Students get behind-the-scenes look at paper mills

  • Tim Hagenbuch, WestRock, explains the paper drying process to students.

  • Touring the recycling yard, where bales of recyclables are stored.

  • Observing recyclable materials as they enter the pulping process.

  • Paper as it exits the drying process and enters winding.

  • Students observe the finished recycled paper roll.

Students from WMU’s paper engineering program visited two paper mills in September to get a close-up view of different mill operations and have a chance to meet with alumni and hear about their careers since joining the paper industry. First stop was the WestRock Mill in Eaton, Ind., where students toured the facility, learning about the delivery and sorting of bundled fibers arriving from recycling centers, the various grades of recycled fiber used, and the unwrapping and initial cleaning-out of debris -- such as bags, bottles, engines -- that material recycling centers failed to remove. They also saw the pulping of these fibers from various market pulp sources, wastewater treatment facilities that enable the plant to be totally enclosed and self-sufficient, and the forming, pressing, and drying operation from the multi-cylinder former to the dry-end winding and shipping.

Students then headed to Valparaiso, Ind., to visit Pratt Industries Mill – a mill that incorporates state-of-the-art recycling equipment and a dual fourdrinier forming section to produce a two-layer linerboard. The mill produces 400,000 tons per year, and is fully integrated with a corrugating operation that converts the finished product to boxes for customers and sheets of corrugated material that are printed and converted by others.

Students were enthusiastic about the visits and agreed the field trips are an invaluable part of the paper engineering program. "Being new to the program, it was a great opportunity to see the mills,” said sophomore Emily Schulte. “We saw one that was over a 100 years old as well as a start up, and made comparisons between the two.”

Freshman Ben Agay said he is looking forward to visiting other mills in the future. “This was the first time I’d actually been inside a paper mill and I absolutely loved it,” he said. “Going on this field trip allowed me to fall in love even more with paper engineering.”