Wausau uses ATMOS to create new premium 100% recycled category

Hugh O’Brian

In Kentucky, the American state famous for Bluegrass music, Bourbon whiskey and the Kentucky Derby horse race, one drives across the beautiful rolling hills of horse farms and estates surrounded by white wooden fences. It appears to be the picture of Americana.

When you eventually reach Wausau Paper’s Harrodsburg, Kentucky mill, there is an equally beautiful (well almost) ATMOS tissue machine rolling along at a very efficient speed, producing high-quality premium grades using 100% recycled fiber.



Gary Rudemiller, Wausau Paper’s Vice President of Operations, explains the project strategy. “For more than fifty years, we’ve had a very strong position in the away-from-home (AFH) tissue market. Now, with the new machine in Harrodsburg, we have the capability to cost-effectively provide premium and near-premium, 100 percent recycled, GreenSeal™-certified AFH tissue and towel products. Nobody else can do that. We have created a new category of products for the AFH market.”

Five years ago the company was making tissue, printing and writing, and specialty technical papers. Today, after a series of strategic divestments, Wausau Paper is concentrated 100 percent in tissue grades. The Company’s mills are in Harrodsburg, Kentucky and Middletown, Ohio, and house three paper machines and 26 converting lines.

Rudemiller, who says that during his 30-year paper industry career he has made just about every grade of paper except unbleached grades, explains that he came into the Wausau Paper Tissue business in 2009, given the mission to improve the efficiency of the tissuemaking operations.

“I must admit when I first came into tissuemaking I didn’t think that the technical and papermaking issues were going to be as challenging as what I had experienced in some other grades. However, it didn’t take me too long to realize that there are a lot of technical challenges in making tissue that the outside world often doesn’t recognize. At the time I was clearly no tissue expert, and I have to honestly admit that with my breadth of papermaking experiences, I remain more of a generalist. With my wide papermaking experience base to draw upon, I’ve seen a lot and I usually know five ways to solve a given problem. I’ve learned that there is always a way to solve any problem if you are just persistent and keep plugging away.” This attitude was put to the test in improving operational performance.



Focusing initially on the Middletown mill, Rudemiller helped to strengthen the capabilities of the mill leaders and championed systematic thinking and problem-solving approaches. The operation has progressively improved so that today both papermaking machines arerunning more efficiently and producing top-quality AFH products.

“Now the skilled team at Middletown is working on high-level continuous improvement of the operation, rather than on the fundamental building blocks, which are now solidly in place. The quality of base paper coming from Middletown to the Wausau converting operations has improved tremendously, making it a preferred base sheet today. It’s very exciting to see how the group has evolved from fighting fires every day to high-level fine-tuning of the operation.

”As a consequence of the improvement in base sheet quality, the converting line operations, located in Harrodsburg, increased productivity tremendously over the 2008 to 2012 period. Of course with the startup of the ATMOS machine in late 2012, there had been a bit of a learning curve in converting, but the trend in 2014 is now upward again. “We still have our opportunities for continuous improvement. That job is never done. But it’s a lot more fun to be working on high-level optimization rather than daily firefighting.”



The ATMOS machine is all part of a strategy which the company announced to grow in the premium space. In the marketplace, Wausau is known as a very strong partner with distributors. “We partner with the distributors to address the needs of the end-user. We select distributors because their go-to-market strategy is aligned with ours. So when the distributor sees its supplier as a partner, they will work harder to get business, and we all benefit.”

The addition of the new machine allows Wausau to supply its distributors with a full portfolio of Green Seal™-certified tissue and towel products. This full range is unique in the marketplace.



Regarding the ATMOS “PM3” project, Rudemiller doesn’t pretend it was easy. “No machine startup is trouble-free, in our case doubly so as we had two startups - the machine in conventional mode, and then the machine in ATMOS mode. Overall, considering the complexity, the project has gone well.”

Teamwork and planning played a key role, says Rudemiller. “Part of the success was based on collaboration established at Tissue World 2012 in Miami between Wausau Paper, Voith, and Buckman. We left that meeting with each of us committed to common objectives for the machine startup as being the most fruitful approach to a good startup. We agreed to put together a startup realization team with representatives from all three groups that met regularly for months to plan the startup, commissioning, and handling of technical challenges. Each of the three entities participated in the startup plan development, and everyone bought into it. Now, after the successful startup, all three parties are very pleased that we worked to a common agenda, helping us get to where we are today.”

The installation of PM3 hubs a market strategy to give Wausau a complete range of AFH products from conventional to premium. Premium substrate demand is growing and moves to 100 percent of its capacity over the next several years.


NO COMPLAINTS. Summarizing the capital project, Rudemiller explains that “the paper machine team today is effectively the same group of people who executed the installation and startup. They are a very dedicated hard-working team both in the paper mill and converting operations. Each person has made a lot of personal sacrifices in having worked through some very challenging technical problems with persistence and commitment. I’m very proud of the way they have succeeded.”

“We get to work here in the beautiful rolling hills of Kentucky, with a great and dedicated group of people in an expanding company that has made smart strategic investments in world-class technology to grow the business. It can’t get much better than this.”

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