María José Aguerrebere could be called a UPM veteran, as she has already worked for the company for 18 years. After finishing her chemical engineering degree – specialising in the pulp and paper industry – she joined the company before the Fray Bentos mill was constructed. Most recently Aguerrebere has been appointed technical customer service manager for the Americas markets. She advises and consults customers on matters such as finding the best pulp mix and process adjustments to meet the required use and optimising cost and performance.
“The North and South American markets differ from the more traditional markets for UPM, such as Asia or Europe. It is still a relatively new market for UPM, which means working more closely with customers to explain the quality and properties of our pulps,” Aguerrebere says.
Customers in the Americas have appreciated the comprehensive portfolio of fibres that UPM offers, “the best of North and South” as Aguerrebere describes them. Another advantage has been UPM’s research and development centres, one of them at the Fray Bentos mill. Pulp samples from customers can be taken to the centre for analysis.
“We can show how our pulp performs compared to the pulp that customers may currently be using. We can assist in every step of the process, from adjusting the furnish composition and refining parameters to optimising operations,” says Aguerrebere.
A learning experience
Twenty thousand kilometres from Montevideo, Aguerrebere’s colleague is busy at work in Shanghai, China. Xu Wenxia has been in the position of technical customer service manager for the Asia and Pacific area for 10 years, having previously worked at the UPM research centre in China. The core of her work is advising and assisting customers with buying the pulp to produce their products. Technical customer service experts can also help customers with test runs and offer benchmark simulations for different process conditions. Asia is an important market for UPM pulp and being close to customers geographically is a big advantage, Wenxia Xu says.
“During the past decade, we have gained an ever-deepening understanding of the various end uses and how our customers do business,” she says.
All customers have different needs, so cooperation with technical support helps them get the most out of the product, Xu explains. Assistance in troubleshooting with customers is provided by the UPM research and development centre, located in Changshu, some 100 kilometres from Shanghai. Recently, customers have also been interested in learning about UPM’s experiences with sustainability topics and environmental performance, as China is setting stricter energy consumption and emissions policies, she notes.
The UPM Paso de los Toros pulp mill is currently in a commissioning phase, where pulp production equipment is being tested before production begins. The project has been followed with excitement by the Shanghai technical customer service team. With the opening of the Paso de los Toros mill, pulp production in Uruguay is set to more than double from the current 1.3 million tonnes that the UPM Fray Bentos mill produces annually.
“Since 2020, our focus has been preparing for the new volume coming to the Asia Pacific market. We have met with customers, held seminars, and presented different aspects and abilities of our pulp,” Xu explains.
One of the questions that is of interest to technical customer service professionals is the steady quality of pulp. Although two separate mills will produce pulp in the future, the consistency will be ensured by identical production processes.
Even though the technical customer service professionals are located geographically far from each other, there is a strong sense of team effort in how they describe their work. The network is solid.
“The cooperation inside UPM is excellent. We can share information and learn from each other – from technical representatives at each mill to research centres and sales,” Xu sums up.
Text: Anna Gustafsson