Prepared to Outperform

Quotation Mark

“We faced an amazing amount of challenges last year, and yet, thanks to the contribution mentality and can-do attitude of our employees, we did very, very well.”

Christian Fischer, CEO, Georgia-Pacific

Tyler Woolson has been Georgia-Pacific’s CFO for a long time. Fifteen years, to be exact. He has seen a lot of changes in the marketplace during his tenure, including plenty of financial ups and downs, but nothing quite like 2020.

GP started 2020 expecting improved performance over a poor 2019, but by April, with the pandemic in full swing, its results looked to be no better. By year’s end, however, GP found itself up nearly 60% for the year, with Consumer Products up close to 50% and Building Products almost quadrupling, thanks to improved pricing, demand and great efforts from its operations.
Woolson gave “a big shoutout to our employees working at our operations in the field. We can have all the price and demand in the world, but if we can’t make product and get it out the door, it doesn’t really matter.”

Christian Fischer, GP’s CEO, credits an updated Vision, a renewed focus on four critical capabilities (customer experience, demand fulfillment, manufacturing and sourcing), and above all, the performance of GP employees, for that turnaround.
“We certainly exceeded a lot of our customers’ expectations. We delivered them the goods on time and — in many cases — in unprecedented amounts,” Fischer acknowledged in an employee broadcast. “If there’s anything this pandemic has taught us and really brought home, it’s the increased sense of urgency we all feel and need to have in order to transform much more rapidly to produce better results sooner.”

GP’s performance in maintaining products in stores, responding to severe weather needs and regularly communicating with the merchandising team for Lowe’s landed GP on Lowe’s Top Performing Vendor list.

What follows are stories from two GP businesses — Building Products and Consumer Products — and some of the transformations they experienced before and during 2020.

Inline Captioned Image

This patching unit, GP’s first, was installed in 2014.

Filling in the gaps

According to Pat Boushka, the leader of GP’s Building Products business, “None of us anticipated what was going to happen last year. And none of us had ever had to deal with maintaining production during a pandemic.”

The combination of homebound do-it-yourselfers and a very active housing construction market created an unprecedented demand for building products. “There was no way we could have come close to meeting such demand on both the consumer and the commercial sides of our business had it not been for transformations at our building products plants that have been underway for years,” Boushka said. 

One of the people most deeply involved with those plant transformations is J.T. Capps, technical services group manager-plywood and lumber, for GP’s building products business. 

“When I started my career at the Corrigan, Texas, plywood plant as a college kid in 1983,” Capps said, “it took a lot of people to do all of the inspecting, sorting, routing and repairing by hand, which is not very rewarding work. We needed to find a better way.” It took decades, but what Capps and the GP team eventually helped develop was a robotic patch unit that required just two employees to operate. 

A patch unit inspects and sorts sheets of plywood as they come down the line, looking for flaws such as knotholes, cracks or other imperfections. If a problem is spotted, the affected area will be routed out and then filled with epoxy. Repairing these imperfections greatly increases the value of a sheet of plywood — and they make a lot of plywood in Corrigan. It’s GP’s highest-volume specialty plant.

“In 2014 we installed our very first robotic patch unit in Corrigan,” said Capps. “It cost almost $5 million and took up close to 3,400 square feet of floor space, but we were pretty excited about it because we helped develop the technology, which was the first in the industry.” 

It worked well; however, due to its high cost and the unique configuration of the plant, a similar machine could not be installed elsewhere in GP. “The Corrigan unit has been a great machine, but nowadays it’s sort of like an old Cadillac: big and expensive,” admitted Capps. “We’ve known for some time we need something better.”

As Capps has learned firsthand during his long career, creative destruction has a way of changing even the best of things. He is excited about the next-generation robotic patch technology GP is installing this summer at its Dudley, North Carolina, facility. The new unit is simpler, much smaller, less than half as expensive and will be totally automated.

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Next-generation robotic patch technology is being installed this summer.

Similar labor-saving improvements can be found across the business. Machines for stenciling products with the familiar GP logo, sorting sheets of plywood along the production line and stacking veneers have been installed. Some of those veneers are being moved to a warehouse by an auto-guided vehicle being tested in Madison, Georgia. The company is also investing $300 million in a next-generation wallboard plant, scheduled to be operational in 2022.

Home and away

“The pandemic really underscored the importance of accelerating our remote service capabilities,” Boushka said. “We’re investing heavily in DPO — digital process optimization. We’re using sensor data to better manage our processes and asset health, developing visualization tools to turn data into useful information and building our capability to remotely monitor sites.”

Remote monitoring devices and specialized sensors are being developed for adding to boilers, glue lines, lumber kilns and plywood veneer dryers, all in an effort to remotely monitor performance. Data analysis is helping evaluate and improve sawing operations, improving yield and recovery. And visualization tools are making it easier to supervise and operate remotely. “All of these new technologies,” Boushka explained, “are enabling us to redirect employees into better, safer and more fulfilling roles.” 

“That benefit — being able to flex our people into other roles as we add these machines — was a huge help during the pandemic last year,” Capps said. “COVID really did affect us. The number of folks who couldn’t come to work because they were sick or had to isolate and quarantine was significant. Because we overstaffed and because we had these machines, we were able to continue operating safely, maintain our performance levels and keep our productivity near normal during a time of exceptionally high demand.”

“COVID taught us a lot,” agreed Boushka. “We learned we need fewer people on the road servicing plants. We’re smarter about how we travel and manage workflow. Before, it took a week or two to get scheduled for a service visit. Now we can provide service almost immediately.” Building remote capability, he says, “means exceptions and problems can be dealt with more efficiently.”

Capps likes the way “Koch has this need to innovate and do things differently, leveraging capabilities across the platform rather than in silos. Before, we didn’t look at things as an enterprise.”

He believes Koch’s ownership of Georgia-Pacific has meant more than just the funding of new technology on the shop floor. “The biggest thing I’ve seen in the evolution of this company with Koch has been opportunity,” Capps said. “We’ve got a lot more latitude to develop, personally and professionally. We strive to design roles that enable people to excel. And because we recognize individual capability more, the fulfillment factor is huge.”

Quotation Mark

“The biggest thing I've seen in the evolution of this company with Koch has been opportunity.”

J.T. Capps, process improvement manager, Georgia-Pacific