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Jay Vreeland: a life on R&D's front line.

Jay Vreeland will be the first to tell you that research and development goes nowhere without the people to tinker with it, implement it, and make it work every day in the mills. That's why, while being proud of winning the 2004 Gunnar Nicholson Gold Medal, he is quick to recognize the people who helped make it possible.

The Gunnar Nicholson Gold Medal Award is the highest honor TAPPI bestows on an individual. It is granted to those making preeminent scientific and engineering achievements of proven commercial benefit to the world's pulp, paper, board and forest product industries.

Vreeland retired as division vice president and director of research for S.D. Warren Co., which was acquired by Sappi Ltd. from Scott Paper in 1994. He is respected for his work in paper coating technology--particularly in thermal finishing and soft nip supercalendering. His contributions have led to the wide use of compact thermal calendering. In the past, high quality smooth paper surfaces were obtained only through the use of larger and more complex off-line supercalenders.

Vreeland's efforts provided a road map for simplification, keying in on thinking of the polymer nature of cellulose and taking advantage of its relatively under-utilized thermal softening. However, because of the much higher temperatures involved, drastic changes in roll designs had to be perfected by working both in-house and closely with equipment suppliers. The result was a design sufficiently compact and rugged to be placed on-line.

Vreeland graduated from the University of Maine with a B.S. in Chemistry, and from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry. He worked for A.D. Little Co. as a staff chemist for four years and then joined S.D. Warren as a research chemist. He served as assistant research director for printing and publishing, director of process research, and technical director of research before being promoted to division vice president and director of research in 1983. In that role, Vreeland oversaw the research and development work one of the industry's most respected laboratories.


A TAPPI member for 30 years, Vreeland has been active in the Coating and Graphic Arts Division's Coating Binders Committee, serving in all the chairs of that Committee. He has published articles on substrata thermal molding and participated as a speaker at the 1985 and 1989 Coating Conferences. In 1993, Vreeland was named a TAPPI Fellow for his meritorious service to the Association and the industry.


Vreeland joined S.D. Warren at an auspicious time. 1962, when the company was beginning to develop a modified gloss calender technology on book-weight glossy papers. The product line, Warrenflo, was noted for its somewhat higher bulk-to-weight properties and was produced on the #70 coater at the Westbrook, Maine mill.

"Much of that work was done by a colleague, Ab Mosher, who followed the process from R&D into the mill," said Vreeland. "He remained in manufacturing for the rest of his career and was a strong source of help in the years that followed as we developed high pressure finishing."


Vreeland was first involved in product development and optimizing coating technologies for the Warrenflo process. Scott Paper purchased S.D. Warren at about this time. In the following years, he worked on performing coating and finishing directly on a paper machine, a concept that emerged in the mid 1970s and was installed in the Mobile Alabama mill on PM 1.

"The good news was that improvements in resilient roll technology allowed reasonable uptimes for the process," said Vreeland. "The downside was that the process parameters did not produce supercalendered quality. We still needed to understand temperature, pressure, and moisture in a way that would provide the desired quality. My job throughout was to direct R&D for the process and product evolution. If there was a break-through notion, it came more from my background as a polymer chemist and thinking of such 'transition' behavior."

There were several major challenges. For one, the process required significant changes in both the heated metal roll and the resilient roll. "The metal rolls had to withstand very high nip loadings and higher surface temperatures," said Vreeland. "Many modifications were made to surface drilled rolls and external heating methods that finally provided the wherewithal to make this happen."

Vreeland noted that resilient roll technology was an even more daunting issue. "Over the years, slow improvements in the understanding of composites were ultimately successful," he said. "One other challenge was the scale of the work. Financial justification involved going to 300-inch wide paper machines, resulting in a sizable financial risk--about US$ 200 million. However, our president at the time, Chuck Schmidt, clearly demonstrated that not all creativity and imagination comes from research. Through his belief in the project and his considerable skills of persuasion, he got Scott Paper and a major stockholder, Brascan, on board."

The first of three such machines was installed at the Somerset mill in Maine. "Fortunately, the product was a huge success, building a new quality image in the light-weight coated markets," said Vreeland. "As Bob MacAvoy, who succeeded Chuck, once said, 'we didn't just get a bigger piece, we helped to bake a bigger pie.'"

At S.D. Warren, Vreeland joined a company with a long history of innovation--he is S.D. Warren's third recipient of the Gold Medal Award, joining Edwin Sutermeister, the "father of paper chemistry" in the 1920s, and Fred Frost, who was honored for his leading role in coating and graphic arts in 1967.


Vreeland did not confine his activities to the "ivory tower" of research. He gained valuable experience and insight by working in S.D. Warren's paper mills. "My experience working in the mills was at my own request," he said. "My contributions there were minimal but I learned that papermaking is a 24/7 operation and that us 40-hour people aren't there through most of the 168 hours. So if you develop a new process, remember to make it run efficiently. I learned to appreciate the insights of operators and those who spent their days in and around the process."

The creative process also played a major role in Vreeland's career. "Creative engineers were part of the legacy of S.D. Warren," he said. "The company's emphasis on innovation required manufacturing to adapt to change. One of my colleagues, the late Dan Manson, was fond of saying 'Don't ever buy Version One of anything.' So we worked over the poor engineer until he designed out all the bugs. No wonder they looked askance when we came in with a new process."

Vreeland credits several people who played key roles in his career: "I hate to single out these few because there were so many; but they should be recognized too."

Bill Cuffey. "He reminded me of a good dry cleaning establishment. If I gave him a problem by noon, the answer was on my desk by late next morning. A typical case involved resilient roll failures. Large chunks of good and bad rolls were on my desk. I explained the problem and Bill took them home, fashioned some test buttons in his workshop, came in early the next morning and put them through our homemade tests. That day at noon I found a multicolor sheaf of drawings and notes on my desk showing the poorer thermal properties of the bad cover and ultimately pointing out some cure issues."

Ben Freeman. "Ben and I worked on many projects together. After coming up short on quality at the Mobile mill, we saw the need for better pilot finishing facilities, but space at the end of the coater was at a premium. Ben and his people came up with a compact arrangement that not only fit, but also gave us process capabilities that went beyond what we might ever get in the mill."

Bob Blackburn. "Our chief engineer--a very capable and talented guy and point man in the construction of the Somerset complex. Based on results from the Mobile pilot unit and some heat transfer calculations I had made, we got into a major disagreement with our vendors about energy requirements for the heated rolls at the last minute, which I said needed 40% more heat. Said Bob, 'Ignoring the fact that you are just a damn chemist, you'd better be right because when we overrun this job your head will be right next to mine.' It turned out the overrun wasn't bad and within 9 months of startup we put all the extra heaters into service as needed."

Ab Mosher. "Ab went into manufacturing from research in the 1970s with Warrenflo and when we started up the process at Somerset was the man to shepherd rolls into the mill. If the rolls had only furnished 50% uptime, I would have been an outcast and at 80% maybe tolerated, but the resilient rolls almost never were a cause for downtime, which insured me a place of note in the company. This process required an imaginative, resourceful, attention-to-detail 'mother hen,' and we were lucky that Ab filled that need."

John Mattor and John Peterson. "During the process we had a series of roll failures and at that point the two Johns, research chemists, charged into composite chemistry. Within a year they developed suitable formulations and with the help of our semi-works crew and Scott Richardson, developed the fabrication techniques. With the help of Ab Mosher, we bought a building, equipped it, and made rolls all the way up to 300 inches."

Jim Frick. "Jim was my counterpart in sales. He and his marketing/sales people put together the marketing strategy that meshed well and elevated the product so that it was almost synonymous with the process."

Since retiring, Vreeland has been able to continue his R&D work--on the golf course. In addition to other writing projects, Vreeland published an article on the effect of moisture on the playing characteristics of bunker sand. "This has had only a marginal improvement on my bunker play," he cautioned. Vreeland has become a USGA golf rules official, volunteered in Florida hospitals during the winter, and has just finished training as a volunteer mediator in the court system.


Vreeland's active retirement is a reflection of the way he worked during his career. "I could not wait to get to work, I enjoyed it so. I worked in an environment where I had tremendous support. I eventually recognized the wisdom of the saying, 'all of us are smarter than any one of us.' I have also been blessed with a family and a home life that rewarded me many times over. My wife was a fantastically dedicated mother, a marvelous homemaker, and made all our holidays and trips so very memorable."

Vreeland is proud to be honored for his technical accomplishments, but noted that his greater accomplishments lie elsewhere. "My greater legacies are not iron and steel but people: my own children, so creative in their own right; the small army of people who have worked the technology and made it flower; and those people--wherever they are--who will find a way to come up with something better that will perhaps make my accomplishments obsolete."


* Background on the recipient of the TAPPI Gunnar Nicholson Gold Medal.

* Insights into how R&D is implemented in the paper industry.


* To learn more about TAPPI awards and scholarships, go to

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Title Annotation:Interview
Author:Rooks, Alan
Publication:Solutions - for People, Processes and Paper
Date:May 1, 2004
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