FPInnovations’ 2018 Course: Learning Ahead

Mathieu Régnier

Held at FPInnovations headquarters in Pointe-Claire, Quebec, the 2018 edition of the Pulp, Paper and Bioproducts Course provided hands-on training to 45 participants coming from Canada and the United States.

More interactives, more demonstrations, more hands-on training en route to an in-depth understanding of today's industry practices.

Course director, Dr. Xuejun Zou explains that "the program is organized to provide students with a solid knowledge on how the pulp, paper and bioproducts business work in 2018". The course has been very popular over the years reminds Arlene Kingsland, Principal Technologist at FPInnovations and the course coordinator. "The organization has been offering training since the 1980s and rebranded itself in 2014 following an important curriculum update." Profuse advancements in the pulp and paper industry have occurred in the last decade, and stakeholders need to adapt as the industry moves to novel and specialized products.

Best in class training!

FPInnovations has developed different training programs with a focus on newly hired employees and those who need to update their skills. The most popular of these training programs is last week's 5-day course covering pulp, paper, and bioproducts. It is open to staff working in pulp and paper as well as in other industries.

From the onset, this year's participants were reminded that "the North-American forest industry is facing two significant challenges: the loss of knowledge and expertise caused by a large wave of retirements and the demand for new knowledge and expertise created by the transformation of forest industry". To help the industry address these challenges, new lectures are constantly being added including its latest addition called "Innovation Day". This segment was held on the last day of the week. As another novelty, FPInnovations also welcomed some new lecturers to this 2018 edition.

How does the course compare to similar programs? Dr. Zou points out that it is much more interactive and in fact, "that most of the other training programs offered focus solely on lectures". Of course, this becomes much easier for the organizers since the course is held in the centre of a renowned research and innovation hub. Another distinct characteristic of the course is that each topic is covered by an expert in the field while conventional training programs use one or two professors to cover all subjects. The above-mentioned "Innovation Day" is also a unique feature, one that also benefits from its immediate and exciting environment. "The demonstration of new technologies and new products is always a crowd pleaser." This part of the course introduces emerging new biomaterials and biochemicals to the students (e.g., nanocellulose, lignin, CFC, biofuel).

Photo credit: FPInnovations

Hands on Approach

Dr. Zou recalls one participant description of the course as "an excellent crash course on today's pulp and paper making". In fact, the course was designed by FPInnovations so that many demonstrations coincide with the theoretical presentations. "As such we allow participants to exchange on what they learned in the lectures in an informal setting that is conductive to our hands-on learning approach." Students benefited this year from lab visits and demonstrations and could also observe a fully operational pilot paper machine.

"We have expanded our lectures to include tissue, packaging, bioproducts and even emerging technologies," explains Dr. Zou. The 2018 Pulp, Paper and Bioproducts Course program clearly illustrates the fact that the industry is in an important renewal phase. New technologies are developed following exciting scientific findings and new markets are opening all over the world (an important part of the course focuses on global trends). In parallel, new professionals are starting their careers in the sector or in sectors not traditionally associated with the world of fibre. Past participants came from the automotive, pharmaceutical or from the chemical industries. This year, students from associated sectors were in attendance. For example, two participants working on providing technical support to pressrooms.

Photos credit: FPInnovations and Mathieu Régnier

Never stop learning!

"The feedback from this years' course was very positive, says Ms. Kingsland, with the majority of students stating that the course met or surpassed their expectations." Better still, "all would recommend this course to colleagues". Attendees this year are mainly from the industry. About 20 companies were represented this fall, while some participants came from government agencies like Natural Resources Canada or the Government of British Columbia. Interestingly the course even attracted students from Oman and Pakistan, who unfortunately, could not attend due to issues related to travel visas.

According to the course director, most students are young mill engineers, but the course also attracts senior professionals who want to expand their knowledge or delve into new pulp and paper-making processes and technologies. "Some old-timers are also very attracted to the bioproducts component of the course." They could interact with the 24 lecturers and 15 scientists that were available for lab visits. Younger students gained a lot of insights from these informal interactions and from the description of varied personal experiences relating to wood chemistry, kraft pulping or to pressing and dying. In parallel, these students with more experience in the industry certainly learned a lot on innovation processes associated to composites, lignin, CNC, sugars, biorefining or 3D printing and its potential for the forest industry.

Lecturers and organizers also enjoy the experience and it shows. Ms. Natalie Pagé, a lecturer and recycling specialist says that she "never stops learning". If she and her colleagues are probably not seeking the 35 hours' attendance certificate, they jump on the opportunity to expand their network and to learn about the preoccupations of the younger generation of process engineers. On top of his work as course director, Dr. Zou is currently managing a fibre production group invested in research and development around chemical pulping and bleaching. He is also developing a large research project around tissue making and performance. "By discussing informally with the industry participants, I am gaining a better understanding of their needs and challenges."

A Course That Never Stops Evolving

There is a clear commitment from FPInnovations to make the training material relevant from a year to the next and this was proven, time and time again over the course of the last 30 years. For those interested in academic gossip, Dr. Xuejun Zou suggests that the course could take various new directions or formats in the years to come. It could be given in another part of the country for instance. There is indeed a growing interest from companies and organizations operating in western Canada. A course organized in Ottawa is also under consideration. Content-wise, more material will probably be developed on new and emerging topics in the realm of today's sustainability challenges.

Despite these ambitious plans for the future, Arlene Kingsland has an eye on the 2019 calendar. She invites prospective students to mark their agendas between the 7 to 11 October 2019. The next edition of the Pulp, Paper and Bioproducts Course will also be held in Pointe-Claire, Quebec. "We have some new and creative ideas on how to present our material and on how to organize our demos," says FPInnovation's Principal Technologist. A quote from a lady with such a title can only be auspicious.

To learn more about FPInnovations different training options, consult: Solutions & Technology.

Photo credit: FPInnovations

Mathieu Régnier
Journalist, Paper Advance