Big changes unfold at WMU Pilot Plants

Contact: Deanne Puca
Photo of Lon Pschigoda, WMU Pilot Plants general manager, standing by the facilities' new paper manufacruitng machine.

Lon Pschigoda, WMU Pilot Plants general manager, says new paper manufacturing and testing technology will encourage sustainability and innovation in the industry.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University paper engineering faculty, students and several industry partners celebrated the startup of technology that will allow for the development and testing of new paper types, as well as another plant to certify recycled products.

Facilities on the WMU Parkview Campus now house a one-of-a-kind in North America pilot-scale multi-ply paper manufacturing machine, named in honor of alumnus Charles Klass, who worked for more than five decades in the pulp and paper industry. He attended the unveiling ceremony April 16 and pulled the first sheet of paper off the new machine.

The equipment, moved and donated from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, enables WMU to test and develop two-ply paper and paperboard used in a wider variety of products, says Lon Pschigoda, WMU Pilot Plants general manager. Servicing industry clients from around the world, the WMU operation provides an outlet for companies to test new paper types, fibers, chemistries and equipment on a smaller scale, without having to interrupt their own production lines.

The project "represents the best of WMU," says WMU President Edward Montgomery. "It is research that impacts the world and creates unparalleled opportunities for our students."

Its installation was made possible with the help of donations of industry talent, expertise and materials.

"Today's accomplishment results from a 70-year partnership between the paper industry and the paper science and engineering program," says Jan Van Der Kley, WMU vice president for business and finance. "The new machine provides greater opportunities for our students to have hands-on experience with a one-of-a-kind facility in North America, new research opportunities for our faculty, and allows WMU to conduct more product trials for our industry partners."

Photo of WMU President Edward Montgomery, WMU Pilot Plants staff and paper industry representatives standing in front of a gold ribbon inside the facility.

WMU President Edward Montgomery, staff and paper industry representatives dedicate new paper manufacturing and testing equipment.

Dating back to 1968, the new-to-WMU machine replaces an older model the University used in the former McCracken Hall, which was installed in 1958. During its yearlong installation process, the newer machine has been upgraded with many pieces of modern technology to help with trial efficiency and real-world learning for students.

A new fiber recycling plant also was unveiled, used to test and certify products from around the world for repulpability and recyclability. WMU has recently partnered with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition to be the certification site for their How2Recycle product labeling program.

The fiber recycling plant is named for the managing director of WMU's Paper Technology Foundation, John Bergin. Bergin is another WMU paper engineering distinguished alumnus. His career includes leading the Paper Technology Foundation for the last 13 years.

"Paper has a great story to tell," says Pschigoda, "from sustainably managed forests, to an incredibly high recovery rate of recycled fiber, to the new products that can be produced with those fibers. Today's student and future generations will be more and more focused on sustainable solutions."

Companies represented at the unveiling event included BTG, Domtar, Voith, USG, Solenis, Suzano, Pro Services, Loparex, Verso, ABB, Sonoco, Ecosynthetix, Trinseo, Graphic Packaging, New Indy Paper, WestRock, Kemira and Kadant.

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