When Harry Chmielewski joined Domtar as a senior research scientist five years ago, he was excited to get in on the ground floor of the company’s new Personal Care division. With more than 40 years of experience in the absorbent products industry, Chmielewski has worked with leading manufacturers to create many of the innovative technologies that led to today’s diapers and incontinence care products.
“When the opportunity came up to do work in materials development at Domtar, that was exciting,” he said. “I remember Michael Fagan, president of Domtar Personal Care, telling me to swing for the fences. He made innovation a part of the business plan for the new division. We were asked to focus on patentable technology—not small, incremental changes, but something that could disrupt the industry. That was inspirational to me.”
Chmielewski is one of four research scientists and several interns led by John Costello, senior director of research and development. The Raleigh, North Carolina-based team works with product development teams across Domtar’s Personal Care division—including EAM, which specializes in designing absorbent core technology—to identify opportunities to improve Domtar’s baby diapers and adult incontinence products. They also meet each quarter with an advisory board comprising professionals in the healthcare industry who can help articulate consumer needs and offer guidance on product development.
Innovative Technologies to Watch
The research and development team, the product development teams and the advisory board have identified several innovative technologies on which to focus their efforts.
- Multilayer absorbent core, which lends itself to high-performance, garment-like products that promote skin dryness and liquid containment while using smaller amounts of superabsorbent material;
- Dryness layer, a liquid-permeable layer that improves the skin dryness of any absorbent core and is currently being used in our adult briefs;
- Skin-friendly top sheet, which uses gentler materials to create the layer closest to the skin;
- Breathable back sheet, which provides high air permeability, like that of a cotton garment, while maintaining the necessary liquid barrier properties needed in absorbent products like diapers;
- Discrete acquisition cells, a material that expands instantaneously when it comes into contact with liquid, allowing for paper-thin products with the absorption qualities that customers need; and
- New absorbent materials for underpads to provide softer and more resilient support surfaces for patient comfort.
“We are actively patenting these innovative technologies, fabricating working prototypes and putting them into clinical testing,” Chmielewski said. “We want to generate clinical test results showing that these technologies are capable of providing meaningful improvements to skin health. These are platform technologies—things that, once developed, can be used in any of our absorbent products. That’s exciting.”
Why R&D Matters
Being on the cutting edge of the absorbent products industry with Domtar reminds Chmielewski why he chose the industry for his career fresh out of college.
“For me, there’s a real thrill in the problem solving, in taking something that yesterday was only a dream and making it into a reality for our customers today,” he said. “Domtar is doing solid research and bringing innovative technologies to these products. By making our products better, we have the opportunity to improve the quality of life for many people.”