Tissue360 - Fall/Winter 2016 - 6
Rising from the Ashes
In Greek mythology, the phoenix
is a bird that rises from the ashes of its own
destruction. The pulp and paper industry,
especially in North America, maybe should
adopt the phoenix as its symbol or mascot.
I recently visited the new von Drehle
tissue mill in Natchez, Miss. (see feature
article on page 14 of this issue). I lived in
Natchez for a short while more than a few
years ago. I had moved there from Mobile,
Ala., where I was working at International
Paper Co.'s now-closed Erling Riis Research Laboratory, part of IP's subsequently defunct Southern Kraft Division.
I worked at IP's dissolving pulp mill in Natchez, which was shut down
in mid-2003 and razed over the following years. At its peak, the Natchez
mill was the largest private employer in Adams County. At shutdown, it
employed some 600 people, down from the 1,000 or so when I was there.
(Nearly 150 were laid off in the fall of 2001.)
While in Natchez for the von Drehle story, I went by the old mill site. At
first I couldn't find it. When something this big and prominent is hacked
into a scattering of broken structures, concrete rubbish, and tall weeds,
it's hard to find.
The IP Natchez mill had 23 big batch digesters, a power plant, chemical
recovery, a pulp machine, an expansive woodyard, waste treatment, and
supporting office buildings. Now the only things somewhat recognizable
are the concrete steps leading into what used to be the main administration building and the cracked layers of asphalt that was the front parking
lot. I went up those six steps and was able to find where I think my office
Looking out of where I believe my office window overlooked the mill,
I saw an apocalyptic horror-a field of twisted reinforcing bars, busted
up cement pads and walls, broken glass, various colored metal and plastic
pieces, and some things I didn't recognize as matter-extending pretty
far into the distance.
POWER OF TRAINING
The next morning I was at the new von Drehle mill, more or less down
the street. The new mill is actually a makeover of the old Mississippi
River Pulp (MRP) deinked wet lap pulp mill that had come to Natchez
in the dying years of IP's mill there. The facility was originally Diamond
KEN PATRICK, Editorial Director/Associate Publisher
LARRY N. MONTAGUE, President & CEO, TAPPI
ERIC FLETTY, VP Operations, TAPPI
JAN BOTTIGLIERI, Editorial Director, Paper 360
Co., making egg carton and other products from newsprint, and was
acquired by MRP in 1995. In mid-2012, MRP went bankrupt and von
Drehle acquired the operations in early 2013. They extensively rebuilt the
pulp mill and installed the first Valmet NTT tissue machine in the U.S. It
started up this past March 31.
Having been at the razed nightmare of my former mill the afternoon
before, going through the doors of the von Drehle mill was like walking into the future, or maybe the past, from another perspective. It was
like a new mill risen from the ashes of the old MRP and the IP mills in
Natchez-like a phoenix.
This mill was beautifully structured and clean. The NTT machine and
machine room was relatively smooth and quiet (I've been in mills where ear
plugs have to wear ear plugs), and the converting plant was sparkling new.
As detailed in the article, one of the especially critical factors in von
Drehle's success at Natchez has been operator training. The mill had
only three papermakers (one was Gary James, who headed up the mill's
training program) when the time came to get things moving forward.
Fortunately, the team was able to hire a bunch of operations people from
the energy sector.
Gary tapped into NC State University's expertise to get the training
program underway. N.C. State, Gary says, had some experience with
NTT-the basic concept, how it works, etc.-and the whole mill went
through that training. VonDrehle also used some of TAPPI's elearning
courses in its training effort. This was followed by site specific process
training for six weeks. Altogether, the team did about 20 weeks of training.
With such a well-trained crew, together with some of the industry's
best technology and equipment, Gary described the March 31 startup as
a "blessing." Tissue was on the reel the first try, and the mill made 27 tons
of sellable paper the first day.
Von Drehle's Natchez operations currently employ some 125 people,
a number that is expected to ratchet up to near 150 as the mill brings its
fifth converting line up and moves toward sustained, maximum output.
That's not near the 1,000 jobs at IP's Natchez mill when I was there, but it's
a start. Von Drehle has built-in plans to add a second machine at Natchez,
maybe in the not too distant future. Perhaps then more converting capacity
will also be added, and the mill will move nearer that of the IP mill in the
early 2000s-rising from the ashes, so to speak.
Editorial Director/Associate Publisher, Tissue 360o
BK Publication Design
MONICA SHAW, Editorial Director, TAPPI Journal
Tissue360º FALL/ WINTER 2016