As a young girl, I remember traveling to visit my grandparents. Beyond the road signs and a clock on the dash, the most memorable way we knew our grandparent’s house was getting closer was the smell of the old paper mill. It is an unforgettable odor that is notoriously unpleasant, but for me, it is a smell that holds sweet memories. When I learned that I would be touring the Palatka Paper Mill, I was prepared to be greeted by that unmistakable mill aroma. Much to my surprise I didn’t smell anything unusual until I was actually on the property of the mill. Even then, the smell was faint and barely recognizable. I was surprised to learn that one of the focuses of the Palatka Paper Mill is to be a good neighbor to its community by keeping that odor in check. The first of many innovations that surprised me during this trip.
I wanted to learn more about the process and innovations being made, but I am also someone who works hard to reduce our family’s waste and carbon footprint. Though there are some areas, namely the bathroom, where this mama just was not ready to go cloth. I admit it — we still purchase and use toilet paper, friends. So I was thrilled to learn that we would be exploring the Angel Soft production line.
As we started our tour, we learned about the focus on environmental innovation. I was grateful to learn that the Palatka plant was among the first to receive a 5-star EPA rating. In addition, the mill is actually able to produce much of its own power. They are focused on reducing their own waste and reusing everything they can to save cost and improve their environmental stewardship. As an environmentally conscious consumer, that is deeply important to me.
I was amazed by the pristine nature of the floor and the notable absence of people as we explored the production floor.
Robotics and robotic engineering play a key roll in the production. The smart box robotic palletizer packages the finished product. Laser-guided vehicles load the products on trucks for transport. Robots are everywhere and they are doing the heavy lifting. But robotic engineers are managing the workflow, programming and innovating from a room with a birds-eye view of the production floor. I was delighted to learn that the company invested $120,000 in a robotics education program to help ensure that workers have the opportunity to work as skilled engineers and technicians. They are also working with local high schools and the community college to help local community members build the skills they need to work in this robotic environment.
It’s clear that innovation is a core of the plant, but its heart is its employees.
The engineers and workflow coordinators shared several observations and systemic changes that they have been able to make that improved efficiency and made the environment safer. It was clear that the staff takes great pride in their work. One of the most notable things to me is that the plant truly has a family feel with generations of families working at the mill. The team takes pride in the work that they do and is working diligently to become better environmental stewards and good neighbors in their community. Thanks to our visit, this mama has a lot less guilt buying Angel Soft at the grocery store.