also have a network of collaborative research centers and universities that we tap into for different scientific expertise. Our former owner was the leader in simulation technology in the aerospace industry and medical industry, so we inherited this knowledge and applied it to our SimAudit™ proprietary software, permitting us to consider all the important input from the customer and virtually simulating their actual situation and comparing it with our valued-added proposal. Therefore, it allows us to be confident in providing the right solution to our customers that we can back up with our performance warranty.
4. Although AFT is most popular for fiber screening and refining technologies in the recycled and virgin pulp markets, what comparative advancements do you offer for food and particle separation?
Although 90% of our manufacturing is related to the pulp and paper industry, with our large manufacturing machining tools we can offer precise stainless steel machining work for OEMs in the water treatment and food industries. Our commercial focus is predominantly toward end-users of the pulp and paper industry but we have close relationships with OEMs in other industries as well.
5. How does AFT set clear expectations on wellbeing norms and equip employees with the abilities important to advance security in their different territories of work?
Our employees are our biggest assets. We provide them with competitive salaries and fringe benefits. We have a flat organization that allows us to communicate well with our employees - they understand the company’s multiple challenges and participate in our continuous improvement programs. Our top priority at our manufacturing locations is the safety and health of our employees. We have a mix of direct and staff employees that make up the health and safety committee, identifying potential problems, and implementing solutions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, our manufacturing locations have remained open, with each factory following closely their local governmental health advisories and diligently putting them in place. We have learned new ways of communicating and “seeing” equipment in these challenging times - all making us more responsive.
6. AFT principally focuses on the “D” in R&D developing fundamental research into real-life solutions. Would you be able to locate a few models where and how this was practiced?
It is true that when we are at the product development stage, we are focused on the “D” in R&D. But we also sponsor Master's and Ph.D. student programs with collaborative universities where we target fundamental research on how the furnish interacts with our equipment. For example, our rotor offerings have expanded a lot during the last 20 years as a result of fluid dynamic fundamental studies.
7. How would you lead full-scale testing to evaluate enhancements at AFT? What's more, how is accomplished for progressively complex changes even?
As I mentioned earlier, our owners have their own full-scale pilot plant where we can evaluate our new product designs before launching them. Our science applied approach ensures that we offer products that meet customer needs, and we are continuously improving their strength and wear life because we know that less downtime for our customers means better performance. Our products may sometimes be more expensive on a per-unit basis but the customer cost per ton is much smaller when using our value-added products - and there is certainly a cost-benefit of using advanced technology products.
8. Can you give our perusers a concise diagram of SimAudit™?
AFT SimAudit™ is a unique modeling tool that provides us with a representation of the process equipment at a customer site where we are evaluating many variables such as energy, capacity, furnishes type, etc. We can simulate individual unit operations or an entire process line to accurately predict the benefits of our proposed solutions. We are continuously reinvesting into our SimAudit™ software to make sure that it evolves with the constant changes in our equipment and industry.
9. What should clients and possibilities anticipate from AFT?
We have an experienced team of application engineers supported by our product and manufacturing technology team that makes sure we deliver our promise of valued added performance products to our customers. AFT will be present at the startup of the equipment and will continuously monitor the situation to make sure that our tailored solution is delivering the expected benefit. COVID has accelerated our adoption of video tools to maintain undisrupted service support.
10. AFT has as of late opened a business office in St. Petersburg, on the side of the developing open doors in the Russian commercial center. What is its opinion about the extension and are there any new pursuits coming up?
AFT’s global sales team is a combination of direct employees and technical sales representative agents. Our goal is to have the best person representing AFT in a given territory. Last year, we made changes in Russia because the sales agent with whom we had a very long term relationship was restructuring. We negotiated with them to take the employees that were specialized in our products and have them work directly with AFT. So it is the same team of people as before but being paid differently. We made a similar change in India a few years ago and have grown our direct employee team there to address the increasing demand for this market.
11. In this current pandemic circumstance, how AFT and its workers are staying centered to support the accessibility of things as a feature of the essential business sector supply chain?
At the beginning of the pandemic, we needed to qualify our business as part of the supplier network for the essential pulp and paper industry. In parallel, our local manufacturing teams with the help of the employees involved in the health and safety committee developed a specific action plan to protect our employees: from sanitization of work stations between shifts to the safe distancing of employees with mandatory usage of face shields and masks when proximity could not be avoided. They followed the governmental health instructions and made sure that employees were following the new COVID-19 health and safety protocols. For our employees that normally visit customers, we have established travel guidelines that are also aligned with the requirements and restrictions of each customer. As the market has started reopening, we still need to continuously remind our team to remain vigilant. We are also using video tools in some exciting new ways to be present at a mill when we cannot visit immediately.
12. Pulp and Paper Technology is an associating point for buyers and suppliers over the worldwide Pulp and Paper industry. What's your opinion about our site which advances and brands Pulp and Paper industry today on such a wide scale?
As a supplier to the pulp and paper industry with a focus on business-to-business commercial activities, our marketing efforts are centered primarily in recognized industry magazines and websites that cater to pulp and paper manufacturers. The Pulp and Paper Technology platform certainly fits our goal as a place where we can take advantage of your customer base to reach as many people as possible.