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Linerboard: ND Paper by yearend expects to make lightweight KLB on R15 machine at Rumford, ME, mill

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Linerboard: ND Paper by yearend expects to make lightweight KLB on R15 machine at Rumford, ME, mill

October 30, 2020 - 19:18

SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 30, 2020 (PPI Pulp & Paper Week) -ND Paper is converting another printing and writing paper machine at its Rumford, ME, mill, this time to lightweight unbleached "high strength" kraft linerboard, with machine capacity of 280,000 tons/yr to potentially 300,000 tons/yr.

A company official told Fastmarkets RISI'sPPI Pulp & Paper Weekthat machine R15 is to make the lightweight board by yearend. PM 15 is to make 18-, 23-, and 26-lb, and likely heavier basis weights than the 18-to-26-lb, the official said.

ND Paper expects to export some of the lightweight linerboard production as well as supply a new corrugator that the company will open in December. As a result, industry contacts this week were uncertain how much of the R15's output might be available for the open market in North America.

With the at least 280,000 tons/yr to 300,000 tons/yr of lightweight linerboard, ND Paper's total US containerboard capacity would increase to about 535,000 tons/yr. Last year, ND Paper converted a print paper machine at its Biron mill in Wisconsin to about 255,000 tons/yr of recycled containerboard production.

The official said a new corrugator is to start running in Wisconsin in December. That corrugator will be fed with linerboard and corrugating medium from both the Biron mill and from the R15 at Rumford, the official said.

While not specifically announcing plans for another corrugator, the official did tellP&PWthat it "was likely" that ND would continue to add corrugating capacity.

The R15 conversion announcement follows ND's announcement a week ago of converting the R12 machine at Rumford to 110,000 tons/yr of capacity for making kraft paper for grocery, multiwall, and retails bags, along with for converting applications. Further, the R12 will manufacture Rumford Offset paper, the company said this week.

The official said demand for coated print paper has dropped much faster than expected this year due to the novel coronavirus.

"The onset of this unprecedented demand decline happened much more quickly than could possibly be anticipated," said ND Paper CEO Ken Liu, in a release.

"However, while other mills have exited the market and closed their doors, ND Paper is re-purposing the Rumford Division for a competitive future," Liu said. "Moving our largest Rumford machine into packaging grades helps to balance the deteriorating (printing and writing Paper) market in North America, while simultaneously positioning us into bigger and more stable packaging paper markets. I would like to thank the mill and project team for their work over the past year leading to this transition."

During the same time that printing paper demand has plummeted by 20-30% this year, US box shipments have been on a historic run-up, driven partly by new e-commerce demand and sheltering rules stemming from the virus (see story, p. 4).

By converting to lightweight linerboard production on No. 15, ND Paper will shut a supercalender machine, a coater, and a groundwood pulp line. The company said that it will continue to operate its R9 pulp dryer at Rumford, including for unbleached softwood kraft market pulp production.

Adding unbleached recycled pulp line.For PM No. 15, ND will add an unbleached recycled pulp line, while also being able to feed virgin pulp to the machine.

PM No. 12 also will run on both virgin and the unbleached recycled pulp, the official said.

Once the projects are completed, which is expected to be by yearend, ND Paper said Rumford's machines will remain fully integrated with kraft and mechanical pulping, and unbleached recycled pulping assets.

ND Paper is the US business unit of Nine Dragons Paper, which is based in China and is the largest paper and board producer in Asia, and the world's second largest containerboard producer, based on RISI capacity figures.

ND, which had operated the largest recovered paper business unit in the USA for the last about 15 years with Los Angeles-based America Chung Nam, entered the US paper mill market in mid-2018. The company first acquired two paper mills in Biron and Rumford from Catalyst Paper. Then, it purchased and reopened a shut virgin pulp line in Old Town, ME, in October 2018, and acquired a recycled pulp mill in Fairmont, WV, in late 2019.

--bygrudder@fastmarkets.com