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Fortress to run FSC as “swing” mill

October 14, 2013, Vancouver - Fortress Paper Ltd. has completed its initial strategic assessment and testing of alternatives for the Fortress Specialty Cellulose (FSC) Mill  and has determined that the best possible strategy is to operate the FSC Mill as a "swing mill".


October 15, 2013
By Scott Jamieson

With minor modifications and no capital expenditure, the FSC Mill in Lebel-sur-Quevillon, QC will be capable of swinging production from dissolving pulp to northern bleached hardwood kraft (NBHK) pulp. As a result of the flexibility derived from being a “swing mill”, the FSC Mill will be able to lower its cost structure accordingly when redirecting production from dissolving pulp to NBHK pulp, which, relative to dissolving pulp, is simpler to produce and has a higher yield derived from the same fibre source. In addition, the simplified production process and higher yield of NBHK pulp will result in an increase in production capacity at the FSC Mill by approximately 25% based on producing NBHK pulp compared to dissolving pulp.

In keeping with the company’s strategy of producing low-cost, high-quality pulp products, the FSC Mill will produce, among other products, specialty maple NBHK pulp, a product ideally suited for premium packaging, tissues and toweling, and other technical and specialty papers, due to its excellent smoothness, opacity, bulk and cleanliness and dissolving pulp. The production of other specialty hardwood pulp will be evaluated over the next few months.

The FSC Mill has extensive experience in both NBHK pulp and dissolving pulp production. Leveraging this expertise, Fortress anticipates the FSC Mill will require no down-time to modify operations into a swing mill.

The primary difference between dissolving pulp production and NBHK pulp production is the additional chemical processes that dissolving pulp must undergo. This results in lower yields and higher costs. Given current market conditions for dissolving pulp, the company has determined that the FSC Mill can improve margins by redirecting its production capacity to lower-cost NBHK pulp production, which does not require this additional process. The ability of the FSC Mill to pivot its production in this manner to improve margins is reflective of the strategic benefit to the company of diversifying the FSC Mill’s production capabilities, management says.

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The “swing mill” capability serves as a hedge against price shocks and demand changes in the market for dissolving pulp. In addition, this improved production flexibility will allow the company to mitigate any adverse impacts resulting from the threatened imposition of a dumping tariff by China’s Ministry of Commerce on the import of Canadian dissolving pulp into China.

Yvon Pelletier, president of Fortress Specialty Cellulose Inc., commented: “The redesign of the FSC Mill will create an exciting opportunity for Fortress Paper to operate as a ‘swing producer’ of pulp products. We will now be capable of quickly shifting production at the FSC Mill between different products to maximize margins in response to changing market conditions. This opportunity is unique to us due to the configuration of the FSC Mill and our extensive experience in producing both dissolving pulp and NBHK pulp and eventually other specialty hardwood grade pulps. We believe we can leverage this expertise to improve our bottom line.”