The Stermon Mills plant had four machines that were housed in their own building and were fed pulp from the mill by pipelines. Each machine operated like it was its own plant. Each machine operated three shifts, seven days a week, with a two week shutdown in the summer to perform needed maintenance procedures. The company sells to paper merchants who, in turn, sell to converters (i.e., paper envelopes and forms).
Stermon Mills’ operations strategy was to run an integrated plant that contained a pulp mill that supplied 4 different machines located within the plant site. Each machine operates independently of each other with machine #4 having nearly 50% of the output of the entire pulp mill. Machine #4’s output of 280 tons per day centers around a production of 20 lb. paper which is nearly 50% of the total plant output.
The machine also operated on a 2 week cycle. Each machine needs between 4 to 6 operators to run. Machine operators are ranked by seniority. The hourly workers belong to the United Papermakers Union (UPU). Employee turnover was very low at the plant with average length of service for a tender at the plant was 24 years.
Operation of machine had changed in the 1980’s with the use of digital computer controls. This helped machines #3 and #4 with grade changes, however, machine #3 operators proclaimed that the computer control was slower and they were able to control grade changes more effectively without computer control. Smaller machines carried out 4 to 5 grade changes within a day. Machine #4 only averaged 1 grade change a day because of the high cost of this machine when it was not running.
The data provided in the case indicates Stermon Mills would not be well served by continuing to compete as a low cost producer. This suggests that innovation and flexibility would be excellent areas to explore in terms of change.
The first option consists of upgrading machine #4 with computer control, extra dryer capacity, and better training in an effort to produce a broader range of basic weights. This option would not only appear to satisfy the strategic needs of the product lifecycle, but also the two major requirements that the sales force survey revealed, including having a broader product line and providing customization. The majority of these changes would be realized by tailoring paper to customers’ specific requirements and charging an estimated premium of 7% (before freight).
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