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TABLE OF CONTENTS Dec 2004 - 0 comments

NPI USA - Producing High Quality Telephone Directory Paper at Port Angeles Mill

This monthly column continues in its quest to profile unique mill people from across Canada who have had a significant impact on both their workplace and on the industry as a whole. This month, we travel to Washington state just south of the border and visit the Port Angeles NPI USA mill, from which you can see Victoria, British Columbia on a clear day. Harold Norlund will celebrate his third anniversary as mill manager next month. We explore his managerial style, his strong belief in active involvement with PAPTAC, and on a lighter note, his passion for vintage automobiles.

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By: Zsolt Patakfalvi
2004-12-01
This being Pulp and Paper Canada's special Exfor 2005 issue, it is fitting to present a story of a mill that has a unique connection to three pulp and paper manufacturing nations -- Canada, the United States, and Japan. The paper mill is located in Port Angeles in Washington state, owned by the Nippon Paper Group of Japan, and managed by Canadian-born Harold Norlund. This dynamic three-way marriage of skill, expertise and culture has created a success story on the Pacific coast which is the focus of this month's column. Every employee I spoke with, boasted about the outstanding quality of their product -- telephone directory paper. A highly competitive business, the Port Angeles mill manufactures paper as light as 28 gsm, with most grades running from 29.3 gsm to 36 gsm. While the product is of high quality, what employees are truly proud of is that the mill has been recognized with a Gold Award for eight consecutive years, from SBC, a major RBOC provider and producer of telephone books. "I am delighted that our mill continues to be known for its quality product and superior customer service," said Harold Norlund, mill manager. The mill has demonstrated continuous improvement in manufacturing, delivery and service. "Getting the award gives us all reassurance that our reputation in the industry is strong," added Steve Johnson, technical manager. Telephone directory production was first introduced to the mill in the late 1970's.

The Port Angeles Mill has a rich history dating back to the 1920's when it was initially known as Washington Pulp and Paper. Electrical power was supplied by the nearby hydro dam on the lower Elwha River, and industrial water came from an outlet downstream from the dam. The location was ideal with trees being plentiful on the Olympic Peninsula. The location at the base of Ediz Hook, one of six naturally formed sand pits in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, provided protection for the harbour. Logs were rafted and floated to local sawmills and into a mill located lagoon, on their way to a stone groundwood and sulphite mill. "The mill visually looked similar to most Canadian mills build in that same period," said Norlund. Crown Zellerbach, which had extensive holdings in wood, sawmills and pulp and paper on both sides of the Canadian-American border, eventually acquired the operation. In the late 1970's two lines of mechanical pulp were added, allowing for the shutdown of the sulphite and groundwood mill.

In the mid 1980's the original #1 machine was shut down, leaving PM 2 and PM 3, which were both producing telephone directory paper at the time. James River purchased the Port Angeles Mill in 1986, and sold it two years later to Daishowa Japan. The latter owner invested in an on-site recycled pulp mill which since 1992 provides approximately 40%-50% of the pulp requirements for both operating paper machines. The mechanical pulp plant provides the rest, with a small amount of kraft pulp and filler required to make up the remaining pulp requirements. Nippon Paper Industries purchased Daishowa Japan in 2001, and the mill's name changed to NPI USA in April, 2004. Other nearby holdings of NPI include a 50% partnership with Weyerhaeuser in the Norpac mill in Longview, Washington, 50% ownership in DMI, in Peace River Alberta and 25% ownership of Caribou Pulp in Quesnel, British Columbia. Throughout its history, the Olympic mountains have set the stage for a unique climatic feature known locally as 'the blue hole.' The mountains provide a natural barrier to incoming clouds, so Port Angeles receives approximately 26 inches of rainfall annually, while nearby Sequim receives a lesser 17 inches. As Norlund explained, "It is called a 'blue hole' as the clouds tend to drop their rainfall load while climbing the steep mountains, and when the clouds split, it results in a blue sky opening."

This climate is quite different from that of Northwestern Ontario where Harold Norlund grew up. Home was Emo, Ontario. The family-run business was the local gas station, where Norlund quickly discovered his natural curiosity and inclination towards how things run and operate. Being mechanically inclined, and gifted in mathematics, engineering was a natural career choice. A summer job at a local paper mill in Fort Frances cemented his relationship with the industry. Having worked extensively in Canada as far east as Kenora, Ontario, and as far west as British Columbia, Norlund, smilingly admitted that, "Paper-making has a way of getting into your blood. Beyond that, if a piece of machinery is not working efficiently, I want to take it apart and fix it." I suspect this has been Norlund's driving force from his early years working in the family garage.

January 2005 will mark Norlund's third anniversary as mill manager of the Port Angeles Mill. On whether he misses Canada, he said jokingly, "I am so close that on a clear day I can see Victoria." On the ownership of the mill, he added, "NPI, and Daishowa before them, have been excellent owners and great supporters of our mill." Nippon Paper Industries Co. Ltd. was founded on August 1, 1949, and as of April 2004 employed over 6,000 individuals world-wide. They have operations in Canada's Western Hemisphere, the United States, Brazil and Chile. As a core company of Nippon Paper Group, the firm is involved in all aspects of the paper business covering newsprint, printing and writing paper, business communication paper and industrial paper. Thirteen mills operate in Japan. Internationally, the firm operates a broad spectrum of fields ranging from raw material procurement to product manufacture, both independently and in the form of joint ventures with overseas businesses. An example of the latter is the North Pacific Paper Corporation (Norpac) joinly owned with Weyerhaeuser. The Nippon Group is recognized as an industry leader from Finland to China. President Takahikb Miyoshi, recently described the company's vision in the following manner: "Nippon Paper Group will strive to become a world-class company through diverse business activities, making a proactive and continuous contribution to society as a company that provides broad-based support for industry and culture."

It was this type of environment that greeted Norlund when he first arrived in Port Angeles, after having been mill manager in Mackenzie, British Columbia. The Washington mill needed strong direction, as production costs and a competitive marketplace were eating away at the foundations of the operation. The unanimous opinion among employees is that Norlund succeeded brilliantly. "He arrived at a key time, when we needed a strong new direction," said Gary Holmguist, production manager, who has been in the industry for 26 years. "His understanding of paper-making is undeniable, but beyond that, he also possesses strong business management skills, and we all benefit from that." Steve Johnson, technical manger, added, "His energy is endless, and I have to applaud his style because he is more than just a manger, he is a natural leader." Dean Reed, engineering manager, concurred by adding, "He was the right guy at the right time, and his consistently upbeat outlook has helped us all." Norlund is very simple in describing his management manner by calling it a 'come with me style'. He added, "I believe in continuous improvement on all levels of the operation, and I empower everyone in the mill to think that way."

Norlund also manages to be an active member of PAPTAC, which he joined in 1995. He was a member of the Newsprint and Mechanical Printing Grades Committee and was its assistant chairman and then chairman. To this day he is proud of the F.G. Robinson Award that he received for his work on that committee. "I believe PAPTAC, its committees and branches offer an extremely effective, time-condensed learning opportunity," Norlund said.

"He is a dynamic and industrious man and I sometimes wonder how he finds the time to be so involved," commented Rob Wood, Director of PAPTAC. Since 1992 Harold has also served on the Executive Council, the first American-employed individual to do so. Wood added, "Harold has always been actively involved, and sharing and learning from each other is what the pulp and paper industry is all about."

It would seem that Harold Norlund has very little spare time, but he does find some time on weekends to restore a 1930 Ford Model A Deluxe Roadster, 'as Henry built it'. The car was built in Canada in June 1930, and Norlund's keeping the car true to its Canadian roots with Robertson screws, special Canadian bumper clamps, tools, as well as the original type wiper blade for the vacuum wiper motor. Knowing Harold Norlund, I am certain that all the parts are genuine and in perfect working order. After all, he discovered his love of mechanics back at the family garage many years ago.

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