The other evening, I met Prabhakaran Sivathaanu, a batchmate from St. Stephen’s College. The college, which is based in Delhi, belies its age and looks new whenever you visit. However, some of us former students had clearly grown older and it showed in the reduced acceptance of gastronomical dares at the Chettinad Karaikudi restaurant, where we met for dinner.
Sivathaanu works at Tamil Nadu Newsprint and Papers Limited (TNPL). I was quite surprised to hear this as I pass their corporate headquarters every day on my way to work. As far as paper-making went, I only had a vague memory of the Sirpur-Kagaz Nagar paper mill seen from a train window, and the power smell of chemicals that reached the railway station from the mill. Of course, we now have the famous JK group’s paper products that are used in the copier and for printing important documents. Over the months since that reunion dinner, I have visited their website, and have been reading about the paper industry in general; an industry almost has forgotten, in the transition to electronic media in all its varied forms.
Gary Bryan Magee, who has earned a D. Phil for his research on the paper industry in Britain and the US, says that the first paper making machine was invented in 1799, in France. It was referred to as the Fourdrinier paper machine. It was imported to Britain and soon paper was being produced in long runs. A typical machine with its many cylindrical rollers is shown in the figure below.
Soon, paper mills were active in all regions of Great Britain and Scotland. The raw materials that were popular then were rag, esparto and later wood. The evolution of technology was gradual and incremental. Mills in the nineteenth century, used to be located near fast-moving streams of water because running water was the source of hydroelectric power. With the advent of coal, this restriction was not there, and mill locations shifted to regions were abundant coal was available.
The economic history of the paper industry is fascinating. The competition within European producers, with Britain leading the pack, and the eventual dominance of the American paper industry, led to the decline from the number one position of the British after being the pioneer in factory production of paper. The trade relations got to the point, was Britain was importing paper from Germany, which is famous for the Heidelberg printing machine.
Returning to the present century, we are all aware that the destruction of the Amazonian rainforest has gained a lot of prominences. Using wood as a raw material for various industries has become frowned upon, as these forests take many years to grow back. Biofriendly alternatives such as bagasse are being used. Bagasse is the residue from cane crop after the juice has been extracted. It is amazing how innovative the industry has become