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Burrows Paper - making paper perform 90 years on

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Burrows Paper - making paper perform 90 years on

April 10, 2011 - 16:00

BRUSSELS, April 11, 2011 (RISI) -Nestled in the woods of the Mohawk Valley in upstate New York is a specialty paper maker that just celebrated its 90th anniversary, founded and still in the hands of the family of its owners. Burrows Paper Corporation was founded in 1919 by Andrew Burrows in Little Falls, NY, still the site of its corporate headquarters. The company has grown to include four mills, two in Little Falls (Mohawk Valley and Mill St.), one in Lyons Falls, NY, and one in Pickens, MS.
Burrows Paper Corporation was founded in 1919 by Andrew Burrows in Little Falls, NY, still the site of its corporate headquarters

Still privately owned, today, R.W. "Bill" Burrows, the third generation of the family, is CEO. Remarkably, the company has remained in continuous operation and never had a shutdown since it first opened. Burrows also operates packaging facilities in Ohio, Nevada, Iowa and the Netherlands.

People play an important role in Burrows' success. There are about 700 employees; 250 of who work in the paper group. Most have lots of experience; average service is close to 20 years. The plant manager at Pickens recently retired after 43 years at the mill.

For a small company to compete, staying away from commodities is a must. Burrows has found a niche in lightweight specialty paper, including fast food packaging. Its recently introduced Eco-FluteTMline of packaging is eco-friendly and gives restaurants an alternative to polystyrene containers. However, food is by no means the only application for Burrows' wide range of papers. The company also serves the industrial, consumer and medical markets.

"We compete on specialty papers, not commodities," says president and COO Michael Lengvarsky, who was named to this position in April 2009. With more than 25 years' experience in the insurance industry, Lengvarsky joined the board of Burrows in 1998 and came on board fulltime in 2005 as executive vice president. "It's my vision that Burrows becomes the premier ‘go to' producer in our industry," he said in a release marking his first anniversary as president. Being responsive to market demands and developing innovative products will be the keys.

Thus far, it seems to be working. "All our grades are made to order; there is no stock product", he tellsPPI.

Michael Lengvarsky, president and COO: “We compete on specialty papers, not commodities.”

Building customer loyalty

Customer requests drive product development. "We are asked to create products that customers use or want to use and we try to do it better," Lengvarsky explains. "One difference with us is that we make our paper with unique performance attributes. And, when we satisfy the customer with that special attribute versus the competition, we can keep that customer longer."

This means that most of what Burrows makes is specific to each customer. Further, Lengvarsky says, Burrows can offer customers lightweight grades in relatively small runs, backed by service, high quality and technical expertise.

Burrows produces a wide range of products but there are redundancies built into the mills so production can be shifted if necessary. "We have a number of customers for whom we are the sole source," Lengvarsky explains. "So, having a number of mills able to make their products assures them of uninterrupted supply."

As noted, the company runs four mills and five paper machines. There are two machines in the Mill Street facility (the company's original mill), where Burrows started as a tissue maker, using Burline as the trade name. Today, PM 3 produces 22,000 tons/yr of machine glazed (MG) paper and PM 2 produces 8,000 tons/yr of MG paper. This paper is used as base paper for waxing and some for foil laminating. Also on the Mill St. menu is interleaving paper, used for glass and precious metals. At Mill St., the company still produces a small amount of base paper for gift tissue and crepe streamers. And it still makes some one-time carbonizing base paper.

Acquired in 1952, the Mohawk Valley unit is adjacent to the company headquarters, which used to be an old knitting mill. Its sole machine, PM 12, produces 11,000 tons/yr of MF and wet crepe paper, used for coffee filters and moist towelettes. The machine also makes a small amount of specialized paper for food applications such as pan liner. It also produces knit twist. This is paper that is cut into thin strips, twisted and formed into products such as shopping bag handles and carpets.

The Lyonsdale mill in Lyons Falls was acquired in 1966 and its PM 32 produces 18,000 tons/yr, mostly wet crepe with some MF papers. This is destined for conversion into many products: filters, towelettes, medical papers, and industrial specialties for automobile batteries, knit twist and repulpable pulp bale strapping.

Acquired in 1967, the Pickens mill produces 10,500 tons/yr of MG paper. This is used as a waxing base grade for food packaging, foil lamination papers, fruit wrap and medical grades. Burrows is one of the few companies able to produce a printable lightweight (7.5 lb) sheet. This is used, for example, for dress patterns, and is also made at Pickens.

The company used to operate a pulp mill (100% recycled fiber) across the tracks from the Mohawk Valley mill and any production that could not be integrated into Burrows' product lines was sold. The pulp mill was shut in 2005 after escalating waste paper prices made it nonviable.

Burrows now sources its pulp worldwide. Some grades require a specific pulp in small lots. It uses mostly kraft pulp, hardwood and softwood, bleached and unbleached with some non-wood pulp thrown into the mix at times. As Lengvarsky notes, it all helps to underscore the specialty of Burrows' papers.

Keeping smaller, older machines producing highly specialized grades at the high quality level that customers demand is a never-ending task. John Sterzinar, vice president, manufacturing and engineering, says that Burrows does constant upgrading at all its mills. Capex averages 3-4% of sales annually, and on occasion, Burrows will finance projects exclusive of the 3-4%. For example, in 1990 the Lyonsdale mill had one of the first paper machines in North America to be equipped with digital AC drives. All of the company's paper machines now have them.

The Mohawk Valley machine received a new dryer section and winder in 1998 and is used as the company's R&D machine, with most trial work run on it. Sterzinar says it is more specialized than the others. A major capex project has just wrapped up at the company's Pickens mill and is one project specially financed outside of annual capex. An extensive rebuild of PM 41 entailed the replacement of a 1980s-era press section with a new stainless steel press section. A 15-ft MG drying cylinder and integrated hood were also installed. These replaced an aged 1939-era cylinder. Metso supplied the press section and dryer. Earlier in 2010, Burrows installed a Kmec-Webco winder. Floyd Johnson, mechanical engineering manager, was the project manager for both projects. At about the same time, the Pickens mill received an ISRA Parystec defect detector, the third such unit that Burrows has purchased for its mills. Production at Pickens is expected to grow to 17,000 tons/yr.

"The justification for the Pickens project is increased speed and improved quality and diversity," explains Sterzinar. "We're looking for a good solid payback over the next five to seven years."

Profiles, specifically moisture, should also improve. Other benefits include improved quality and consistency.

The Mohawk Valley machine is used for most of Burrows’ new product trials

Taking advantage of what's there

There were actually two projects at the Pickens mill. The second one was environmentally related and involves geothermal power. The mill's water needs are met by a drilled well where water leaves the ground at 83°F. Along with the waste heat captured from the papermaking processes, these sources will be used to heat the mill in the winter. With new heating and ventilation units installed, the result will be a 4% reduction in the use of natural gas and a 342-tonne/yr reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Burrows manager of energy services, Michael McCormick, says the project is unique as Burrows is extracting low-grade energy directly from the geothermally heated well water used during production. The project was funded in part (75%) by US stimulus funds issued through the Mississippi Development Authority for energy projects.

The Mohawk Valley mill on a snowy day soon after opening

Burrows runs on SAP

As noted, producing highly specialized grades requires constant attention. As well as predictive and preventive maintenance, Burrows does all its own optical alignment. Led by Floyd Johnson, Burrows recently implemented a maintenance reliability initiative. "We have a very experienced maintenance crew in each plant with lots of training," Sterzinar says. "And, we are switching to the SAP maintenance module to advance it even further. We use the SAP module in our four packaging plants and the aim is to extend it to the paper group in 2011."

Burrows completely converted to SAP for finance, and paper mill shop floor operations were completed across the company in 2009. Sterzinar says the system "brings more discipline and a better understanding of costs."

He adds that it improves the procurement process for maintenance but perhaps more important, it really improves the timeline for maintenance.

This has been a substantial investment and initiative for the company over the past four years and as well as better insight into costs, it has provided better insight into work order variances: "what we make and where we make it." It all translates into a direct impact on the bottom line, says Lengvarsky.

Despite its relatively small size, Burrows has a worldwide presence. "We are an international company for most of our products," says Duane Judd, vice president, paper sales. Burrows recently opened an office in China. "We want to increase our existing business there as well as enter new markets, particularly for our lightweight papers."

Other offshore markets served include Thailand, Finland, Central America, Indonesia, Singapore and India. About 10% of Burrows' production is exported. About 25% of production is sent to Burrows' packaging plants.

Looking ahead, Lengvarsky says that Burrows will continue to concentrate on lightweight paper. "It is our niche and our specialty.

We will continue to develop products based on customer requests to stay ahead of the competition, both domestic and foreign. We are looking to diversify our customer base in terms of geography; we want to increase our customer base outside the US."

There is a strong commitment to re-invest in the operations, Lengvarsky adds. "There is a strong focus on quality. Customers are always setting the bar higher, especially with regard to operability in their processes."

And, it goes without saying, it is Burrows' responsibility to see it can reach that bar and even surpass it.

The power base
Through a hydroelectric affiliate, Burrows produces enough electricity to meet about two-thirds of its needs company-wide in the US. There is a 3 MW hydro generating station at the Lyonsdale mill. In Little Falls, there is a 13 MW hydro generating station across from the Mill St. facility. However, it is all sold into the New York state grid. Burrows buys back what it needs.
Lengvarsky says the goal is to continue to increase the amount of energy it generates from renewable resources to equal or exceed 100% of what it consumes.
“It’s more about neutralizing energy costs and fluctuating prices rather than any cap and trade issue,” he adds. “And it’s about sustainability, to generate more and use less. In the last eight years, we have achieved a 20% reduction in the amount of energy we use for every ton we produce.”