June 27, 2022

IP honors Bucksport teams for new paper type

BUCKSPORT – Paper isn’t just paper.

It’s weight. It’s chemistry. It’s money. And it’s work for two teams of employees at International Paper Co.’s mill that spent years developing a new lightweight paper for Time, People and Sports Illustrated magazines and their 10 million subscribers.

The project worked, and on Wednesday IP gave corporatewide recognition to the Bucksport mill’s No. 1 paper machine line and the technical department.

The grade of paper is now known as “30-pound Maine bulk.” It is lighter in weight than the 32-pound sheet the mill used to make for Time.

So it has helped to reduce that magazine’s mailing costs substantially, said mill spokesman Keith Cunningham. In the process, the paper has maintained the print quality and sharpness of image that advertisers demand.

That was the challenge the two mill departments faced as they worked on the idea, said Mark Hunter, who was the line manager for the mill’s No. 1 and 2 paper machines at the time.

They were actually working to solve a different problem that Time representatives had raised, he said.

Time was looking for a paper that would reduce glare for the reader yet maintain a sharp image.

As the line team and the technical department came closer to solving that problem, they realized they might be able to expand on what they were doing.

“We saw we could make it lighter,” Hunter said. “Then we knew we had something.”

It didn’t happen overnight, however. The two teams worked for years to develop the new paper.

“We wanted a lighter paper, but it had to have the same feel. The readers want the heft of the bulkier magazine,” Hunter said. “Also, we had to be concerned about opacity. You don’t want to see the back side of the sheet. So we had to maintain all those critical specifications.”

The team also had to be concerned about the overall quality of the paper and particularly about “picking,” which occurs when wood fibers push up through the coating. Using a thinner coating, the teams had to modify the way the fibers were processed in order to reduce the chance of such picking.

The new paper was developed using the No. 1 machine at the mill, and the new process has helped to keep the 70-year-old machine viable.

“That machine was one of the original machines at the mill,” Cunningham said. “By developing this grade of paper on this machine, we’ve been able to keep the machine competitive in a global economy.”

Time, a unit of Time-Warner Inc. and one of the mill’s largest customers, began using the new paper a little more than a year ago, starting slowly at first and then expanding its use to the three major magazines it publishes: Time, People and Sports Illustrated. The 30-pound Maine bulk has become the “paper of choice” for pressroom operators because of its excellent run ability, Cunningham said.

The mill has expanded its production of the new paper and now offers it to other customers as well.

The No. 1 paper machine line and the technical department were awarded IP’s 2000 Customer First Contest Spotlight Award, recognizing their work.

“This is exciting news for us here at Bucksport given that we’ve only been part of the IP family for less than a year,” said Fred Oettinger, the mill manager. “All employees here in Bucksport are dedicated to providing the best products and service possible to every one of our customers.

“To have this team singled out [for] one of the best customer-focused initiatives in our company is a testimony to what we’re all striving to do with our customers, with people and with operational excellence,” Oettinger said.

Employees shared Oettinger’s enthusiasm Wednesday.

“This was a very pleasant experience,” said Bill Hoffman, a coating process engineer at the mill.

“The best indicator for long-term security in this industry is to give the customer what they want,” said Brian Abbott, a millwright at the mill. “What goes out has to be the best you can make. And you need to make sure you give them what they ask for.”

The employees received the award during a brief ceremony at the mill. In recognition of the award, the mill provided a buffet lunch for all mill employees, and presented each one with a flashlight denoting the “spotlight” award.

IP’s guidelines for receiving the award included delivering exceptional value to the customer, establishing successful methods and techniques to improve quality, creating a solid business impact and reacting positively to customer feedback. Oettinger said 98 teams companywide were nominated in this year’s competition; 22 received the award.

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