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The evolution of paper production continues at Domtar's Ashdown, Ark., mill, with a recent, $160 million project to convert a paper machine to a fluff pulp machine.

"This conversion—the largest capital project in the company's history—makes Domtar the world's third-largest fluff pulp producer. It also places the Ashdown mill at the forefront of Domtar's growing personal care business. Much of the fluff pulp produced at the mill will be used in the personal care division, where Domtar makes baby diapers and incontinence products sold around the world," said Tammy Waters, manager of communications and government relations for the mill.

"This extensive construction project began in early 2015 for engineering and design work. Actual construction began in March 2016, with the demolition of the A64 paper machine and preparation to build a pulp machine that would be able to produce both rolls and bales, depending on market demands," Waters said.

For nearly two years, hundreds of people, including local employees, contractors and employees from across Domtar, worked at the site.

Domtar's Ashdown, Ark., paper mill is shown.
Photo by File photo
"On Aug. 13, those efforts—from planning and finance to demolition and construction, engineering and operations to sales and marketing—culminated in the first pulp running on the machine.

Work has continued this fall on the installation of the calendar, reel and winder equipment. The first rolls will be produced in the next few weeks, she said.

While the most visible work at Ashdown was the transformation of the machine and its many parts, the work happening inside the training area was equal in importance, Waters said.

"The operating crews underwent two months of extensive classroom training and were well prepared for startup when they brought the new state-of-the-art machine on-line," said Troy Wilson, paper and fluff pulp production manager.

Bob Grygotis, the Ashdown mill manager, praised the workers and said the investment will provide a bright future.

"I'm very proud of our mill employees for working safely and staying focused throughout the entire project. This investment will provide a bright future for the mill at Ashdown and offer a new product line that will service our customers well into the future," Grygotis said.

The fluff pulp conversion advances the company's strategy.

"The fluff pulp conversion project at the Ashdown mill is an important step in advancing our strategy to generate $300 to $500 million from growth businesses," said John D. Williams, chief executive officer. "We are expanding our presence in a growing business that will allow us to support our top-tier supplier position with some of the world's largest producers of absorbent hygiene products. Once completed, Ashdown, together with our Plymouth, N.C., mill will provide a platform to further strengthen our leading position as an effective producer of high-quality fluff pulp with nearly one million tons of total production capacity."

"The conversion of the paper machine in 2016 will further help balance our supply with our customers' demand. In the interim, the flexibility of the two remaining paper machines at the Ashdown mill allows us to take measured steps to adjust our paper production while selling paper-grade pulp," Williams said.

The company will also invest in a pulp bale line that will provide flexibility to manufacture paper-grade softwood pulp, contingent on market conditions.

The evolution of the Ashdown paper mill includes the following.

  • The original mill opened in 1968.
  • A second paper machine was added in 1975.
  • A third paper machine and pulp line were added in 1979.
  • The mill became part of Domtar Inc. in 2001.
  • In 2014, the intent was announced to convert a paper machine to a high-quality fluff pulp line by the third quarter of 2016, adding 516,000 metric tons to total pulp capacity.
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