One on One with Stefano Di Santo

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“We believe B2B is dead, it’s no longer a discussion to please our client’s technical needs. The thing is now, how can we help you sell more?”

This is how Stefano Di Santo, CEO of the Perini Group, describes Fabio Perini’s current approach with its clients. “Five years ago, we started a new trend, which is actually the difficult part of toilet paper, selling, not the making part. For many years, the production capabilities were the concern of this industry ‘how to make one more roll per minute’. This time is gone. Now the challenge is how we can help our clients sell their product.”

Di Santo explains that today’s converters are more worried about finding a (right) spot in retail shops- which is becoming harder due to competition- than achieving more speed on their machines. The increase in competition is evident in the increase of product offerings on the supermarket shelves, and the fierce advertising to attract the consumer’s attention. This is where Perini’s approach in investment planning plays a major role by delivering innovation that would be visible and more appealing to the consumer, “Visibly more, that’s what drives us” confirms Di Santo. Clients will thus be able to lean on this “visible and recognizable” difference, to promote their product and boost sales.

Constellation is visible difference

Fabio Perini’s shift to a new B2C approach that aims at studying and interpreting downstream trends, turning them into new finished products and then moving back upstream to consequently develop the machines that can deliver these products, led to the birth of Constellation™, Fabio Perini’s newest converting technology.

Launched in June 2015, the new technology has quickly become a success on a global scale: in just 22 months, over 71 lines have been sold throughout the 6 corners of the world.

“Constellation is our biggest development in terms of technology; it embeds a great deal of innovation and is a clear example of shifting priorities from the ‘rolls per minute’ to calling for the consumer’s attention”. Di Santo explains why Constellation™ stands out in the market; the distinctive benefits of the machine, he says, are obvious in the areas of product differentiation and ease of operation. The technology helps preserve the fibers’ strength, so shorter fibers can be used, translating to less expensive tissue paper. The innovative winding system improves finished product quality both in terms of embossing (prevents stretching) and bulk retention in the finished products. When compared to current rewinding technologies, Di Santo pledges that the same quantity of paper can be used to produce rolls with a larger diameter, or produce rolls with the same diameter but using less paper. These features combined have given Perini the chance to keep its clients happy, globally. “But for us, the most important feature is that [the process] is easy to understand and easy to operate,” Di Santo says, “the lack of skilled operators will no longer be a concern”.

In addition to the above, Constellation’s new winding method can reduce production costs due to an enhanced operator interface and simplified product change operations, and thus raises safety standards.

From concept to execution

“We are innovating heavily, and oftentimes we need a ‘field test’ to avoid under-delivering or over-proposing. Therefore, we seek partnerships with our customers,” Di Santo explains. “The Constellation concept was presented at ‘iT’s Tissue 2013’, in what we call a ‘technological leakage’ where we invite our international VIP clients to present a preliminary technology. The presentation is carried out with each customer separately to explain the benefits and opportunities lying within the technology, which gives all customers ample space to discuss and understand the new technology, this also ensures we are giving our clients equal opportunity to benefit from this technology,”

“Sofidel, was the first customer to say, ‘I’ll take it’. So, we developed a partnership agreement for R&D activity on the new Perini Constellation rewinder technology, with a commitment from Sofidel to purchase a number of machines in line with their plans of entering the European and American markets.” Di Santo confirms that the partnership was a win-win situation, where Perini had the possibility to quickly test its technology, and Sofidel was the first client to benefit from it, having a real production file which accelerated its penetration into new markets. “Without this possibility, we wouldn’t have been where we are today, these kinds of partnerships fortify our position as a technology trendsetter and a market leader”.

The rewinding concept was tested on a reduced-scale pilot machine. Industrial-scale production was launched in 2015, successful proofing on the pilot machine.

“We currently have several partnerships, but I cannot disclose additional information, because the products have not yet seen the light. We’re still in ‘baking process’, but there will be another technological leakage during ‘iT’s Tissue 2018’, and we are excited to find out who will grasp this opportunity and become part of a new breakthrough in technology”.

Perini’s approach in the Middle East

“I have my own experience in the Middle East, and was very pleased of what I learned from it, ‘Business goes always first’”, Di Santo smiles. “In this respect, it’s a very fertile land for business, there’s a lot of opportunities, quick decision making, and even a lot of unexploited potential in the Middle East”.

Di Santo argues that a supplier cannot have the same approach in all markets, “we tune ourselves to the world, and listen to each market where the needs are different, culture is different, sales is different, and consumers behave differently too, thus our ability to adapt to the different market requirements, this actually brings new products”.

Perini has two types of lines adapted for the Middle East market, MYLINE and MYSINCRO, these lines are “mid-level” in terms of pricing and are very well performing in developing countries. “You buy the Perini name, with all the expertise we have, yet in a fraction of the cost of the Constellation products for example”.

Drivers for innovation

Although the toilet roll did not evolve since 126 years (the patent is dated 22nd of December 1891) Stefano Di Santo reasons that there’s always room for innovation, mainly driven by technological advances and environmental considerations. The future, he says, is “digital and ecological”.

Fabio Perini coined the term Digital Tissue™ to describe the company’s active pursuit to keep up with Industry 4.0 technology and consequently IoT. Perini is an All-in-One provider of production solutions, offering complete lines that integrate converting and packaging by the use of interconnected machines on a single remotely controllable platform, and featuring preventive maintenance, thus optimizing efficiency, reducing costs and maximizing product quality.

Di Santo also goes on to explain how environmental pressure has pushed the company to find further solutions that consume less power, reduce waste, and use less or no glue in the system.

“Innovation in the market, I just measure it with tangible facts: number of patents. We spend considerable resources on innovating new solutions, about 5% of our 300 M turnover is dedicated to this purpose, and this is clearly exhibited in the large number of patents we have filed”.

An example of a Perini patent is the SOLID+ roll with the innovative characteristic of being a “full” roll, with no central hole, instead, it contains a mini-roll as its “kernel”, which can be used as a portable device. Perini also innovated in packaging: “usually the package has two welded sides, which creates printing constraints”, says Di Santo, “we were the first to be able to print on the six sides of the package; we can also customize specific labels on the two welded sides of the package. These two innovative technologies align with our aim to deliver ‘visible’ differences in our products”.

Challenges ahead

On challenges, Di Santo explains that “One challenge is the supply chain evolution which can change everything. Converters spend considerable effort trying to convince their retail customers to buy their products, if online supply chains such as Amazon takes in, there will be no retail shops anymore (i.e., supermarkets). So that’s a big challenge for the industry, converters are worried. Online supply chains can also influence the product in itself, according to Di Santo; to justify delivery costs, these may put pressure on converters to change the product format and weight, “converters have to be ready”.

“China is also a challenge, because China will not stay the same for the next ten years, it will expand.”

Di Santo continues, “China has already surpassed Western Europe last year in terms of consumption. Ten years ago this was not considered to be possible, and I can guarantee that in three years, China is going to take over the US, too”, Di Santo details, “China’s population is 1.5 billion, five times that of the US, so if a single person in China uses one roll per year, this will leave the US behind. Per capita tissue consumption in the US is about 30Kg; in China, it is just 2Kg, but this distribution is not linear, means any increase in consumption number in China will reverse the current scheme”.

“China already has the same number of converters than the rest of the world. The total number of converters worldwide is, excluding China, 1600 converters; China has 1500 converters, meaning China needs to globalize. Sooner or later they need to globalize.

Shandong Tranlin Paper is already in the US, which nobody thought was possible previously. Others will surely follow. So, the US is not ‘safe’ anymore”, Di Santo concludes.

The future of tissue

When asked if he believes the future of tissue is in converting, “for sure it is, because thank God there will never be e-toilet paper”, Di Santo answered, amused. “We had e-books, e-commerce, e-mails but no e-toilet papers. So there’s no substitute for toilet paper. Converting is the only way to translate an industrial size into a workable, handy format.”

A close view of the Constellation machine during production A toilet roll produced on Constellation machine The SOLID+ roll Stefano Di Santo, CEO of Perini Group