Sustana Group has brought back an historic Canadian papermaking name while developing some groundbreaking technology.
An historic name has had a rebirth in the Canadian fine paper industry.
Rolland, synonymous with fine paper, has roots dating back to 1882 when Jean Baptiste Rolland founded the company, building mills in Mont Rolland, QC, about 50 miles north of Montreal; as well as Saint-Jérôme, about 15 miles south of Mont Rolland. The Mont Rolland operation closed in the 1980s, but Saint-Jérôme has found new life under Sustana Group.
Over the years, the company built a reputation for high-quality, linen-based security papers. Tough economic times forced the family to sell to Cascades in 1992 and the mill became part of Cascades Fine Paper. When Cascades opted to concentrate on the packaging and tissue markets, the Saint-Jérôme mill was no longer a core asset.
Sustana Group’s pulp and paper assets operate under two arms. One is Sustana Fiber, which takes in pulp assets, consisting of two recycled pulp mills: Fox River Fiber in Wisconsin and Breakeyville, QC. The other arm is Rolland, which includes the Saint-Jérôme mill as well as a nearby converting plant.
Phillip Rundle is president, Rolland. In describing Rolland’s strategy, he says, "We invest and make our assets better." He notes that the company has spent significant capital on its mills and converting center since 2014.
The two pulp mills now produce a total of 250,000 tpy of recycled pulp, while the paper mill can make about 150,000 tons of uncoated fine paper with a recycled content of up to 100 percent. Rolland produces fine papers, offering both 30 and 100 percent post-consumer waste (pcw) options.
A UNIQUE POSITION
Rundle talks about the acquisition of the Saint-Jérôme mill. "What we saw was a unique position in paper, a niche with recycled. The recycled world is a small one of small players. We thought we could add value."
The company is proud of its sustainability record and low environmental footprint; Rundle says it is in the company’s DNA. This includes very low water consumption, a company policy of transparency, and the extensive use of biogas at the Saint-Jérôme paper mill. The biogas project was done a few years ago under Cascades. The mill uses methane gas collected from a landfill about 10 miles away. It is piped to the mill and treated (the heat value is not as high as natural gas). The biogas makes up about 93 percent of the mill’s energy needs.
Addressing the product, Rundle says Saint-Jérôme produces excellent quality recycled paper. "Many OEMs—HP, Xerox, Canon—certify our digital paper line. We keep our capacity at 150,000 tons because we feel it is the right size for the industry."
He adds that Sustana has tapped into the market that identifies with recycling and sustainability. "The LCA (life cycle analysis) metrics favor us, so our customers also benefit. We see ourselves as activists with these people. We become part of their customers’ supply chain.
"Our customers investigate us," Rundle points out, citing clothing maker Patagonia as one example. He explains further: "We want to be a market-facing organization instead of a manufacturing-facing one. We help build brands and tell a story."
Bringing back the Rolland name was integral to this strategy. "The Rolland name is very important to us; it’s a name that has been known since 1882."
Rundle also mentions how valuable the cooperation with Rolland’s key customers has been: "They talk about us and why they buy from us." In addition to Patagonia, customers include such well-known names as Lush cosmetics, Cirque du Soleil, Air Canada, and Ford.
Rolland’s paper has various end uses, including annual reports, books, catalogues, direct mail, and copy paper. While these all remain focus areas, they are moving strategic focus further away from copy paper. "This has become less of a business focus for us," Rundle notes. "It is a strategic path we took. The others are in the ‘touch and feel’ market we want to capture. In addition to large-volume commercial printing, we also have a 100 percent pcw digital and inkjet line."
The mill still produces security papers (e.g., passports) with linen content. This is done on the oldest machine, PM 6, which also produces other specialty grades, but it is a very small part of the business.
The mill’s three paper machines have a great deal of flexibility, and short, smaller runs for product lines are possible. About 80 percent of the paper is sold as rolls. The other 20 percent is converted into cut size or folio at the company’s converting center.
A BREAKTHROUGH IN RECYCLING
As Rundle says, Sustana’s work has not been limited to the Saint-Jérôme paper mill. At the Fox River pulp mill, Sustana Fiber has developed a recycled pulp line, EnviroLife, that has been US FDA approved for food contact.
For example, Starbucks’ disposable coffee cups now have at least 10 percent of EnviroLife pulp in them. Sustana Fiber has initiated a Cup-to-Cup project with Starbucks. Rundle adds that the technology has evolved so that the poly liner in disposable coffee cups can be extruded and the cup recycled.
"This is all driven from customer demands," he says, citing the recent move to paper straws as a similar example. In the future, Sustana Fiber will look at other food containers such as those used for ice cream or popcorn.
EnviroLife currently accounts for more than 15 percent of Fox River’s production, but Rundle believes this will grow significantly. Although Saint-Jérôme is integrated to some degree with the Breakeyville pulp mill, most of Sustana Fiber’s production is sold on the market.
Kevin Richard is a fourth-generation papermaker from Maine. He worked for Mohawk Paper from 1978 until 2014. He is a recent addition to the Sustana Group team, coming onboard in mid-2018. As COO, he is responsible for the Saint-Jérôme paper mill and converting plant as well as the two pulp mills.
For Saint-Jérôme, the emphasis is on improving quality and increasing productivity. There is work underway to upgrade the distributed control system to ensure mill personnel take advantage of all the data that are available to them.
As noted, being a specialty producer, the mill’s three paper machines need to be flexible. Having the right chemistry is critical. Kemira is working on a new system for biocides for all three machines. Speaking about suppliers, Richard says the mill’s philosophy is that whoever the supplier is, "They are part of our team and need to work to their best on Rolland’s behalf."
Since he joined the company, Richard says there has been a "major shift" in the engagement with suppliers; "They must be here to show what they can provide."
Sustana Group is particularly proud of its achievements in sustainability, especially water consumption. Its water use is about 17 times lower than the industry’s average. It claims to recycle water 30 times before it is released and, even then, it is cleaner than when it first entered the mill’s processes.
In 2019 the emphasis will be to continue to drive the numbers down for water consumption. Savings should come from reduced seal water use with flow kits being installed and the use of mechanical seals. High-pressure shower technology allows Rolland to use filtered water on the paper machines. It has been installed on two of the machines and the third was being done in early 2019.
There is a relatively large product development team (7-8 people) at Saint-Jérôme that works on digital, security, and traditional grades. Richard says there is some unique equipment on PM 8 (the newest machine) that allows the mill to look at more than traditional uncoated freesheet.
"As well," Richard adds, "we are always looking to improve the quality of our traditional lines. This is customer-driven."
The mill constantly upgrades its product portfolio. "We use the unique capabilities of our paper machines to open new markets," Richard explains. "We have a good working relationship with our key customers who tell us what they want from the sheet and that pushes us to innovate.
"At the other end, we work with our pulp mills to get the pulp we need. Therefore, there is also constant development at the pulp mills."
‘ART & CRAFT’
As with the rest of the pulp and paper industry, and other industries as well, Sustana is feeling the effects of an aging workforce—the "Silver Tsunami," as it has been described. Richard acknowledges this: "The next big thing here will be the evolution of changes in our hourly people. There will be a lot of retirements. We need to teach the art and craft of papermaking along with the technology. For 2019, we have developed a healthy training program."
The "art and craft" of papermaking is especially true for any specialty manufacturer, particularly the Saint-Jérôme mill, considering the age of the mill and the grades it makes. With some older machines making security grades, Richard says papermaking is very much an art.
A NEW SUSTAINABILITY STRATEGY
Already, the company claims to recycle enough paper annually to fill more than 4,700 50-ft railcars and reduce landfill space by more than one million cubic yards. Its use of biogas is claimed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 70,000 tons annually.
The new goals include plans to:
This article first appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of Paper360o.
Graeme Rodden is senior editor, North and South America, for Paper360°, an official publication of TAPPI. TAPPI is the leading association for the worldwide pulp, paper, packaging, tissue and converting industries.