*NEWS*INKJET PAPER MAKER TO THRIVE

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*NEWS*INKJET PAPER MAKER TO THRIVE

 user 2006-01-09 at 10:20:00 am Views: 69
  • #13828

    Paper maker turns page to thrive in 21st century market
    Jan 2006
    Foreign
    competition and rapid technological changes in the tradition-bound
    printing industry have led the 133-year-old Mohawk Fine Papers Inc. to
    turn to technology for its salvation.
    The Cohoes paper manufacturer
    invested $35 million in research in the past decade, and created a
    research and development team to create papers for next-generation
    printers.
    “I think that with foreign competition and some of the
    larger commodity mills making brighter, whiter paper, we constantly
    have to come up with products that differentiate ourselves from these
    people,” said Thomas O’Connor Jr., president and CEO of the
    family-owned Mohawk Fine Papers.
    The company is now spending about
    $2 million a year on research and development. Without it, O’Connor is
    convinced the company would have suffered.
    “It would certainly be a
    slow demise,” he said. “I don’t think we would have gone bankrupt in
    the next four or five years. We just would have gotten smaller and
    smaller.”
    Instead, the Cohoes company is getting bigger. This year,
    Mohawk doubled in size–in head count and revenue–to 800 employees and
    $300 million in revenue after it acquired the fine papers division of
    International Paper Co., making it the largest North American supplier
    of premium uncoated papers.
    That acquisition led the company to change its name from Mohawk Paper Mills Inc. to Mohawk Fine Papers.
    But it’s the research that will help the company grow.
    “That’s
    what sets us apart. We spend several millions of dollars a year on
    research and development, and that doesn’t include the time we run
    trials on our equipment and so forth,” O’Connor said. “If you went back
    more than 10 or 12 years we didn’t have an R&D department.
    Everything was the same.”
    Big share of shrinking market
    O’Connor knows most things at Mohawk can’t stay the same.
    “We have to make sure we’re studying these new digital print mediums so we have the best products,” he said.
    Mohawk
    Fine Papers makes paper for the premium text and cover market. It makes
    the slick annual reports for Adidas and Ocean Spray. It makes book
    jackets for the Harry Potter books.
    Its paper feels good to the
    touch and brings out rich, bright colors or the darkest
    black–something Mohawk officials say is tough to do.
    Because of these traits, companies are willing to pay a premium.
    “The
    premium text market is a shrinking market,” said Gavin Gaynor, director
    of Mohawk Fine Papers’ research and development department. “We
    survived by taking a greater market share in a declining market. That
    strategy will only work for so long.”
    As inkjet printing and laser
    printing have grown in the past decade, Mohawk Fine Papers has had to
    respond, working on what types of papers and coatings work best with
    new printers and ink being developed: what makes the ink adhere better,
    not smudge; and what brings out the best qualities of the images and
    text being printed.
    “We have relationships with every major distributor–Epson, HP, Kodak, Canon, Xerox, Konicka,” Gaynor said.
    Some of those companies contact Mohawk Fine Papers before a new printer hits the market to pretest the equipment.
    “If
    you’re going to participate in the digital print market, you have to
    understand the equipment that’s out and the direction they’re headed,”
    Gaynor said, “because you have to design paper for it.”
    For the first time, the company created a consumer product that can be bought off the shelf at office supply stores.
    “There
    is no doubt today a majority of our sales and profit is in traditional
    text and cover grades,” Gaynor said. “But our growth is in digital
    print grade.”
    Master new technology
    Mohawk Fine Papers has had to master the changes in digital printing and the move from ink to toner.
    “R&D
    is a company-wide process,” O’Connor said. “I don’t know how much of a
    greater role it could take. It’s very active right now.”
    Mohawk Fine
    Papers’ research department has anywhere from four to seven employees
    and the company now has five patents, all less than a decade old, for
    its Inxwell technology related to making toner adhere to paper.
    In
    the past year, the group was especially active after Hewlett-Packard
    bought Israel-based Indigo Press two years ago. Indigo Press had
    developed a new printing device which works like a color copier, except
    instead of a dry powder toner, a liquid toner is used.
    While the
    printer was revolutionary, special paper with Sapphire coating was
    needed. The paper had to be used within six months before the coating’s
    properties wore off and the paper yellowed.
    Mohawk dabbled in this
    industry, shipping its paper to another company to apply the Sapphire
    coating. But when HP bought Indigo, Gaynor said Mohawk paid attention.
    “We
    said, ‘Wow, this is interesting. Here’s a company [HP] with research
    dollars and marketing savvy,’” Gaynor said. Mohawk was convinced HP had
    big plans for the printer.
    “They bought this technology for a
    reason. We are willing to bet now that HP will understand how to market
    this great technology,” he said. “So we’re going to make an investment
    in paper for this device now. Rather than do what everyone else is
    doing, we’re going to deliver a solution that works and overcomes all
    the shortcomings of the Sapphire treatment.”
    Mohawk workers studied
    the Indigo machine, its inner workings, the inks used. It studied the
    chemical makeup of the Sapphire coating treatment and conducted
    numerous lab tests.
    The research team was up to the challenge.
    The research team
    Mohawk’s
    research team is led by Gaynor, 40, who grew up in a paper mill town in
    Hawesville, Ky. His grandfather, uncles and cousins worked at the mill
    now owned by Weyerhauser.
    So did he during his summer vacations.
    Gaynor
    earned his doctorate at North Carolina State University in chemistry
    engineering. But he didn’t like the idea of working on long-term
    projects. He was studying semiconductors for use in future computer
    chips.
    “I suppose I was not patient enough to wait 20 years to see
    the fruits of my labor,” Gaynor said. “I was very interested in the
    intellectual stimulation of research, but I needed to be much closer to
    the consumer.”
    He was doing post doctoral work at Penn State
    University when he made a cold call to Westvaco, a Mohawk competitor,
    asking if they had a job in product development. Westvaco did.
    “I
    took the job and haven’t looked back since,” Gaynor said. “Product
    development really suits me.” He joined Mohawk five years ago.
    Most
    of his team has been at Mohawk longer. Rich Barker has been at Mohawk
    for 12 years. Barker is a West Point graduate who has a degree in
    weapons engineering.
    Barker used to work for one of Mohawk’s chemical suppliers, Nalco.
    “He knows chemicals,” Gaynor said.
    When it comes time to get the research out of the lab and into production, Barker is the one who makes it happen.
    “He knows these mills probably as well as anyone in the company,” Gaynor said. “That’s a great tool for our group.”
    Tuan Nyugen has been with the company for six years. He is a graduate of SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse.
    “Tuan is our expert in the lab,” Gaynor said. “Bottom line is he has a good overview of paper-making in general.”
    Bill Tierney’s been with the company three years, but has 17 years experience in the paper industry.
    The
    result of the focus on HP’s new product? Mohawk’s Super iTone, a new
    product specifically for the printer. It’s a chemical applied to the
    paper that, as Gaynor puts it, “has an affinity for the ink.”
    Just the start of research
    While Gaynor is proud of his researchers, he said they’re not the only ones at Mohawk Fine Papers.
    “Those
    are the people who report to me, who have offices right down the hall,”
    he said of his team. “That’s not where product development ends.”
    President
    O’Connor said the sales and marketing people come up with some concepts
    and the company’s technical group studies the printing technology.
    “It’s
    not just three or four people sitting there. They have come up with
    some very good ideas, but many of the ideas have come from what our
    sales and marketing people have seen coming in the future,” O’Connor
    said.
    Gaynor said those running the machines also are part of the
    process. They don’t get frustrated when his team wants to run tests on
    the machines.
    “It’s a great relationship and single-mindedness of
    purpose we have from marketing, product development and manufacturing,”
    he said
    Gaynor said other companies come up with great concepts, but
    they don’t always get implemented.”One of the beautiful things we do
    here is we do pretty good science,” he said, “but what we’re really
    good at is translating the science of what we do into products.”