A Quick Study of the Pulp and Paper Industry

Paper products are used all over the world, and have been a staple to everyday lives for a very long time.  From newspapers to books to product packaging, paper and pulp probably touch more industries than you realize.

Pulp and Paper: Early History

The very first pulp-derived paper was originally invented by a man named Ts’ai Lun, in China, in 105 AD.  For his invention, he used fiber taken from a mulberry tree. This type of paper did not spread quickly; taking another 2,000 years before making its way through and out of Asia.  It was actually a group of Arabs who created the very first paper mill—in 795 AD—but the first printing press was not invented until the mid-1400s (by Johannes Gutenberg).  At that point in time, paper became an essential part of European life.

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Pulp and Paper: Middle History

It took roughly 400 more years to see another invention in pulp and paper technology.  In the early 19th century, Nicolas-Louis Robert invented a machine with a moving belt that could enable paper manufacturers to produce paper in one long and continuous sheet.  Then, a few decades later, pulp/paper producers started to use wood fiber (like ground wood and sulfite pulp) to make paper.

Pulp and Paper In Today’s World

Obviously, technology has vastly improved since then but this basic process remains mostly unchanged.  Of course, instead of manual machines and feeders, pulp and paper is manufactured by computer controllers today.  As such, what was once a manual labor work force is now predominantly managed by computer programmers. Other common uses of the pulp and paper industry includes:

  • Chemical engineering
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Electrical engineering
  • Laborers
  • Supervisors
  • Production managers
  • Machine operators

Pulp and Paper: Some Statistics

According to the American Forest and Paper Association, United States forests and paper products industry supports roughly 2.5 million jobs, generating $235 billion in annual sales.  US pulp and paper and paperboard mills employ in excess of 100,000 laborers through 150 companies which generate a collective $80 billion in revenue per year.

On the other hand, the United States Department of Labor reports that the paper manufacturing industry employs more than 370,000 people but personnel may have hit its ceiling.  Automation, of course, has replaced many workers, and as tech continues to develop it will likely continue to replace many more traditional human jobs.

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