Printer Friendly

Where, oh where, have the engineers gone?

The U.S. paper industry has lost its technical leadership and today is not the major source of the global industry's technological advances. This is due in part to the state of the industry in North America, but it is also due to the loss of engineering positions within companies and a general decline in the engineering profession. This is compounded by the lack of interest from high school students in the sciences. Engineering enrollment at U.S. universities is facing a crisis. The U.S. is facing a severe engineering shortage, a shortage without a short-term fix. This crisis in turn will affect the paper industry's future.

The sciences--especially engineering and chemistry--have played a major role in the development of the paper industry. Financiers have played a role--the Fourdrinier brothers, London stationers, acquired the rights to the Roberts paper machine in 1804. They hired Bryan Donkin to improve the machine and it became known as the fourdrinier, the basis for today's paper machine. The entrepreneurial Fourdrinier brothers went bankrupt in 1810. Still, when one looks at the history of papermaking one can see how technology transformed the industry. The transformation started in Europe and spread to the United States, which led the industrial revolution. Today, technology leadership has returned to Europe [1].


The future of the U.S. paper industry is uncertain, both for technical and economic reasons. Economic issues are largely due to the global economy and the general shift of manufacturing and services to third world countries. Technology issues include the loss of R & D facilities related to the paper industry and the changing role (or loss) of technical people. Technology is still at work, but many of the development activities are in areas potentially unfriendly to the paper industry. Recent developments that are cause for concern are: plastic bags, personal computers, and electronic news and books--not to mention the latest generation of non-reading computer gamers with cell phones.

The U.S. engineering profession is in serious trouble. Enrollment is down in all the engineering disciplines traditionally sourced to supply technical talent to the paper industry (including chemical, mechanical, and electrical). This is especially true at paper schools, where enrollment has dropped almost 50% from 1999 to 2004. U.S. pulp and paper schools now enroll a total of approximately 535 undergraduate students (Fig. 1).


The problems related to the engineering profession are not new. In March 2001, astronaut Bonnie Dunbar addressed an engineering education summit at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and stated that some 350,000 engineering and computer science positions are currently unfilled [2]. The June 8, 2001 edition of the Pittsburgh Business Times reported, "shortage of engineering students may impact construction projects--jobs that need to be filled will grow 20% by 2008." [3,4]

Dwayne Wilson, president, Fluor Corp., commercial and institutional business unit, made a presentation at ECC2002 where he presented a snapshot of the changes taking place within the engineering and construction workforce [5]. He stated that the existing workforce is facing significant erosion (Fig. 2) due to retirement of baby boomers and the lack of new engineering graduates entering the construction and engineering field (Fig. 3).

Another recent article stated, "U.S. preeminence in science and technology is being threatened by lack of student interest, according to a report issued by the National Science Board (NSB)." [6] This article stated, "In April, a separate report from the U.S. Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics said that more than half of U.S. students are not taking any science in their senior year of high school. This report was based on student transcripts of more than 20,000 graduating high school seniors at 277 public and private schools." The NSB report stated, "Even if action is taken today to change these trends, the reversal is 10 to 20 years away."


Figure 4 illustrates the issue. [7] Students are more interested in what they feel are "get rich quick" curriculums, such as computer science and finance, than those that have supplied the backbone of the American economy--such as engineering.


Clearly, the indicators are pointing to trouble. American industry, including the paper industry, cannot survive without technical leaders. The technical leaders typically have engineering or science degrees. Historically, paper schools supplied a significant amount of talent to the industry. Since students had specific knowledge of the industry, they were able to jump start their careers and add value to their employers immediately upon graduation. Industry recognized this and supported the schools by hiring graduates, providing summer and co-op jobs and provided funding to the foundations, which in turn provided scholarships.

In its efforts to reduce overhead costs, industry has withdrawn much of its support for the paper schools. All the paper school foundations are suffering from the loss of financial support; the pain would be worse if the schools were still attracting the large number of students they did several years ago. [8]

The U.S. led the development of papermaking technology until the end of the last century. Today, technology development has returned to Europe. Europe's assumption of technology leadership mirrors the engineering enrollment within the countries responsible for recent paper technology development. [9]



If the decline in U.S. paper industry engineering leadership continues, not only will the industry be unable to return to a role of technical leadership, it will also be unable to successfully implement the projects required to renew the industry's aging mill assets. Strong project leadership is required. Project managers need to implement the capital effectiveness, principles, and tools developed by the Construction Industry Institute; that is, they must develop and implement projects with a high probability of meeting the company's business objectives. This starts with using the "front end loading" or FEL approach Spending money to develop projects up front can eliminate the implementation of projects that are financial and/or business disasters. The principles of successful project management must be taught in engineering schools along with basic engineering principles--something rarely done by most curriculums.

We need to change our approach. We must have high school students excited about science and engineering. All industries--not just the paper industry--must support the universities and encourage enrollment in engineering. This support must come through financial aid and by creating challenging jobs. Engineering schools must make their programs exciting and based on useful knowledge and skills, not just engineering basics. Engineering curriculums must expand their field of studies to include business and project management. We need to educate high school teachers about the advantages of an engineering profession. We need to encourage our own children to enter the engineering profession.

Paper Pulp Description

2400 BC Egyptian Papyrus
 105 Chinese invent paper
 795 1st mill in West (Baghdad)-
 using Chinese workers
 1000 Alkaline pulping introduced in Europe
1189 1st papermill in Europe
1450 Printing press invented
1630 Paper grocery sack
 1774 [Cl.sub.2] used for bleaching
1799 Robert's paper machine, first
 continuous paper web (15 m)
 late Hollander beater introduced
1804 Fourdrinier paper machine
1826 Vacuum applied to paper former
1827 1st Fourdrinier machine in US
1838 Newsprint introduced using
 mechanical pulp
1850 1st multi-layered paper produced
1857 Toilet tissue introduced
 1844 Groundwood pulp
 1853 Soda pulping industrialized
 in Europe
 1866 Sulfite pulping
1868 1st practical typewriter
 1870 Rotary smelters-chemical recovery
 1872 Bi-sulfite pulping
 1878 Direct heated digester
 1880 Indirect heated digester
 1884 Kraft pulping
 1900 Neutral ammonium
 1907 Calcium bi-sulfite
 1907 1st kraft pulp mill in NA
1907 Scott introduces paper
 1912 Ammonium bi-sulfite
 1920 Multi stage bleaching
 1920 Magazine grinder
 1930 Tomlinson recovery
1936 Neutral sizing
 1950 Hi yield sulfite
1950's Valley air padded
 1952 Kamyr hydraulic
 1959 M & D digester
1959 Xerox introduced plain
 paper copier
1960 Converflo hydraulic
 1962 Magnesium based
 sulfite recovery furnace
1963 Venta nip press
1969 Honeywell's "first home
 computer" from
 Neiman Marcus
1970's Plastic forming fabrics
 1978 Soda AQ pulping
1978 Hot-Soft calender
1983 ENP shoe press
 1986 Modified Continuous
 Cook (MCC)
 1991 Black liquor gasifier


1. "How are you going to make a difference", R Kinstrey, Tappi Student Summit, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, January 18, 2004.

2. "Concerned by Critical Shortage of Engineers, Leading CEO's and Educators to Gather for Engineering Education Summit", March 2001, Science

3. "In Depth: Education & Training", Christopher Davis, Pittsburgh Business Times, June 8, 2001.

4. U.S. Department of Labor.

5. "Workforce Demographics Among Engineering Professionals, A Crisis Ahead?", Center for Construction Studies, Report No. 21, p. 10 & 19, University of Texas at Austin, 2001.

6. "Students Disdain for Science and Technology Threatens American Preeminence" Whitaker Foundation, Arlington Virginia, May 18, 2004.

7. "Databytes, Ups & Downs", Prism, ASC & E, January 20, 2004.

8. Data from the "All Foundation" reports.

9. "A Time Series Perspective, 1985-95", NCES, International Indicators, February 2000.



* Why the U.S. paper industry has lost its technological leadership.

* Factors behind the current shortage of engineers, and how the industry can help reverse this trend.


* See footnotes at the end of this article

* "Building the Future: Engineering in 2015," by Robert Kinstrey, Solutions!, October 2003. To access the article, enter the following Product Code in the search engine on the TAPPI web site 030CTS035.



Robert B, Kinstrey is director, process technology for Jacobs, Greenville, South Carolina, USA, and a member of the Solutions! Editorial Board. He has 35 years of consulting, operating, and technical experience in the manufacture of pulp and paper. Contact him by phone at +1 864 676-5664 or email at

COPYRIGHT 2004 Paper Industry Management Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Engineering
Author:Kinstrey, Robert
Publication:Solutions - for People, Processes and Paper
Date:Oct 1, 2004
Previous Article:SSCC Panama City quantifies success ... one step at a time.
Next Article:Biotechnology sparks an industrial revolution.

Related Articles
General manufacturing, engineering & maintenance.
Mold, core & sand preparation.
Classified directory: 2/auxiliary equipment and supplies.
Classified directory: 2/auxiliary equipment and supplies.
Classified directory: 3/materials.
Classified directory: 5/specialized services.
General manufacturing, engineering & maintenance.
Mold, core & sand preparation.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters