Topic: First Paper Machine - Construction To Decommissioning

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The first paper machine at the Tasman paper mill in Kawerau was commisssioned in 1955 and produced 5 million tonnes of paper before being decommissioned in 2006.

Fletcher, Merritt, Raymond was a consortium of Fletcher Construction Company of Auckland, Merritt, Chapman and Scott of New York and Raymond Concrete Pile Company, Delaware who were contracted to build the Tasman paper mill at Kawerau. The site was chosen in part because of the availability of geothermal steam as a power source, and construction started on the mill buildings during 1953.

Most modern papermaking machines are based on the principles of the Fourdrinier Machine, which uses a specially woven plastic (originally bronze) fabric mesh conveyor belt, known as a wire, in the wet end to create a continuous paper web transforming a source of wood pulp into a final paper product. Paper machines have four distinct operational sections: the forming section, commonly called the wet end, is where the slurry of fibers is filtered out on a continuous fabric loop to form a wet web of fiber; the press section where the wet fiber web passes between large rolls loaded under high pressure to squeeze out as much water as possible; the drying section, where the pressed sheet passes partly around, in a serpentine manner, a series of steam heated drying cylinders. Drying removes the water content down to a level of about 6%, where it will remain at typical indoor atmospheric conditions; and the calender section where heavy steel rolls smooth the dried paper.

The Tasman paper machine was designed in America and built in England. At its inception in 1955 the paper machine was one of the three largest in the world and its planned production was 546 miles of paper, 22 feet wide, per day, however it was several years before the paper machine reached its full capacity. This was due to significant design flaws in the machine that needed correction, and numerous serious mechanical and electrical failures, which necessitated components being re-manufactured and delivered from overseas. The power supply to the mill also proved to be inadequate and there were a number of spectacular black-outs when the electrical grid was tripped during the night. When this happened the local population would be disturbed by boiler safety-valves releasing steam into the darkness.

A paper machine in operation can be a daunting sight with intense noise, heat, and a lot of heavy fast-rotating machinery. The newly formed endless web of fibre moves at speed through the length of the machine, being progressively dewatered, pressed, stretched, steam-dried, surface-finished, and finally wound into reels. The paper is also fragile. If it breaks at some point the operators need to quickly ascertain what caused it. If corrective action is not taken it is sure to happen again and again and the basement will soon fill up with the debris. Diagnosis and corrective action is an urgent matter and this can put a lot of pressure on those concerned. Is the wet paper being stretched too much, or not enough? Is something wrong with the fibre mix being supplied to the machine - or is there a fault in the machine itself or in its complex electrical controls?

On the 31st July 2006 after producing 5 million tonnes of paper the first paper machine at the Tasman mill site ceased production. The machine was dismantled and the area is now used for storage.  In 2011 the 2nd and 3rd paper machines at the Tasman site continue to produce paper.

Sources:
Ashwin, Barry (2010). Tasman Pulp and Paper: the first fifty years. Barry Ashwin.
Moore, Kenneth W. (1991). Kawerau: it's history and background. Kawerau, Kawerau District Council.
Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia (n.d.) Paper machine, retrieved September 20, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paper_machine

Number 1 Paper Machine was featured in an exhibition at the Sir James Fletcher Kawerau Museum, September 2011- August 2012.