Paper science and engineering students from North Carolina State University saw more than just pulp and paper mills on this year’s Paper International Experience (PIE) trip to Domtar’s Personal Care operations in Toledo, Spain.
The leap from paper science to personal care was a first for the PIE program and the 32 students who participated, but it’s not unusual for Domtar. People, expertise and raw materials flow between our two major businesses, both within North America and across the Atlantic.
The most obvious example of this is fluff pulp, which is manufactured at our U.S. pulp mills and shipped to the Toledo plant for use in absorbent cores. Daniel Richardson, who interned twice at Domtar’s pulp and paper mill in Ashdown, Arkansas, before participating in this trip, felt an immediate connection.
“When I was an intern at Domtar, I was able to contribute to improving both the efficiency of the new fluff pulp machine and the quality associated with the product. We worked with employees from the Plymouth Mill to help us improve the process,” he says. “And it’s neat that pine trees from back home are being used to make products across the world.”
Paper Science and Personal Care Go Hand in Hand
One of the Domtar hosts, Jacob Vrooman, is also a transplant. He’s a 2013 graduate of the Paper Science and Engineering program at N.C. State, and — like Richardson — started as an engineering intern at the Ashdown Mill. Vrooman now works in Spain and is responsible for light incontinence products as part of the Global Design team, demonstrating by example that a career path can take unexpected turns.
For the engineering and paper science students who participated in the trip, the differences between pulp and paper manufacturing and personal care were notable. Participant Audra Chenoweth has worked in a fluff pulp manufacturing facility, but she had never seen a converting facility before. She was impressed with the speed of the machines, and even more so with the complexity required to make and test such a wide range of products, from adult briefs to feminine hygiene pads.
“While all of the products use similar raw materials, the construction of each is unique to what the consumer needs,” she says. “I also found the product quality testing to be extremely interesting. Lab technicians are able to analyze absorbency, strength, size and usability with the use of mannequins and synthetic urines.”
Vrooman says that the students were able to take their engineering and paper science knowledge and apply it to our personal care processes. “They were curious about operational efficiencies and the production challenges. They were adept at taking a problem-solving point of view, which is important for aspiring engineers, no matter the industry.”
Jose Castellanos, director of business support, was impressed with the students’ curiosity and the sophistication of their questions. “They see beyond what’s right in front of them,” he says.
For example, the students showed great interest in the plant’s commitment to sustainability and customer care.
“The facility recycles almost all of the goods that don’t meet consumer specifications. From the fluff pulp to the plastic used for the stretchy waistbands of diapers — everything gets reused,” says Chenoweth. “It’s satisfying to know that large companies like Domtar are conscious of their role in finding sustainable products and manufacturing methods.”
Likewise, Richardson appreciated the company’s mission to champion health, dignity and comfort for consumers and caregivers. “It was very memorable to not only see the production rate but also to learn about how these products are necessary for various aspects of human life,” he says.
Following the tour, the group met with management over lunch. Crichton Waddell, vice president of operations at the Toledo plant, talked to the students about their paper science and engineering program and their future career opportunities. He also shared some of what he has learned running tissue mills for his previous employer in Thailand and the United Kingdom.
Med Byrd, director of undergraduate programs at N.C. State, accompanied the students on this year’s trip. “In the USA, Domtar is one of our strongest corporate partners and supporters, and many of our paper science and engineering students land at Domtar either as interns or as full-time employees,” he says. “It is gratifying to see that support here in Spain through the outstanding hospitality offered to us by the Toledo facility.”