On Thursday we took a tour of the Gmund Paper factory in Gmund, about one hour south of Munich.
Gmund is the maker of some of the finest papers in the world. In their shipping area I saw pallets marked with destinations in Dubai, Portugal, Canada, Japan, and Korea. This company’s paper is in demand the world over.
The Gmund paper-making factory in Gmund, Germany.
The company was founded in 1829, and its original specialty was the making of handmade sheet papers. In 1886 the company installed a Fourdrinier paper machine capable of making a continuous stream of paper 1.5 meters wide. That machine still runs today, 124 years after its installation. Gmund makes only uncoated papers, some with special textures and coatings.
I have visited much bigger paper-making plants on several occasions, but for me the Gmund factory was much more interesting because it is a small company, the machinery is more accesible, and the product is more attractive. This is not a huge, industrial operation where hard hats and ear protection are required. It’s a firm where people work in small teams to produce beautiful papers. For example, the Fourdrinier machine (the old one) was being operated by just two workers. A slurry of paper fiber and water was being fed into the “wire” end of the machine as we walked by. We were able to look into the headbox and see the paper slurry entering the machine.
(Gmund also operates a larger 3.3 meter paper-making machine, and that was included in our tour. The larger machine is more modern, but it features the same components.)
Green paper mash floats across the wire end of the Gmund Fourdrinier machine. At this point in production the pulp is about 99 percent water.
We all know about watermarks in paper. In the Gmund plant we had a chance to see the watermark wire up close. As the paper mash flows over this cylinder, the image on the wire is imparted to the wet fiber. The pattern disturbs the material to create a mark that will later show as a variation in opacity. As the paper passes over the wire (about 20 feet long), much of the water falls through the wire into a catch basin below. This is the initial reduction of water that begins the paper-making process. More than half the water is removed from the slurry in this section of the machine. In paper-making, the wire section is referred to as the wet end.
From the wire, the damp stream of paper fiber is transferred to the dry end of the machine. The “felt” is a long belt of felt that supports the stream of paper fiber as it passes from the wire end to the beginning of the drying section, and then through the drying section. The paper is carried by the felt to a series of steam-heated cylinders that heat and dry the paper gradually as it passes through the machine. Paper starts its existence in a Fourdrinier machine at 99 percent water, and as it passes through the process, the water is reduced to one percent. The large drying cylinders that smooth and heat and press the paper make it consistently thick, consistently smooth, and consistently dry.
These are the first cylinders in the drying section. On the right you can see the web of green paper coming off the wire. From there, the pulp is entered on the felt, which runs through the drying section.
After the drying rollers, the roll of paper passes through a section called the calendering section where it is smoothed on chrome-plated cylinders under pressure. These rollers impart a hard, smooth surface to the paper. On the Gmund machine is a sophisticated device for measuring the caliper of the paper to ensure its consistency.
The drying cylinders have a mirror finish, which gives the paper a very smooth surface. The cleaning blade scrapes the cylinder to keep dust from traveling around the cylinder and damaging the paper on the next rotation.
At the delivery end of the machine, the stream of finished paper is measured for color consistency, slit into two narrower streams, and rolled into two rolls of finished paper. Gmund has machines that can apply texture to a roll of paper, or to press the paper against chrome plated cylinders to give it a satin surface (called super-calendering).
From there, the paper can be sheeted, where the roll is fed into a machine that cuts it into individual sheets, and stacks the sheets. All of Gmund’s paper is eventually cut into sheets. The finished stacks of paper are inspected by workers who check every single sheet by fanning the paper on a large table, looking for any defects, and eliminating any sheets with defects. After the stacks are inspected, they are wrapped into 50-sheet or 100-sheet packages, depending on the caliper of the paper. We watched as stacks of these packages were being shrink-wrapped into pallets of paper for shipment all over the world.
At the end of the Fourdrinier machine, the beautiful green paper is slit and wound onto rolls. It will later be sheeted and packaged as cut sheets.
As with all tours, the exit is through the gift shop, and Gmund’s gift shop is a heavenly place for people who love paper. Beautiful papers can be bought in sheets, as envelopes, or in short rolls. The colors available are impressive, as are the textures. One specialty of the company is a gold-surfaced paper that is used by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to produce the announcements for the Academy Awards. That paper has a fine texture and a satin-finish of gold that is applied over white paper to make the final product.
Finished rolls of brightly colored paper are stacked in the Gmund warehouse.
I find paper-making to be a delightful combination of art and science. Seeing paper-making at Gmund was seeing paper-making at its finest.