Los Angeles-based data analytics company merQbiz® utilizes data to help companies manage their supply chains, reduce costs and increase profits. In the recycling and paper production industries, the company is focused particularly on technology solutions that deliver higher quality recycled materials and contribute to global sustainability. In the following interview, merQbiz Chief Product Officer, Christopher Brandsey, talks about how the company’s solutions are bringing a new level of transparency to recovered paper transactions; reducing downgrades and claims; and optimizing procurement, logistics and operations for recyclers and papermakers around the world.
PaperASIA: merQbiz® is a services and solutions provider for the recovered paper industry. Can you briefly describe how and in what way does merQbiz provide services and solutions to the industry?
Brandsey: As a data analytics company, merQbiz is focused on developing technologies to drive efficiencies in recycling and downstream paper production. Our solutions extend across quality, export, procurement and hardware. BaleVision™, our flagship recovered paper (RCP) quality measurement and SaaS platform connects our analytics, software, hardware and services, bringing a new level of connectivity and transparency that is crucial for our customers. We work with our customers to create customized solutions to meet their needs and promote more sustainable industry practices that positively impact the environment.
Along with our BaleVision™ platform, we have orders and claims management tools as well as a quality certification program for suppliers and exporters. The aim is to increase the confidence in material quality with independent inspections and certification of quality stateside before the shipment reaches its destination. Sellers can share our BaleFacts™ report with buyers in Asia via our platform before the shipment ever leaves the port, reducing rejected shipments and claims.
PaperASIA: Where is your market area focus, and in your opinion, which market areas would drive a higher demand for your services and solutions?
Brandsey: Our initial focus has been on building solutions and data tools for the RCP supply chain. Paper producers utilizing our technology are now able to leverage data insights to facilitate more effective conversations with suppliers and streamline downgrades and claims processing.
With a SaaS-based platform, we can easily apply our solutions to other verticals and market areas. For example, creating supply chain efficiencies with connected devices and analytics can be valuable in the manufacturing and industrial sectors.
Geographically, we first launched in North America and have since rolled out our solutions globally. Our recent product launches for exporters and suppliers are generating interest in international markets like Europe and Southeast Asia.
PaperASIA: merQbiz is a joint venture of Voith and Boston Consulting Group Digital Ventures. How has the collaboration helped in delivering quality services and solutions to your customers?
Brandsey: merQbiz initially began as a joint venture of Voith and Boston Consulting Group Digital Ventures. We were able to benefit from Voith’s expertise in papermaking and BCG Digital Ventures’ experience in digital innovation within tech start-ups. Now that our company has matured and we’ve built a strong in-house technology team, we have transitioned to become a sole venture of Voith. As a global leader in papermaking technology, Voith contributes deep industry expertise and knowledge of global markets that gives us brand recognition and the foundation to develop impactful solutions for the markets we serve.
PaperASIA: With time comes new innovations and technologies. How does merQbiz ensures that you stay innovative in providing real value to your customers?
Brandsey: Digital innovation is in our DNA and drives us to ensure our solutions provide actual value for our customers. For us, innovation needs real-world applications and must have a positive impact on our customers’ businesses. Our team is made up of industry experts with papermaking experience and digital innovators passionate about building viable technology solutions. We are unique to the industry, as we think outside the box but ensure our solutions are relevant and meaningful. Our motivation stems not only from constant innovation but also from creating solutions that enable sustainability and positive environmental impact.
PaperASIA: At the moment, you cater your services and solutions to the recovered paper industry. Is there possibility of expanding your offerings to other industries in the future?
Brandsey: We absolutely plan to expand our services and solutions beyond the RCP industry. We’re currently working on a solution for quality measurement and analytics for plastics. Our data analytics platform has application for Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) connectivity and advanced analytics for overall supply chain improvement in food production, chemicals and numerous other process industries. We have some exciting upcoming opportunities and partnerships that will help expand our reach to other sectors.
PaperASIA: One of the products by merQbiz is BaleVision™. Can you briefly describe it and how can it benefit those in the industry?
Brandsey: BaleVision™ is our solution suite and SaaS platform enabling our quality analytics, software, hardware and services. Using a near-infrared technology device, the solution measures bale content and fibre quality data (moisture, plastic, ash contamination and more) and delivers it via dashboards on the platform to our customers. It reduces the quality inspection time to minutes instead of hours.
Beyond measuring the contamination level of a bale, the analytics provide paper mills with a true cost analysis to inform purchasing decisions, better manage their supplier base, and facilitate the orders and claims management process. For recycling centres, bale data combined with market and seasonal data enables them to improve their transactional processes and market their materials better.
BaleVision™ also serves as the foundation for other solutions we’re developing. For example, our Confidence in Supply/Confidence in Exports (CIS/CIE) Quality Certification program for suppliers and exporters draws on BaleVision™ for inspecting and certifying the quality of RCP shipments. With our unique BaleFacts™ report, sellers and buyers can instantly share and view bale quality data, enabling true market pricing and helping successfully close transactions.
PaperASIA: Can you let us know some of the major industry players that are currently using BaleVision™ and what are their feedbacks on it so far?
Brandsey: While we have proprietary agreements that prevent us from disclosing specific customer data, we can affirm that merQbiz is working with several top 10 papermakers and recycling companies.
We can share that when compared to bale breaks, our BaleVision™ technology can measure the contamination breakdown of a bale much quicker and more efficiently for customers. Manual bale breaking typically requires two people and can take from an hour up to a half day to inspect one recovered paper bale. A digital inspection with BaleVision™ takes only 12 minutes to complete with one inspector or six minutes with two inspectors. For mills, these time savings also translate to opportunities for cost reduction in raw material procurement and potential for optimization within the mill’s operational and administration processes.
Some paper producers are using BaleVision™ to discover ways to maximize ROI by improving their supplier base. We’re able to provide a clear picture of supplier performance via our analytics dashboards with bale contamination breakdown, yield, landed costs and comparison between suppliers and supplier locations. By eliminating lower performing suppliers, one papermaker has calculated potential annual cost savings of over USD2 million.
Our CIS/CIE Quality Certification solution is providing confidence in material quality for suppliers and exporters. A U.S.-based materials recycling centre is using the solution to certify exports to a buyer overseas. This will not only help reduce claims and downgrades but also improve the communication and quality data sharing ability between the two parties using the BaleFacts™ report.
PaperASIA: Last but not least, the Covid-19 pandemic has taken the world by storm and with it comes the more necessary-than-ever need for everyone to digitalize. What is your opinion on this and how does merQbiz take advantage of this development?
Brandsey: Even before the pandemic, supply chain industries had begun to adopt some of the same digitalization strategies that have proven successful in sectors like retail, finance, healthcare, entertainment and education. The IIoT is making connectivity possible, allowing process companies to transform the way they do business – and this will be necessary to compete in the digital economy. We want to be on the forefront in effecting positive digital transformation for the paper and recycling industries and beyond.
merQbiz understands this dynamic and has the ability to be the bridge that connects paper producers, recycling companies and other industrial sectors to the digital world of tomorrow. These unprecedented times have forced businesses to adapt and be agile without sacrificing their promise to customers. We are nimble enough to deliver on our value propositions and adapt to changing market conditions.