May 4, 2016  
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3 Things about the Paper Industry I Wish Id Learned Sooner

By Sarah Garchinsky

I come from a research and development background, with no previous paper experience. Now that I’m working regularly in mills, here are a few things that I wish I learned sooner about the paper industry:

  1. 1. The opportunity to learn

When I was looking for a job my last semester of college, I began looking in all the common chemical industries, such as consumer chemicals and pharmaceuticals, since these were the most talked-about industries among my peers. When I looked at what was available in the places I was interested in living, I realized that the specialty chemical industries were also an option. It turns out the specialty chemical industry I pursed was for the paper industry… an industry with which I had no prior experience.

I began to conquer the learning curve of the industry by taking company-provided classes and lectures. Yet the real opportunity to learn came when I actually got to spend more than a day in a paper mill (which is a special case for R&D), when I took my first project to trial. I learned so much in just a week by asking questions, tracing pipes, and solving problems on the fly. I highly recommend it for anyone who has never spend significant time in a paper mill. I have yet to meet anyone in the paper industry who isn’t willing to share knowledge on any subject—all you need to do is ask—which is why I wish I would have learned to do so sooner. My career thus far in the paper industry has been challenging (in a good way) and the challenging parts are where I have really expanded my horizons.

  1. 2. The mechanisms of stock flow

This is a big one for me! I recently worked on a project where I needed to dilute down stock and run it though an external process. The engineering of the system seemed great and the equipment check out went well, until we introduced the process to a stock system instead of water. This is the point in my project where I learned about things such as “stock stapling” and “stock dewatering”—far from the perfect systems I had studied in college. Stock is definitely a class all on its own. This is something I wish I had learned sooner, which would have saved me a lot of time (and money)!

The nature of stock flow is so different than anything I had previously experienced. As you can imagine—with stock stapling and stock dewatering—this is also where I learned how to clean out just about any plugged valve or pipe. A real feel for the mechanisms of stock flow is something that can’t be learned from a book; it’s something that must be experienced to understand. I also wish I had learned sooner how the mechanisms for stock flow are different for various fiber classes. When I had perfected the process I described above for tissue grade, I thought I was successful… only to try with packaging furnish and have the entire process fail due to the increase in fiber length!

  1. 3. Millennials + paper industry = An industry on the cutting edge

I am currently active in TAPPI’s Young Professionals Division, meaning I am also a millennial. Since joining my company, I am able to participate in many projects to which I can offer beneficial insight, because we millennials were raised with technology at our fingertips. This allows us to re-visit older technology and help to give it a “millennial upgrade”. As millennials we can create innovation for the paper industry that helps to keep the paper industry competitive in the digital age.

Young professionals often sit in meetings with those who have multitudes of experience, feeling as though they don’t really have anything valuable to contribute to the conversation, when in reality mixing experience with new technological concepts is a powerful combination. It challenges older and younger generations to collaborate in a different context. This is something I wish I would have learned to do sooner because now that I am currently involved in a project that combines old technology and new, I am fortunate enough to see this collaboration, and it is very exciting.

Sarah Garchinsky is a scientist with Solenis; she graduated in 2012 with a BS Chemistry from Millersville University of Pennsylvania.

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