Last week we were invited by our Paper supplier GFSmith to join them on a visit to the paper mill James Cropper, to see how the ColorPlan stock we use for our packaging is produced. Located in the heart of the Lake District in the North West of England, James Cropper has been producing paper for over 160 years and is widely noted as one of the best manufacturers of specialist paper products in the world.
We traveled to Burneside where we were met by Stefan from James Cropper who looks after the paper GFSmith produces at the mill. After an introduction to the history of the mill, Stefan explained about the strict environmental code they follow which is represented by the ISO14001 rating for the business. As well as producing specialist papers Stefan talked through another side of their business called Technical Fibre Products, which utilises paper making technology with advanced materials for companies ranged from aviation to F1 Teams. Something we may explore for future products!
Heading out of the meeting room our first port of call was the colour laboratory where the colour recipes are mixed, calculated and tested for new variants and clients. We were met by master colourists Mark Starrs and Alison Rigg who explained the various stages of colour mixing and how the process is scaled up in production. As a reference they currently have 4000 shades on record and have produced 14000 shades since they began making colour in 1865. After a live demonstration of the mixing process Alison introduced the final step of testing for the presence of Metamorism, the degree the colour of paper will change under different light sources. It's this final step where you can fully understand the skill it takes to mix a new paper. With only an order of 2 tons of paper (or two pallets) needed for a unique colour we are more than tempted to start exploring our unique AJOTO shade.
In the mixing room where the raw pulp bales are broken down, mixed with water and carefully measured dyes. The mixing is carried out in two separate areas in a range of 25-40 ton tanks. Watching the mixing process in the tanks is mesmerising and has to be seen to be believed. Again great attention is paid to sustainability and the environment with all of the pulp coming from managed forests in both Scandinavia (for Spruce) and Portugal (for Eucalyptus).
Pulling ourselves away from the mixing room Stefan led us to the next stage where the watery slurry is transformed into the paper. Entering through the head-box the slurry is transferred onto the wire which draws out the water until the paper becomes workable. After leaving the wire the fibres run through a series of heated rollers taking on the final weight of the paper and wound onto a large steel spindle.
Leaving the room of paper machines we were confronted by a mass of gigantic paper rolls. As the mill is in production 24 hours a day the change over of various colour papers happens directly on the production line. As the rolls are transferred onto rigid fibre cores from the steel spindles the colour blending between the paper rolls is removed and becomes broke/waste. This broke cannot be sold so is instead recycled to make other paper.
At this stage the paper can either be processed, cut and palletised ready for delivery or processed further to add embossed surface decoration. The embossing is carried out by passing the split rolls between large rollers. After seeing a variety of embossing textures form linen to leather we entered the final stage of production. Controlled with a mix of robotic forklifts and wrapping machines the warehouse is a world a way from the mixing room we entered through. The robots tirelessly organise a spectrum of coloured paper pallets ready for their next journey. Time had flown by and it was time to leave and catch the train back to London, seeing the process first hand we left with a head full of new and exciting ideas and we hope to share some of these with you in the coming months.