BY STEVEN FRIEDERICH
The Daily World
Cosmo Specialty Fibers has produced more than 5,000 tons of quality pulp and is preparing to make its first shipment of product.
Company spokesman Robert Buchan said that the pulp will be shipped to a company in China, where Cosmo has three big contracts with customers. Buchan said the first shipment is small so it will be placed in containers and shipped out of the Port of Tacoma.
But he said future large shipments will go out by ship from the Port of Grays Harbor, contributing to an increase in exports out of the already bustling port.
"We'll be excited to use the Port of Grays Harbor with our first shipment leaving the Port probably in July," Buchan said.
Cosmo Specialty Fibers, with the help of a private equity firm in California, purchased the mothballed pulp mill from the Weyerhaeuser Co. last September. After months of preparation, the mill celebrated its grand opening on May 21.
Over the past 10 days, the pulp has flowed almost non-stop. At this point, about two-thirds of a once empty warehouse is full of a mix of non-grade pulp and neatly packaged pulp, each wrapped in brown paper and bearing the company's logo.
Buchan said the non-grade pulp, which is not packaged, will be sold at a cheaper price along with the quality product.
"It's still usable product but companies may have to do more adjustments on their end to use it," Buchan said.
Cosmo is currently producing a viscose pulp, which will then be combined with other materials to create a variety of products, including plastics and rayon for clothing.
Under Weyerhaeuser, the mill produced an acetate pulp blend, which was also exported to Asia and was used to create cigarette filters.
Buchan said the mill has been producing pulp non-stop for the last several weeks.
Last Thursday, Cosmo employees were troubleshooting a break in the pulp line, its first in several days, where a problem with the boiler stopped the production line.
With alarm lights and the sound of buzzers and hissing steam sounding all around, employees worked frantically to get the line back up and running. With broken down wood chips turning into pulp in the digester, the sheets were fed by hand from one machine, called the mitten dryer into another dryer called the Fläkt dryer.
"They're threading it to help the machines pick it up," Buchan explained.
In moments, the production was back on track.
While Weyerhaeuser used to spool the pulp onto giant spindles, Cosmo cuts the pulp into two feet by about 34-inch sheets and then stacks and bails the sheets so they resemble giant reams of paper.
Buchan said the bailed stacks, which stand 12 feet high in the warehouse, make the pulp easier to move around and ship.
Shift foreman Neil Maier, who took the job after his mill in Missoula, Mont., closed last year, said the speed and accuracy of his employees were reflected in the quality of the end product.
Shining a light through a torn off piece of white pulp, Maier pointed out, "Sometimes there's been spots, but here you can see it's clean. It's not dirty. That's quality."
Buchan said the quality is also reflected in the packaging of the pulp, which, besides the company's logo, is stamped in bold letters, "Made in the USA."
"Our sales guys wanted people to know this product came from the U.S. because this mill has a great reputation," Buchan said. "That means the quality is great and it's made from hemlock," which is found predominantly in the Northwest.
Buchan said the company has finished hiring about 200 employees, although it is looking for a few extra.
Buchan noted that recently laid-off Grays Harbor Paper employees, in particular, are encouraged to apply online at www.cosmospecialtyfibers.com.
"We don't have a lot of positions, but we do have some available and there were some Grays Harbor Paper employees we offered positions to but they declined out of loyalty to their business," Buchan said. "There may still be room here for them."
Cosmo has also advertised for an outside contractor to do maintenance work at the mill, which could generate another 30 to 40 jobs, Buchan said
MACLEOD PAPPIDAS | THE DAILY WORLD Wokers at Cosmo Specialty Fibers get a sheet of fiber spooled through the production line after a shut down Thursday. Over the past 10 days, the production of fiber has continued almost non stop.
MACLEOD PAPPIDAS | THE DAILY WORLD Cosmo Specialty Fibers Vice President Robert Buchan walks past stacks of product ready to ship in the facility's warehouse in Cosmopolis last Thursday. The fiber will eventually find its way to clients in China.