An engineering career in the forest products industry offers as many rewards and opportunities as it does challenges. That’s what candidates in the Engineering Graduate Program are discovering on the job at Resolute.
We are bringing you a series of Q&As with our new grads – from Quebec to Tennessee and operations in between.
ROEL SROFE, CALHOUN (TENNESSEE)
Roel Srofe never imagined his chemical engineering degree would land him here. He had also never thought about wood chip sizes before. But that’s exactly what he was thinking about, standing in the wood yard of Resolute’s Calhoun pulp and paper mill this past January, watching massive logs roll through the debarking bin and down into the chipper.
As a process engineer, Roel spends his days examining all the variables involved in the chemical processes used in papermaking. He’s on his second rotation of the company’s Engineering Graduate Program.
What do you like most about your work?
I’ve never liked sitting at a desk for long periods of time, so I really like being in an environment like this where I can go out into the woodyard or on the floor and interact with the operators, helping them and doing trials. That kind of hands-on work is one of the big pluses of the job.
What do you do?
Besides the typical day-to-day troubleshooting, I work on projects. For example, I worked on a trial for a secondary polymer. That’s a chemical that enables the machine to capture all the small fibers that might otherwise pass through the system. A project like that is very collaborative. I have to coordinate with the operators to get the samples I need for testing, and I need to talk to the lab about what tests should be done.
How easy is it to learn in that environment?
I was a little worried about my lack of paper industry knowledge [having interned with Bridgestone Tires and the BASF chemical company], but this mill has been around for a long time and the people here understand the benefit of bringing in new faces. They really will do anything they can to help you learn and grow. I rely a lot on my operators. I talk to my managers, and I feel comfortable asking questions.
What did you do during the last outage you worked on?
We have monthly outages on every machine for maintenance. On those days, I’m responsible for ‘boiling out.’ That’s where you run caustic [a chemical] through the wet end of the system to clean out fibers, pitch and contaminants. It usually takes about three hours for each run.
What’s something unexpected that you learned at the Calhoun mill?
It’s been really interesting to see the diversity of disciplines it takes to run a paper mill. There are electrical, mechanical and chemical engineers – and even a few civil engineers. I didn’t think I’d meet as many different types of engineers as I have here, and everyone has a key part to play.
What do you think of the forest products industry?
Before taking this job, I had a few conversations with people who talked about the decline in demand for newsprint and other types of paper. But that’s just one aspect of the industry. When you think about tissue and boxes, for example, the demand for those products is increasing. And I like that Resolute has a vision for this place. One of our machines still predominantly runs newsprint, but we have a new tissue machine coming in and that’s a huge shift.
Do you worry about workplace safety?
The big dangers are obvious, but Resolute does a really good job of keeping your attention on the small things that are easy to forget, like the importance of wearing gloves and a hard hat. This is an industrial work environment, so there are always safety risks. Resolute has implemented many safety measures and procedures, while still being able to produce the amounts of paper that we do.
What is your greatest fear? The ocean. (Specifically sharks and shark attacks.)
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Graduating with a chemical engineering degree.
What do you like to do in your free time? I am big into fitness, the outdoors and basically anything sports-related.