*NEWS*INKJET PAPER MAKER TO THRIVE
*NEWS*INKJET PAPER MAKER TO THRIVE
2006-01-09 at 10:20:00 am #13828
Paper maker turns page to thrive in 21st century market
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
“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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Master new technology
Mohawk Fine Papers has had to master the changes in digital printing and the move from ink to toner.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
“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
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.
took the job and haven’t looked back since,” Gaynor said. “Product
development really suits me.” He joined Mohawk five years ago.
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
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.
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.
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.”
O’Connor said the sales and marketing people come up with some concepts
and the company’s technical group studies the printing technology.
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
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
“It’s a great relationship and single-mindedness of
purpose we have from marketing, product development and manufacturing,”
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.”