The A62 paper machine at our Ashdown Mill is once again fully operational thanks to excellent planning and foresight by our commercial paper team, along with outstanding dedication and agility from our manufacturing production team.
The strategic initiative to restart the previously idled machine, as well as a sheeter to convert the rolls into cartons of copy paper, is helping us maintain our leadership position in the North American uncoated freesheet paper market and deliver the service and quality our customers expect.
The A62 paper machine was idled in April 2020 -- a difficult but necessary action taken to align our manufacturing network's paper production capacity with reduced customer demand that was brought on the COVID-19 pandemic.
"With offices, businesses and schools closed in a large part of our markets, we had to take the appropriate steps to optimize our operations and match our capacity to our reduced demand," says Rob Melton, senior vice president, pulp and paper commercial.
Then, as the economy recovered from the pandemic, so did the demand for paper. Demand for uncoated freesheet paper increased four percent in 2021 compared to 2020, driven by increased retail activity, in-person store visits, reopened schools and employees returning to the office.
With the economy rebounding from the impacts of COVID-19, the decision was made to restart A62, adding back the paper production capacity necessary for us to meet increasing customer demand.
"Our customers' business is steadily growing, and we're fortunate to be able to support that growth by leveraging our asset base's flexibility," adds Melton.
But restarting a large uncoated freesheet paper machine isn't as simple as plugging in your desktop printer or turning on a lamp. It's a complex undertaking with, quite literally, a lot of moving parts. Restarting a machine such as A62 occurs over a period of months to gradually build the machine up to its current 24/7 run schedule.
"With customer demand for paper on the rise, we knew we had to act quickly to restart the machine to ensure we could continue to meet our customers' needs," says Bill Edwards, senior vice president, pulp and paper operations.
The mill team faced an aggressive timeline to restart and steadily increase production on a machine that hadn't run in more than a year. Moreover, many members of the team were unfamiliar with the machine. They were recalled to the mill specifically for this project after having previously worked in other areas of the mill prior to the pandemic. The team pulled together and was able to restart the machine and sheeter on time and budget.
"I'm very proud of the way the entire team at the Ashdown Mill responded to this task with agility and enthusiasm," says Mill Manager J.C. Allaire.
With demand for uncoated freesheet paper still on the rise, Edwards says his team continues to look for ways to implement continuous improvement projects to maximize production capacity at each of our mills.
"One of Domtar's many competitive advantages is the strength and depth of our manufacturing asset base," says Edwards. "We are able to act quickly and decisively to ensure we can support our customers."