PIE 2019 – España fue tan buena con nosotros

trip photo


The 2019 Paper International Experience has now concluded, and it was definitely an amazing opportunity to see #SomethingDifferent across Spain. Our entire group would like to recognize and send our heartfelt gratitude to all the donors, industry partners, and NC State faculty and staff whose generosity made this trip a possibility. We are all so thankful to be a part of a program and an industry that are so invested in our learning and networking opportunities!

Los Lados de España

In ten days, we managed to see multiple different sides of Spain – including the colorful city center of Madrid, the historical Gothic architecture of Segovia, the unique language of the Catalonian region, the quaint city streets of Pamplona, and the breathtaking coast of San Sebastian. The vibrant culture, stunningly intricate architecture, and delicious options for food and drink left the whole group impressed with each new destination. We toured palaces, castles and cathedrals, visited a winery in the beautiful countryside, hiked around pristine beaches, and even went to an entire museum about antique paper making housed in an old facility. And, of course, we ate plenty of tapas and pintxos!

Fábricas de Papel o Papeleras

We were also lucky enough to have the chance to visit five different manufacturing facilities. Our first visit was to International Paper in Madrid, where we saw a recycled facility that had recently converted a newsprint machine to a liner board machine. It was amazing to learn the differences between the US and Spain regarding the quality and supply of recycled raw materials.  We were able to connect with 2 of our alumni at this mill as well. We also toured Domtar’s personal care facility in Toledo, which marked the first PIE program visit to such a facility. We saw machines that use fluff pulp produced at Domtar’s US pulp mills in converting operations to produce a wide range of products, from adult briefs to feminine hygiene pads. It was many students’ first look into converting, and we were all impressed with the speed and size of the facility. Our third mill toured, the Ecker Mill, is a 100% recycled board manufacturer that is a family-owned operation located in Valencia. We were able to walk through the recycle bale storage, see the secondary fiber area, and explore the mill’s single machine, a cylinder vat former. We were all impressed by the scope of the facility, their business model, and the fact that our tour group had more people than the mill had employees!

After a weekend break, we headed to Zaragoza to tour the Saica mill at Burgo de Ebro, another 100% recycled facility. We saw another secondary fiber plant, a large gap former machine installed in the 2000s, and an off-machine coater. The coater, which has a curtain and blade component, was of great interest to those on the trip who just finished learning about the different kinds of coatings in Dr. Pal’s PSE 472 class! We also saw a very advanced roll handling and storage system with high levels of automation. Our last mill, Smurfit Kappa in Navarra, provided us with an opportunity to learn about MG, or machine-glazed, papers. This was the only mill we toured with an integrated kraft operation, and we were able to see the woodyard and digester set-up before touring the paper machines. We saw the high-gloss surface finish created using high pressure on heated Yankee-type steam cylinders, which was something none of us had ever seen before. In addition to seeing the process firsthand, we also were shown a variety of end-use products utilizing the MG paper, including fast-food wrappers, shopping bags, and produce dividers.

Experiencia Increíble

This trip was an incredible experience that we will never forget. Our time spent abroad was invaluable to our personal and professional development. Each facility that we visited gave us informative tours and allowed us plenty of opportunities to ask questions about their processes, business strategies, and mill cultures. In addition to seeing some new and advanced manufacturing processes, we all enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with old friends and create bonds with new ones. Whether we were popping in and out of tapas restaurants in Madrid, peering into hydrapulpers, climbing seemingly endless stairs in Barcelona, tracing felt patterns on a paper machine, or sitting on the beach in Sitges, we were all having an amazing time experiencing a new culture and enjoying each other’s company

We would like to extend our thanks again to everyone who made this trip possible – thank you to our generous and gracious hosts at the facilities we toured, to our faculty and staff who planned and orchestrated this entire venture, and to our donors, without whom this trip would not have been a possibility. We are excited to start thinking about PIE 2021 and where the group will head next!

Check out our photo gallery here.

Guest Blogger: Lindsay Leonard